Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard took the podium Thursday night at the Media Research Center’s 25th Anniversary DisHonors Awards Gala. As he addressed an enormous crowd of media critics, he took the time to address his ascendancy as a frequent commentator on Fox News. But don’t get him wrong, Hayes cautioned:
I’m now doing a lot of work for the Fox News Channel. Thrilled with my affiliation with Fox — fair and balanced. Couldn’t think of a better show to be on regularly than Bret Baier’s “Special Report,” which, I think, is still the best news program on television. And it’s interesting because when I meet people, I think, sometimes people think of me as a broadcast guy, because they see me on Fox. But at heart I’m still a print journalist. I sort of grew up as a print journalist, I work for the Weekly Standard. I consider that my sort of real job. . . . I hope to be moonlighting at Fox for many years. But I’m a print journalist at heart.
At that, the cliche detector in the upper reaches of the phenomenally decorated National Building Museum started convulsing. Seems as though Hayes’s heart has some commonly held strings.
Think of the affinity that he shares with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer, host of the show “Oppenheimer Presenta.” When that program won a regional Emmy Award in 2005, Oppenheimer, too, wanted to make sure that if the public went looking for a certain organ, they’d know just where to find it. “I’m a print journalist at heart and will always be one, so this was very new to me,’’ said the multiplatform talent.
These folks are in good company. The late Don Hewitt, the legendary executive producer of “60 Minutes,” worked as a copyboy for the New York Herald in his formative years. He told the Houston Chronicle, “I love words. I’m really a print journalist at heart. And I’ll tell you something else: I’m convinced that good television is for the ear, not just the eye.” Hewitt said those words in 1998, three decades after creating ”60 Minutes.” A virtual lifetime of work in television apparently couldn’t pierce his career-emotional core.
Andy Rooney, Hewitt’s longtime colleague, started at CBS in 1949. Yet when he looked back on it all, he wrote a column titled, “I’m really a newspaperman at heart.” Good thing he showed some self-awareness about the whole thing: “It’s a conceit, but I think of myself as a newspaperman rather than a broadcaster,” wrote the late “60 Minutes” funnyman.
He got that first part right.
In 2008, well after establishing himself as a radio and television superstar, then-Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser talked about the prospect of taking a buyout from the paper. “All I ever wanted to be was a newspaper writer. This other stuff is great, but I don’t care about it. In my mind that’s what it says on the headstone; it says, ‘newspaper guy.’ ”
Gary Owens made it big-time as a comedian in Hollywood. As a story in South Dakota’s Daily Republic noted, Owens supplied the “mock-serious” voice for the show “Laugh-In” from 1968 to 1973. “Owens has been a regular on 18 shows and has been a radio and TV broadcaster for more than 50 years,” says the story, published in 2010. Yet it turns out that Owens had done some time in the world of print news. “At heart, I’m still an old newspaperman,” he said, apparently in reference to an early-career stint writing on sports for the Daily Republic.
Jeanan Yasiri worked for a decade at a local NBC affiliate in Madison, Wis. and then became a consumer advocate, according to a 1997 piece in Wisconsin’s Capital Times. Looking back at things, Yasiri told the paper, ‘’In all my years in broadcast journalism — years I’m proud of -- there is nothing that thrilled me like being able to accomplish something that’s still in writing, It’s more permanent. So in that way I guess my heart has always been aligned with the print journalist.”
George F. Wright Jr. died in 2010 at the age of 90. He’d spent about a dozen years early in his career as a reporter before embarking on a career as a booster for the Virginia travel industry. Here’s the lede of his obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “George Fitchett Wright Jr. was known as “Mr. Travel” for the many jobs he held promoting Virginia, but he was always a newspaperman at heart, his son said.”
The Texas Monthly, in a 1995 Jim Lehrer profile: “Lehrer is still an old newspaperman at heart.”
It takes literary mastery to turn the convention on its head. The great Andrew Ferguson, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, wrote an April 2004 review of the essays of the late journalist Michael Kelly:
Kelly was born and reared in Washington, but he started his career elsewhere. He worked as a booker for a morning television show and made some noise as a reporter for the Cincinnati Post, but he wasn’t a newspaperman at heart; his talents and aspirations were too big.
The lesson here: If you dare say that someone was not a newspaperman at heart, you have to build in an even higher calling. Because there’s nothing more romantic and noble than your roots in print journalism/newspapering. It’s all about the ink coursing through your veins. It conjures hard work, low pay and literacy, a trifecta not commonly associated with high-profile TV gigs.
Nexis searches for instances in which people call themselves “a pundit at heart” or “a soundbite gal/guy at heart” didn’t yield a bounty of results.