Brit Hume’s Interview with Dick Cheney
Howie Kurtz has an interesting look at the decisionmaking that went on by both Vice President Dick Cheney and the Fox News crew that led to the exclusive interview on last night’s “Special Report.”
Brit Hume was in his morning staff meeting at Fox News yesterday when his cell phone rang. It was Dick Cheney. The network’s Washington managing editor had been pressing for the interview that every news organization was hotly pursuing, and now the vice president was saying that he would talk to Hume — and only Hume — about the hunting accident that has put him at the center of a fierce Beltway storm. “I felt the need to ask the questions my colleagues would want to ask,” said Hume, who taped the 25-minute sitdown yesterday afternoon for his 6 p.m. show “Special Report.”
While Hume was quite respectful, he accomplished that objective in my view. He followed up and asked tough questions without being antagonistic. Kurtz seems to agree, given his assessment later in the piece, “Hume, who has interviewed President Bush twice, has an understated style that avoids long-winded, but he touched the major bases in his discussion with the vice president.”
So, why Hume rather than a press conference or another venue?
Mary Matalin, a former Cheney aide and informal adviser who accompanied him to the interview in the vice president’s ceremonial office, said the vice president likes Hume but that “our objective was to get the whole story out in a consecutive way. He wanted a long form. We had no desire for anything other than comprehensive and hard questions.” Matalin said Cheney considered holding a news conference, but that “would have meant a lot of grandstanding” by reporters. “Everyone asks the same questions so they can get on their networks,” she said. Matalin said she didn’t think “any purpose would be served” by the vice president doing further interviews because every news organization will excerpt the Fox session.
This is almost certainly true. While the fact that Hume and Fox News generally are the most Republican friendly of the networks surely played no small role in the decision, Cheney was right to choose a solo venue. A press conference would indeed have been a zoo, as David Gregory’s recent conduct has demonstrated.
Hume, who has known Cheney since he was a House member from Wyoming, said he believes the vice president chose Fox because it is the top-rated cable network, and picked him because he hosts the only Washington-oriented hour on Fox’s schedule.
Hume made the ratings comment last night on the show’s roundtable but his tongue was firmly planted in cheek.
While some liberal commentators have criticized Hume over the years, two of Bill Clinton’s White House spokesmen say he was always fair in his dealings with them. Mike McCurry said Hume was “impartial and balanced and fair” as an ABC correspondent covering Clinton, but that “he’s in advocacy journalism now.” Joe Lockhart, who worked for Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign, said that Hume “was a real favorite of Mondale’s. You can’t spend a lot of time with Brit and not know he’s a conservative guy, but it was our belief that never showed up in his journalism. Now he’s got a more edgy and opinionated program.”
Emily Rooney, a talk show host for Boston’s WGBH-TV who worked with Hume at ABC News, praised Hume’s intuitive grasp of politics. Hume has “never hidden” his conservative leanings, she said, and Cheney “chose Brit Hume for a reason — because he’s always given a fair hearing to the Republican Party, which not every journalist did along the way.”
One can simultaneously have a worldview and be fair. Tim Russert is unabashedly liberal but tough with all his guests. I suspect C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb is moderately conservative but he is so balanced in his questioning that few people have any real idea. In his days as White House correspondent, Sam Donaldson was sometimes obnoxious but applied his zeal to both parties.
Hume is in that class. Yes, he sometimes wears a pundit hat and sometimes and anchor hat. Donaldson and many journalists who are both reporters and weekend television pundits have been doing that for years. It’s a tough trick that few pull off.