TV, Politics and Good Intentions
FNC's Brit Hume sounds off
By John M. Higgins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/22/2004 8:00:00 PM
Brit Hume recalls when there was actual drama at the Republican Convention. He worked his first for ABC News in 1976, when the big news was whether incumbent President Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan would get the nomination.
"From a news point of view, you looked for decisions," says the anchor of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume.
Both parties' conventions are friction-free commercials crafted "to take advantage of the TV coverage we give them." Hume would like to reduce the emphasis on conventions but thinks TV networks are locked in by their historical coverage.
Hume spoke with B&C's John Higgins about the upcoming RNC convention.
Is it a quiet August for you?
No, the news cycle is pretty good for August. There are lots of things going on.
The Swift boat veterans are interesting. There was a firestorm and feeding frenzy in the press corps about Bush's National Guard service, charging that he was AWOL—that was [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Terry McAuliffe—or a deserter—that was Michael Moore. They served as a profound motivator to swing the tough-minded folks of the Washington press corps into action.
Kerry is running on ideas, but the centerpiece of the convention and much of his campaign has been his Vietnam War service. It's as if he was born, grew up, went to Vietnam, came back and ran for president. There's "John Kerry, The Missing Years," which are his years in the Senate. The fact that he has made Vietnam so central a feature of his campaign [makes] a closer look at what he did there relevant.
It seemed evident the Swift boat veterans would be worth looking into, since these veterans critical of Kerry put their names on this stuff. But in addition to being a good political story, it's a good media contrast story.
This is one of the clearest cut cases of media bias imaginable. People say these veterans have political motivations. Fine. If you want to use that as a standard, why would you ever pick up on anything Michael Moore and Terry McAuliffe say?
Why is this not on the front page of The Washington Post and The New York Times? At this point, there's no possible explanation, given their behavior toward Bush's National Guard service.
Well, I know an awful lot about this, so I must be reading it somewhere. I don't get home in time for Special Report.
That's a mistake. You should always watch us.
The not-slow August is going to run into the convention. What do you expect?
It looks like it will be very similar to the Democratic convention, a four-day event at which virtually nothing will be decided. And therefore, a much less newsworthy event than these conventions used to be. Our coverage of these conventions is in an evolving state. It isn't what it used to be. It isn't where it's going to be. It isn't at all clear to me that it's where it ought to be.
If we had never done these, you and I would devise coverage for political events differently. [Each party has] decided on their nominees. There are no disagreements on the convention floor. There are no questions about the seating of delegates. Should we cover this live for four nights? We'd look at each other and ask: "Are you crazy?" We've got to devise another way to cover them.
How would you cover it?
We'd make sure we had enough people who cover the candidate to deal with it. But I doubt we'd anchor out of there. Having given one convention a certain amount of coverage, we're sort of obliged to give the other one a similar amount. We made a decision in Boston that we'd go with our regularly scheduled shows. The anchors would be at the convention but wouldn't be the only focus. We're going to do it that way again.
What do you think of the criticism of Fox's coverage of the Democratic convention? That some speeches weren't aired. Gore was one. Sharpton was interrupted.
If it had been my hour, I probably would have taken all of Sharpton instead of most of him. Remember, we did replay a big chunk of Sharpton. And at the top of my hour Monday night, we did replay the four-minute core of the Gore speech.
Is the criticism unfounded?
It's marginal. What we're talking about are a couple of speeches that didn't air live in their entirety. But they did air. If we decided we did not want to air all of Clinton, that would be a problem. Or shortchanged Edwards or Kerry or Mrs. Kerry. We'd have been crazy to do that because Mrs. Kerry's speech was absolutely fascinating, though in a peculiar way.
How does it shade what you're doing for the Republican convention?
We'll have to make the same kinds of calculations as to what merits airing. You have to go on a case-by-case basis. There will be speeches that others might carry that we might not. Our view is these events aren't as major as they used to be—for either party.
What's your take on the attacks on Fox News?
We have always had a choice. We could be accepted and embraced by our competitors, or we could be No. 1. We couldn't be both. We made the choice, and it was the right choice.
What is that choice?
To provide an alternative, to show an equally and frequently more legitimate way of looking at the news. We believed there was an audience for it. It turns out it's the biggest audience.
Have you seen Outfoxed?
As a movie, it's not a great documentary.
It's probably not really a documentary at all. It's probably a polemic, from all I've heard. But I haven't seen it. The guy didn't set out to do an honest look.
Does anyone think that? The problem with television is so much of what we do every day is the translation of news into television form. There has always been a tremendous tendency among TV newsmen to come into the office in the morning and look for something or someone to tell you what the news is. You don't have a lot of time to figure out whether what's on the front pages of the newspapers is what the news is. That's one reason we try harder. We don't rely on The New York Times, Washington Post, the wires as the template for what we do. Much of the time, they're on the right track. Much of the time, they're not.
How do you take criticism from your peers—not all of them fans of Michael Moore—that you're biased?
About the same way they take my criticism that they're biased. Bias is in the eye of the beholder. I think I'm right about it; they think they're right. I saw this at ABC News. There were ideas that didn't naturally occur. The problem is not one of intention. There was a certain level of oblivion.
For example, you can't find mainstream media journalists in Washington or New York, to speak of, who are anti-abortion or anti-gun control. Or who are at all skeptical of the environmental movement. Almost no journalists would say they're conservative. It's not conscious. It's unconscious. They are not trying to advance any political cause. They are producing a product that is homogenous across all networks.
I thought if you built a network that looked at the news in a more independent way, people will come. And they have. If they start to catch on and do it right, what we consider right, what happens to our competitive advantage?
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