Host: Brian Lamb
Guest: Brit Hume
July 9, 2008
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Brit Hume, if you had to go in front of a journalism class and define the term ”journalism” today, what would you say?
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: That’s a big subject today. But I think journalism is in new forms, pretty much what it’s always been, which is reporting and commentary on current events of interest to the public. As I mentioned, many forms. But it’s, at the end of the day, it’s still reporting and analysis and opinion dispensing.
BRIAN LAMB: When in your lifetime have you been the happiest practicing journalism?
BRIT HUME: Well, I probably had the most fun, when I was working for Jack Anderson all those years ago. I was young and full of vigor and energy and there was a lot of freedom. And we had a blast there for a couple years. And I moved on to other things.
BRIAN LAMB: What’s the difference between working for Jack Anderson and anchoring the Fox show at 6:00 everyday?
BRIT HUME: Well, it a lot of the work I did for Jack Anderson, I would report the story. It would go out under his byline with some credit to me or whoever else on the staff did it. This is and I didn’t have to worry about synthesizing the column together. I didn’t have to worry about any of that. I would work on one story at a time and do them. And he would make such use of them as he saw fit.
What I do now is much less about my own reporting than maybe my own news judgment. It is I’m really kind of a ringmaster for the work of a lot of other people, unlike a lot of programs on cable news. My program isn’t about me. It’s really about the work of a lot of other people. It’s about the analysis and commentary of some of my colleagues. And really the reporting on the correspondents and so on. I used to do an interview segment on the show. I don’t do that anymore, because it’ got in the away, I thought, of the show, moving along and telling you more.
BRIAN LAMB: Go back to the beginning of when you well, it’s the night you met Rupert Murdoch. Had dinner with him over here at La Brasserie or whatever. But go back when it started for you with Fox was beginning and you were at ABC.
BRIT HUME: Well, I was at ABC and quite by chance really I met Rupert Murdoch. And I didn’t think or imagine at the time that any would ever come of it. It was a group of journalists, I guess it was organized by ”The American Spectator” and they have something called ”The Saturday Night Club.” It never meets on Saturday night, but they call it that anyway. And they’ll have a guest in for dinner with a bunch of journalists from time to time. On this particular night, it was at the ”La Brasserie” up here on Massachusetts Avenue. A place that’s famous for a lot of reasons. I guess it’s gone now, but and he was the guest and he was proved to be a genial, amiable and approachable and interesting man. And it was fascinating to listen to him.
And when the dinner was over, it was late. It was a winter night as I recall it. My car was parked the other side of the restaurant from where I lived. And so, I went and got the car and turned it around up on Massachusetts Avenue, which is that part of town up there, Massachusetts Avenue is not the great thoroughfare that is elsewhere in Washington. It’s a narrow, two-lane street. And I turned around. And I drove back past the restaurant. There’s a guy standing out there by himself in a trench coat trying to hail a cab. It was Rupert Murdoch.
There was no entourage of aides with him. There was no parade of sedans or limousines. There was none of that. He was out there trying to catch a cab. And he wasn’t going to catch a cab up there for awhile, I didn’t think.
So, I stopped and I said, Mr. Murdoch, where you going? And he said, I’m going to The Willard. And I said, well, I’ll take you there. That’s right along the way. So, I drove him to The Willard.
And we chatted about family and ski trips or whatever. And I found him to be totally easy to talk to and genial and pleasant. And he had no mogul aura about him. None of that. And he was news oriented. And there was talked a little bit about what was in the news and so on. I thought he was fascinating and very different from the caricatures of him that I’ve seen elsewhere.
BRIAN LAMB: So, how did it go from there did you
BRIT HUME: Well, not much happened. There was a at one point when I was at ABC News, there was a they were trying to get something started on the Fox Broadcast Network, a magazine show. I think he was thinking about. And they wanted to try use that as a basis to sort of build a news division. And I didn’t think the idea worked very well or would work very well. And they asked me about it. And it was very preliminary. And it was he wasn’t even involved. It was one of his some of his top people, whom I liked, but the opportunity wasn’t right for me.
And then, in 1996, I was coming to the end of an eight year tour of duty as the chief White House correspondent for ABC News. And I was coming out of the White House. And I didn’t want to do that anymore. It was I just had enough of that. Eight years is long enough. And I was looking around to see what I might do next. And ABC News didn’t seem to have much in mind.
And then, the announcements began to come with people starting 24-hour cable channels. And ABC announced one. And I thought, this is great. They’re going to go 24 hours. That gives an old goat like me some place where I can go and do my stuff. And be kind of a maybe a sort of a veteran commentator and analyst or whatever and it’d be wonderful. And I was enthusiastic about it.
And then, Microsoft and NBC teamed up to create MSNBC and that was announced. And in the middle of all this, along comes Fox with no real domestic news organization. They had a little Washington bureau and a few and they had an exchange system for their stations to exchange video, but they didn’t have a Washington bureau or they didn’t really have the instruments of a network news operation. And here comes Rupert Murdoch and announces that they’re going to start a 24-hour cable channel. Well, the world laughed.
But not long thereafter, Disney pulled the plug on the ABC 24-hour operation. And apparently what happened is that they looked at the numbers. And they concluded that it would be x number of years before they could turn it black. It would hit the stock to the tune of however much they were able to estimate and that it wasn’t it wasn’t worth a candle. So, now, I was working for a company, which was essentially an entertainment company. A wonderful company. Disney’s a very good company. And I’d had a wonderful experience there. And they were bailing out on the idea of going 24 hours, even though they were the gold standard at the moment. Number one in the evening news ratings. It was, at that point, ABC News was the leader.
In the meantime, here comes Rupert Murdoch with no domestic infrastructure with the need to make an enormous capital outlay to do this. And he’s willing to take a risk with less to start with than ABC was. And I began and I realized that the name of the company matters. News Corporation, that’s the name of Rupert Murdoch’s company. And I realized that, and it’s proved to be true since I’ve worked there. This is a news company with some entertainment properties.
Disney, a fine company, is an entertainment company with some news properties.
And so, what you see with News Corporation now is and you see it in the purchase of ”The Wall Street Journal” and in a multitude of other ways is, that’s the focus of this company. That’s the willingness to put a billion dollars, or whatever it was, at risk to build the Fox News Channel. That’s the willingness to buy with the eye to greatly expanding ”The Wall Street Journal” and so on.
So, I ended up thinking that that was the place to be. If we was willing to make that willing to take that risk, I thought, this is the kind of guy I want to work for. And then, he hired Roger Ailes, whom I knew from covering politics. And I knew two things about Roger Ailes. One was that he shot straight. And the other was that none but a fool would ever underestimate him. And I thought, between these two guys, I bet they’re going to make this thing go.
And I had dinner with Roger Ailes in I guess about March of 1996. And he said that he wanted to make the operating concept of Fox News, fair and balanced news. And I thought, man, this is music to my ears, because I had long believed that there was an opportunity there for somebody who wanted to do basically three things.
One was balance all your discussion segments. Most people do that. That’s not so big a problem.
The other was to cover the stories that others are covering with a different angle. A little journalistically legitimate different angle. And I saw them all the time. And in fact, when I was at ABC and I never had a lot of trouble. I mean, they’d say, they’d read whatever ”The New York Times” or somebody had in the morning. And they’d say, do you want to do this your story this way. And I’d say, no, I’d rather do it this way. And they’d say, oh, well, that makes sense. Do that. And they were not difficult about that. But it would not occur to them. And I thought, if you had somebody who was looking at things that way from scratch everyday, it gets to be like picking up money off the street. The opportunities to do stories legitimately in a different way. They’re all around. Or the opportunities to do stories that others aren’t interested in.
We had a wonderful example just last week, when the report came out from the administration, which the administration didn’t produce with any fanfare to Congress that said now that 15 of the 18 political benchmarks were showing satisfactory progress in Iraq. And you say, well, that’s just the administration. Well, maybe so, but a year earlier the same administration had said that satisfactory progress had been made only 8 of 18. Something had obviously happened. And we our reporting over there had sort of indicated this. And there had been a lot of individual reports on this and that that happened. But here it was all in one place. That’s a big story. We’ve made it a big story. I led my broadcast with it. And it was virtually ignored everywhere else. Everywhere else.
So, I’m thinking, great. And so, that was what the opportunity to do that kind of was what drew me to Fox News.
BRIAN LAMB: I read in Howard Kurtz that your contract’s up this year?
BRIT HUME: Yes. End of the year.
BRIAN LAMB: Are you going to stay with it for awhile?
BRIT HUME: We’re talking about a new arrangement.
BRIAN LAMB: Would you like to give up that 6:00 spot?
BRIT HUME: Well, that’s something I have thought about, but basically all I can say to you know is that we’re discussing what comes next.
BRIAN LAMB: Let me go back to February the 1st, 2004, and read you a Peter Johnson story. I know you remember this in ”USA TODAY.” And I want you to parse this. The headline is, ”Brit Hume Honors Honor Triggers Protests.” Is Fox News fair and balanced as its motto claims? The National Press Club Foundation’s plan to honor Brit Hume angered Geneva Overholser, who says, Fox practices ”ideologically connected journalism.” Let me just stop there for a moment. When you read that, what was your reaction?
BRIT HUME: Well, I thought it was not unexpected. I mean, the truth is that the two things that have annoyed a number of my colleagues about Fox News. One of them is that we were different and pointedly so. And the other was that we succeeded. I think, it would no one would have paid much attention if we’d failed, but we didn’t. And by the time 2004 rolled around, we were number one in the audience ratings and had been for a couple years. And I don’t know Geneva Overholser very well. And so, I don’t know what motivated her to get all worked up about that. But she’s not alone in having those sentiments.
BRIAN LAMB: Let me read a little more, because I get your point of view on this. It was an award that you got from the National Press Foundation, the Sol Taishoff award. And you got it in, I guess, 2004, I guess.
BRIT HUME: Yes.
BRIAN LAMB: Past recipients include David Brinkley, Dan Rather, John Chancellor, Jane Pauley, Barbara Walters and Nina Totenberg. And she quit the Board because of this. After this happened. And it says here that she says this in this article. ”Fox wants to do news from a certain viewpoint.” True?
BRIT HUME: Well, if that’s true of us, it’s true of everybody. We’re no more viewpoint connected than any of the other news organizations are.
BRIAN LAMB: Well, the other news organizations do not think that from what they say.
BRIT HUME: No, nor do we, judged by their standards. Brian, what it comes down to is this. There are really two pieces two parts to Fox News, put broadly. And one is our hard news products. And the other is our evening show hosts and talk shows, which are about the opinions of the host to a great extent about the opinions of the hosts and stars of those shows.
Now, a number of our hosts are conservatives, which really, by itself, sets us apart from our competitors, because they have very few conservatives. We have a number. We also have a number of liberals. But it is a striking contrast to the others. And, when you have someone who has been successful as Bill O’Reilly, for example, and is as conspicuous a personality as he is.
And you have someone who is successful as Sean Hannity has been and who is as visible a figure as he is and outspoken. Never mind the fact, of course, that he’s balanced on that program down to the second by Alan Colmes on Hannity & Colmes. Nonetheless, an impression is created in the minds of some people that don’t watch Fox News very much, that basically Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly co-anchor the channel 24/7 and that’s what we do is their conservative opinions. But that isn’t what we do in my hour. That’s not what we do in the hour that goes to 7:00. That isn’t what we do for a large slice of our daytime programming, where we’re just discussing and reporting the news. So, it’s a bum rap, but it’s out there.
BRIAN LAMB: Let me go back and read this again to see if we can get to what maybe she’s getting at and see if you can answer it. Fox wants to do news from a certain viewpoint, but it wants to claim that it is fair and balanced, she says. That is inaccurate and unfair to other media who engage in a quest, perhaps an imperfect quest, for objectivity.
BRIT HUME: Well --
BRIAN LAMB: What this let me stop for a second and ask you about this. David Brinkley, Dan Rather, John Chancellor, Jane Pauley, Barbara Walters and Nina Totenberg and others, are they all objective?
BRIT HUME: None of us is objective. You can’t be objective. But what you can try to be is fair. I mean, David Brinkley, as I recall, is one of the first people I ever heard say that. You can’t be objective. You’re a sentient, thinking, human being. You’re going to have views in reaction to things. But I’ll say this about it. I believe that fairness begins with an awareness that no, you’re not objective. And it is your professional duty and responsibility to be aware of that. And to carry that with you into the work that you do so that you can be fair. So, you could screen out. You can be you can think if you go to a hearing and you think that the politician whose running the hearing is obstreperous personality, whether it’s Phil Graham or Barney Frank, that you think, I got to be careful here, because I don’t particularly cotton to this person. I need to make sure that I play this straight. That I’m fair. I think that’s where it begins. I’ve always thought that. And it’s not that hard to do. I mean, think of the people in the professions that we other professions that we in the practice of law. Lawyers represent clients they disagree with. They even represent viewpoints they disagree with. They do it all the time. And they do a good job of it, because they’re professionally trained to do it. We as journalists are or should be professionally trained to do that as well. To go out and assess a story based on its news value and to order it and prioritize what we see in such a way as to reflect news values and report it that way.
BRIAN LAMB: Did Roger Ailes ever say to you in a conversation, we’re going to use this fair and balanced slogan and it’s going to drive them crazy?
BRIT HUME: He said, it was going to drive them crazy. He said, he knew it was going to drive them crazy.
BRIAN LAMB: But let me show you.
BRIT HUME: It does drive them crazy. Now look, Brian, the examples I cited to you earlier the earlier example of that story is a meaningful example is the kind of thing that where we see opportunity where others see nothing. Now, can anyone, Geneva Overholser or anyone else seriously argue to me than when a report comes out from an administration that a year ago said that progress satisfactory progress was being made on half of these political benchmarks, which had been so much at the center of the debate. And a year later comes along and reports more than twice as much. That that isn’t news. Of course, it’s news by any reasonable, fair-minded standard. Our colleagues neglect such stories with some regularity, providing us a competitive opportunity. We pickup on stories like this. Now, we’re perfectly willing to report that somebody said that the benchmarks are not they’re not being met. They’re simply reporting progress. They don’t mean that much. All of that is part of the fabric of the reporting on it. But it is news. And we do a lot of that. Now, one might argue that, gee, if we weren’t conservative in outlook, we wouldn’t think that way. Well, maybe. On the other hand, if that’s true, then what’s true on the other side.
BRIAN LAMB: By the way, the Geneva Overholser we’re quoting used to run ”The Des Moines Register,” was the ombudsman for ”The Washington Post.” Ran the University of Missouri journalism school and is now out at U.S.C., I believe, as the dean of the journalism school out there. I’m not sure that’s her title, but she runs it.
I want to go back to a December 19th, 2004 interview we did with Roger Ailes. And we talked about awards. You got this award in 2004. And it’s the only Fox person that’s ever gotten that award. And you don’t hear of Fox getting many awards.
BRIT HUME: I wonder why that is.
BRIAN LAMB: All right. Here’s Roger Ailes from the interview.
ROGER AILES: For five years, we never even got a nomination. Now, what the public doesn’t know about these Emmy Awards is you get to vote for yourself. And you can pack the panels to vote, which I didn’t realize. But if you have more employees, like CNN has four times more employees, they can have four times more people that can go to these panels. And so, they can vote for themselves. And I think it’s wrong to vote for yourself. I think it’s OK if you’re a presidential candidate and you’ve got 120 million people voting. It’s OK. But I don’t think it’s OK to vote for yourself for an award. My show’s the best. I’m going to vote for me. What a nutty idea.
So, these guys are all walking around and I’m thinking, that’s not good. Also, they wanted to ignore Fox News. And we had some fine journalists here doing fine work. But because we were the upstarts, we were the new kids on the block, the other guys had been in the club for a long time, they decided to block us. So, I said, we don’t need to play. In fact, I told my people, if you start winning awards, you’ll probably get fired.
BRIAN LAMB: I think you won that award before he said that.
BRIT HUME: Maybe.
BRIAN LAMB: Is it still the case that
BRIT HUME: We don’t get awards.
BRIAN LAMB: We talk about the Pulitzers all the time. ”The Washington Times” has never won a Pulitzer. I don’t know that the ”USA TODAY” has ever won a Pulitzer. What a and everybody always, in this business, brags about Emmys and Pulitzers and Oscars and all that stuff. What’s that about? And is he right? Is Roger Ailes right?
BRIT HUME: Well, I think there’s a homogeneity of viewpoint among the people who give these awards about what kind of journalism they want to reward. And the truth of the matter is that it tends, not without exception, but it tends to be journalism that supports the liberal point of view or adduces information that would tend to support a liberal point of view. And that’s what you run into. And I must say, I think the processes needs to be opened up. But I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.
BRIAN LAMB: I just want to tell the audience a couple things. We you and I have our offices in the same building right here. We’re on the sixth floor. We came in 1981. You all came in about 1996. You’re on the fifth floor, right below us.
BRIT HUME: Right under you.
BRIAN LAMB: We see each other in the hallway all the time. We’ve never had a meal together.
BRIT HUME: That’s true. Yes.
BRIAN LAMB: But I also read that you don’t do much of the socializing in Washington.
BRIT HUME: No.
BRIAN LAMB: Do you go to the dinners?
BRIT HUME: No. I hate those dinners.
BRIAN LAMB: Why?
BRIT HUME: Cause they well, first of all, by the time first of all, it’s hard to get anything to eat. I get hungry about 6:00. My show’s over at 7:00. I’m hungry. I want to have dinner. Do I want to go to some place and stand around for an hour where other people drink. And then go in and have dinner about 9:00. First, that’s one problem. The other problem is, you get home late. It’s hard to get to sleep. It’s exhausting. And they’re not much fun anymore. I mean, they’re not when I was young and foolish and could get drunk and feel OK in the morning and have a good time, I didn’t mind going to those dinners. That was kind of great fun. But I’m kind of past that now. And I think those dinners are extremely tedious. And if there’s any and besides that, Brian, if there’s anything really happening at the dinners, I can always watch it on C-SPAN.
BRIAN LAMB: I want to go back to a book that you wrote in 1974. I happen to get a copy of it called, ”The Inside Story.” Brit Hume, remember this?
BRIT HUME: Yes. Of course, I remember that.
BRIAN LAMB: Would you tell the Al Capp story? And I want you to tell it, because in our discussion here of journalism and the difference with what you do now and what you did then.
BRIT HUME: Well, Al Capp was of course a famous cartoonist. The creator of the ”Li’l Abner” cartoon, which was published in many papers for many, many years. Certifiably, he was an American well-known American figure. And he emerged back in the ’70s as a political commentator as well. And he used to appear on weekends on ”NBC Monitor,” which was a very successful program that NBC radio had on weekends for it went on for years. And Al Capp was one of the commentators. And he was really wailing on he was right-wing and he was and he went around he was particularly hard on college administrators and college faculty. He called them, ”Fagins.” He said, we’re corrupting the youth of the country.
And we got information at Jack Anderson’s office that this guy was a masher. That he would lure young women on these campuses. And he spoke a lot. He was on the lecture tour. And he was out there speaking all the time. And he would find various ruses by which to get a young woman to his hotel room. Sometimes he would say, he needed some stenographic work. Is there anybody that would do does that part time, who could come and help him. Or he would say, I want to have a consultation with somebody on your yearbook staff and he would try to find the name of a woman, so I can get the feel of the campus and tailor my speech or whatever. And then, when he got them, he would go after them, physically. Chase them around.
And we had some women at the University of Alabama, who told these horror stories of what had happened there on a particular weekend. And, on top of the fact that these things happened at that college, we found out that reports of it had happened elsewhere. And that the colleges, doing everything they could to avoid scandal, would not make a fuss about it, would not see that he was charged or anything like that. And they would also not warn the next stop on the tour. So, he was in the clear.
Anyway, we developed this story about what happened at the University of Alabama. We got the young women to give us affidavits attesting to what had happened. So, we had sworn statements to make sure we were on solid ground here.
And then, we called Al Capp. And he came. He got an airplane and flew down to Washington. And came into Jack Anderson’s office. Now, he had an artificial leg. Now, I had seen him in television programs walk across the stage to greet a host and sit down and be fine. But when he came in the office that day, he was dragging that thing behind him like you wouldn’t believe. And he came into Jack Anderson’s office and sat down and emphatically denied that he had done anything inappropriate. And Jack Anderson was a Mormon, serious about his faith.
BRIAN LAMB: Nine kids.
BRIT HUME: Father of nine. The eldest of whom at that time was a college student. And Capp says, ”Jack,” he said, ”you’re out on the campuses aren’t you, speaking?” And Jack said, ”yes, I’m pretty much every week I’m out.” He said, ”well, you know how these young babes come up to you. Don’t you, Jack?” And I thought, ”uh, oh.” Jack, you know, he almost grew. He almost stood up in his chair. He didn’t say anything right away. And I could see Capp, he had this baleful look on his face, like uh-oh, you may have awakened the wrong passenger with that one. And at one point, he looked over at me and he said, ”you have any doubts about the authenticity of these accounts you’ve been given?” And I didn’t say anything. I just shook my head.
And then, there was always this issue with the Jack Anderson column, if you had a story and you consulted the person about whom the story was to be done that they could go out ahead of your story with a big denial and a denunciation, and then, announce plans for a lawsuit and scare off your papers. Cause it took two or three days to get the column circulators all done by much of it was done by mail. Some by wire in those days. But it wasn’t like it is now, where it’s on the Internet and boom, it’s done. You finished it. It’s in the newsroom within seconds.
So, Jack reassured Mr. Capp that we would be looking into the matter further and considering and humpty, humpty, humpty to try to see if we could forestall his going out with a big publicity campaign. And when he was out of the office, the story was written, sent out and published. A number of newspapers killed it anyway.
BRIAN LAMB: ”The Post.”
BRIT HUME: ”The Post” ”The Washington Post” didn’t run it. The Boston paper, whichever one we had then didn’t run it. A lot of papers didn’t run it.
BRIAN LAMB: A Chicago paper out there --
BRIT HUME: I don’t remember, but I can’t remember now. But it might be in the book, but ”The New York Post” ran it. We found that the Al Capp lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the ones that the minute ”The New York Post” hit the newsstands up there, they were all bought up. So, he did everything he could to try to cover it. Now, one of the things interesting things that happened was that the story ran in a little newspaper out in Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where there’s a branch of the University of Wisconsin.
It so happened at that very moment that a young woman had had a similar encounter with Mr. Capp out there and she like a number of women across the country, we later came to learn, was agonizing with the local prosecutor about what to do. He didn’t he was indignant about what had happened and outraged, but there was a question of are you going to put this her word against his testimony and he’s a famous guy. And you going to put her through that for the sake of something that she managed to wriggle out of anyway. And when that story hit, her resolve was look, this is obviously happening elsewhere. We got to do this. So, he was charged out there. And an extradition measure was taken. And Al Capp was on the verge of being extradited to Wisconsin to stand charges of assault. And as I don’t remember all the details, but I think he pleaded out and got it over with. And, basically, he was really never heard from again.
BRIAN LAMB: They say he moved to London.
BRIT HUME: Yes. He moved to London.
BRIAN LAMB: And he was 64 back in those days. So --
BRIT HUME: Yes.
BRIAN LAMB: Brief biography on Brit Hume. Born in Washington, D.C. Went to St. Albans School here. Same place as Al Gore and a few others went. Am I right so far?
BRIT HUME: Yes.
BRIAN LAMB: Mom and dad did what?
BRIT HUME: Mom, most of the time that after I’d come along, my mother didn’t work. My father was a manufacturer’s representative. Not a lobbyist. He ran a company a small company here that was the point-of-contact for companies that had contracts with those various kinds of equipment to provide to the government. And the government could, if they had an issue with engineering question or something, that was the point-of-contact. He did that for many years. And then, later in his life, he went out on his own. Raised some money. And had a company that manufactured products that he’d invented.
And that was how he spent the last years of his career was marketing his own products with a company, that was called the Tunlaw Corporation. Tunlaw is named for a we know it as a street here in Washington, but Tunlaw was actually a very large farm out in northwest Washington, which I guess his grandfather had at one time owned, when the family still had some money. It was long gone by the time my father and I came along. But Tunlaw is the word walnut spelled backward. Just in case and so, he ran that little company. And that was what actually, he I think, he sent me to college on the proceeds of that firm that he ran until he retired.
BRIAN LAMB: Brothers and sisters?
BRIT HUME: I have a brother.
BRIAN LAMB: Where is he?
BRIT HUME: He lives down in Delaplane, Virginia. One town over from our place down in Virginia.
BRIAN LAMB: Went to the University of Virginia. Studied what?
BRIT HUME: Studied English.
BRIAN LAMB: Worked for UPI, ”The Baltimore Evening Sun,” and --
BRIT HUME: ”Hartford Times.”
BRIAN LAMB: ”Hartford Times.” And they’re all out of business.
BRIT HUME: Yes. That’s true. Well, UPI, I guess, lives in some form. But, Brian, if I had to tell you one experience that really made a difference in my life was, I was at the age of 22, out of college, married, looking for work. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And I had to and I had a child coming. I had to find work. I tried to find work as a teacher. That didn’t work. And I finally, through an employment agency, got a job as a cub reporter on the old ”Hartford Times” in Connecticut. And it was the greatest blessing professionally that has ever come to me or ever could.
Because I walked into that old newsroom up there in Hartford. And this was long before the data processing and the computer terminals and all that we have today. This was an old fashioned newsroom. And it was right out of a movies. I mean, it was battered typewriters clattering away. There was a guy on the copy desk, yelling ”copy” across the room to the copy boys to get the material in hand. And there was his name was Bill Shay.
And if his name had not been Bill Shay, he would have changed his name to Bill Shay. He was Bill Shay with the stogie in the mouth, and the white hair, and the ruddy complexion, and the deep booming voice, and the irreverent spirit, and the hope I was totally captivated. I loved it from the minute I walked in the door. I thought. This is the greatest place I’ve ever been. This is great. And the whole irreverent spirit of the place. And things changing every time. And deadlines. And stuff going on.
And I started out covering a little suburban town, Glastonbury, Connecticut. It was the first job I ever had. And that newspaper, that medium-sized metropolitan, daily newspaper up there, which was even then beginning its inevitable downward curve toward extinction, was still a paper that had some real standards. And I remember once I wrote a story that said that something, something, something, that ”The Hartford Times” had learned. And I saw my editor and the city editor conferred and they called me up to the front of the room.
So, I’m standing there. And they got my copy in their hand. And the guy was holding it like he didn’t even want to touch it. He points to the ”The Hartford Times” has learned and he said, what’s that? And I said, well, I think we’re the only ones that have this story. He said, but you wouldn’t admit that if you hadn’t learned it. Now would you? And I said, no, sir.
He said, well, don’t put that stuff. It just takes up space in the paper. To this day, I have trouble saying, Fox News has learned or ABC News has learned. It always makes me I always think of it’s kind of silly. And they were they were very careful about being fair and balanced. And editorializing and opinionating and slanted stuff, they didn’t go for that. And that’s where what standards I have were learned was working on that.
And I’ll never forget the man, who gave me the job. A man named Nat Cistero (ph), who was the assistant managing editor of that newspaper. He started on the loading dock working on the loading dock and worked his way up. And he was as honorable and able a newspaperman as I’ve ever known. He was kind to me. He was firm. And he taught me so much. And my first job, actually, was on in the town of Glastonbury. His wife had been the stringer, who covered that little town first. So, I had to sort of follow in her footsteps to some extent. So, they knew what I was doing out there. And I will to the day I die be eternally grateful to him and all the others at that little what we now think of as a little paper, in the beginning of its last days from which I learned so much.
BRIAN LAMB: You worked for Jack Anderson for two years. What years were --?
BRIT HUME: Three. Almost three. It was sometime in ’70 to nearly through toward the end of 1972.
BRIAN LAMB: How did you get your job with ABC? And how long were you there?
BRIT HUME: I had written a book about the miner’s union, called ”Death and The Mines.” And it was about the corruption and the life in the corruption in the mineworkers’ union and life in the coal fields. And ABC News was starting a new documentary series called, ”Close-up.” This was in late ’73, I guess. And the first subject that they were going to do was the coal mining in West Virginia life in the coal fields. And somebody knew about my book. And they asked me to be a consultant on the series or at least on that program. And I went up and started to work on that. And they seemed to like having me around. So the next thing you know, I became a series of contracts short-term and then longer term, a consultant to that documentary series. And I did that for three years.
And then after that, they asked me if I’d like to try it as a correspondent. At first, I said, no. I always thought of television correspondents as being sort of silly people with makeup on their faces and talking to inanimate objects cameras and clearing their throats. And I thought they were sort of ridiculous. And then after awhile, I started thinking. I kind of wanted to get back to daily news. And after awhile, I thought, you know Hume, you’re saying no to this cause you’re afraid you’ll fail. And that’s not a good reason. So, I went back and I said, I think I’d like to try it and they said, OK. So, I started out as a general assignment and I very nearly did fail. I was bad. I was really bad. The delivery was weird. The voiceover delivery was weird. And I had trouble learning to do that. And on-camera, I had this particular habit of tilting my head to one side or the other for several stand-ups and then they couldn’t use them.
BRIAN LAMB: There’s a famous moment I want you to remember when you were in the White House Rose Garden.
BRIT HUME: The withdrawal of the Guinier nomination, sir, and your apparent focus on Judge Breyer and your turn, late it seems, to Judge Ginsburg may have created an impression, perhaps unfair, of a certain zigzag quality in the decision making process here. I wonder, sir, if you could kind of walk us through it? Perhaps disabuse us of any notion we might have along those lines. Thank you.
Bill Clinton: I have long since given up the thought that I could disabuse some of you of turning any substantive decision in anything but political process. How you could ask a question like that after the statements she just made is beyond me. Goodbye. Thank you.
(end of video)
BRIAN LAMB: Do you remember that?
BRIT HUME: Oh, yes. That wasn’t that’s not something you easily forget.
BRIAN LAMB: What was your reaction to his reaction?
BRIT HUME: I had two thoughts really. One of them was, I wonder why that question asked as respectfully as it was, so set him off. And the second thing was, I knew that the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol had promised me were about to begin. And it was it’s not it’s not an inconspicuous role being the chief White House correspondent on one of the broadcast networks, but that thing was I mean, I knew that was going to set off fireworks. And it certainly did. And by the time I got into my office the next morning, we had this was before voicemail integrated voicemail we all had little answering machines on our desks. And there were like 46 messages on there. Nearly all of them from radio talk shows wanting me to come and discuss this incident. I only as I recall, I did one of those. But it was a big deal and it reverberated. And it was thought to be a bad moment for him, because he looked kind of peevish and intemperate and I mean, he could easily have answered the question by saying something like, with the choice I ended up, it seems to be awfully hard that anyone could question the process.
What had happened, of course, was there was kind of a peculiar event, because they had the announcement ceremony with the guests that were attendant and then they had us we media types at the back of the Rose Garden and it was from the beginning made known that he was going to take questions. So, he had this peculiar announcement with press conference. Well, the question that I asked about how he’d move from one to another seemed to I mean, it was a question everybody had. I mean, if I hadn’t asked that question, somebody else would have.
And I sensed as I was watching this event unfold that it was going to be a little of a delicate matter to raise this question in the middle of this ceremony. And she had just spoken movingly, I think, to a great many people about being a woman, and the dreams of her family for her, and that she’d arrived at this moment and so forth. And he, of course, sensitive to these kinds of things as he was knew that this was great stuff. And that’s what I think led him to saying, how you could ask a question like that after the statements you just made is beyond him. Well, so I asked the question anyway and I asked it in the way I asked it in an effort to be respectful or courteous in light of the moment that had just occurred. But I didn’t think I could avoid asking it. It was the question.
BRIAN LAMB: How well are we served by the White House press corps?
BRIT HUME: Well, I think well enough. I mean, there’s a I noticed when I went down there the striking for the first day I was on the job down there the striking difference between the atmosphere on Capitol Hill with the press corps and the atmosphere at the White House.
BRIAN LAMB: How long were you on Capitol Hill?
BRIT HUME: I was on Capitol Hill for 11 years before I went to the White House. And the atmosphere when members come to the gallery is very comfortable and familiar. And I won’t say cozy, but it’s not especially challenging, compared to the atmosphere at the White House, which is very nearly prosecutorial to the point of absurdity down there some days. And what you have, as you know, you beat up the briefer is what you do. And I got to the point down at the White House, where a lot of times I just didn’t go to the daily briefing, it was just so absurd.
And so many of the questions were being asked that reporters were asking and were never going to write anything out of the answers. I mean, we’d see questions asked over and over again. It was perfectly clear that the press secretary or whoever is doing the briefing was not going to answer or were not going to answer any further than had already been done. And I find it a pretty tiresome process down there. But they have the daily briefing down there, because it’s the most efficient way for them to communicate with the press on a daily basis, because they’re not going to answer all the phone calls or they’d never get out of there. So, they have this briefing. It’s a free for all. And it’s not a very in my opinion, a very useful experience. I think it’s and I don’t think it it hasn’t been for many years and I’m not I think ever since Watergate, it was it is what it is and always will be.
BRIAN LAMB: By the way, do you have another book in you, Brit?
BRIT HUME: Well, I’ve thought about that. I did two. I found them both very hard work. Books are daunting. Now, I’ve been I’ve had people say to me, now, look see, the way to do this is, we get somebody to research it for you. And then we’ll get somebody to sort of help you write it. Well, I’ve done two books on my own. I wrote them both. I researched them both. The second one was kind of a memoir. It didn’t require the amount of research that the first one did. If I’m going to do another book, it’ll be something I want to research and write myself and try to make a real contribution. I don’t want to do one of these books that I describe as the world according to me, which is just basically an exposition of my opinions about everything. I don’t think anybody much wants to read that.
BRIAN LAMB: When Jack Anderson was alive and in business, seven days a week, he had a column. Is there anything at all like Jack Anderson today?
BRIT HUME: I don’t think so, I don’t, but
BRIAN LAMB: People that have never read that column
BRIT HUME: That column was a peculiar mix of reporting and opinion. It was kind of somewhat opinionated reporting. Now, when Drew Pearson had the column before him and Drew Pearson, of course, was a legendary figure in American journalism over a long period of time and his columns were so influential, it was more opinion than reporting. More crusading than reporting. Jack was kind of a shoe leather reporter, investigative reporter. And so, when we got the column after Drew Pearson died, it tended to reflect his emphasis, which was on reporting and was it wasn’t without its colorful writing and so on, but it was, I would say, a little less opinionated.
BRIAN LAMB: Did were you a liberal when you went to work for Jack Anderson?
BRIT HUME: I think I probably would have said no, if somebody asked me, but I was. We all were. And nearly everyone now is. And it comes out look, think of the romance
BRIAN LAMB: You mean journalists.
BRIT HUME: Yes. Think of the romance. Think of why you go into journalism in the first place and why you come to Washington. For most people, Washington, they look to Washington as the place where the great things are going to happen. Now to some of them with a more conservative outlook might say, wait a minute, Washington is important and all, but America’s a country where great things are happening all over the place everyday in the private sector. And that’s where the great life is. That’s where the good life is. That’s where you can go and work for a company, or develop your own and build it up, and live in a nice community, and have a great life, and do wonderful things.
And people say, no, I want to go to Washington and I’m going to work my way up and I’ll cover the Agriculture Department and then I’ll cover the Congress. Wow. I have always had a fascination for politics. But I came back here as much cause it was home. And I wanted to be near the Redskins and my old friends, like Fred Barnes and people like that I’d known all my life. As I did because it was the news Mecca. And you kind of have a belief that when great things that really matter happen, they’re going to happen here.
BRIAN LAMB: Do those folks that appear on your roundtable, the Fox All-Stars, is that your decision who sits there?
BRIT HUME: I’ve picked those people on the first day of that show and it’s been basically the same cast ever since, with some substitutes.
BRIAN LAMB: Do you pick them for ideological reasons?
BRIT HUME: No, I pick them I picked them really for reasons there’s a certain quality that I’m looking for. I’m looking for people, who I don’t mind if they have opinions at all, but I’m really looking for people who are still out there reporting. Who are still looking into things. I don’t want armchair assessments. I want
BRIAN LAMB: What’s that mean?
BRIT HUME: I don’t want somebody who’s not exposed to any events. Who’s not really up on things. Because it’s a daily show. And we’re often commenting on something that happened that day. And I want people who are really closely tracking the day’s news. And who come in and often have I mean, Mara Liasson, for example, when she first started on that panel, she was the White House correspondent for NPR. She walked out of the White House and stood on the lawn and did her part for that show. And it would reflect what she reported that day. She’s now their national political correspondent.
And so, she brings to the table every night, what she’s been working on all day. Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke, they have they write some opinion pieces, but they’re still reporting. The one person we’ve added to the mix, who isn’t a reporter in the standard sense is Charles Krauthammer. He is a person of such rare brilliance that he brings plenty every time he comes. And he loves doing it. And he comes to play he comes prepared. And he knows a lot. And he finds out things. And he gets around town too. You go down to the State Department and he’ll be doing there seeing Condoleeza Rice or whatever. So, that’s what I’m looking for.
BRIAN LAMB: Is it safe to assume that in the next couple years that the way that show looks is going to change dramatically? We’ve got three guys sitting at the table right now that are either 65 or older.
BRIT HUME: I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, everything is changing. The show has held up very well in terms of the audience response.
BRIAN LAMB: Top rated in that segment.
BRIT HUME: It’s been top rated in that segment now for I think I guess about seven years. Yes, six years anyway.
BRIAN LAMB: How do you I mean, if you look at the weeklies that come out on the ratings, Fox News is for the whole day is around four, five or six in all the cable ratings.
BRIT HUME: Right.
BRIAN LAMB: CNN’s somewhere in the 20, 21, 22. MSNBC is 36, 37, 38 in that range. What did Fox News do to get to be number one in news?
BRIT HUME: Well, several things. One was that we were alive to the imperatives of television. And when CNN started, they were unique. And they had an attitude that they were going to make the news the star. And that they would have competent broadcasters and reporters and so on. But they were not trying to create a star system and buildup their audience response around that. The news was going to the star. It’s a good idea and in many ways and it worked pretty well. There were a lot of things about the technical quality of what CNN did the writing, the producing, the editing that we at ABC News, for example, where there was tremendous emphasis on getting things properly edited, cut, written, written to picture and so on. Of course, we were distilling everything down into one 22-minute news hole every night. Whereas, CNN had this furnace to feed all day long. We thought their quality was poor and that their people were journeymen. They were not very exciting.
So, when we came along at Fox, I think Roger Ailes felt, look, we have an opportunity. If we get more interesting and attractive people, we’ll have a leg up on them. And so there was an effort to do that. CNN has now responded to that by going in that direction as well, but we kind of stole the march on them for awhile on that count. And we made sure that we thought our graphics were clear and lively and interesting, and up to date, and modern, and the whole look of the thing was bright and sharp and all of that. And that wouldn’t have by itself that stuff I’m talking about, that wouldn’t have done it. That wouldn’t have us number one. But we had an editorial mission that people found valuable. And that was the stories doing the stories that others weren’t doing. And doing the stories that others were doing in a different way. And over time and over certain stories, our emphasis I think paid off.
It began to payoff a little bit during the Monica Lewinsky flap, because we were all over that, but everyone else was too. I don’t think we gained that much ground.
We gained a lot of ground during the Florida recount, which was one of those news stories that for people who want to watch news all the time, couldn’t take their eyes off of it. And people watching it all day, into the night. And we were all over that story. And very early in the process, we took our two best reporters, Jim Angle and Carl Cameron, from the campaign. Took them away from the candidates. We put Carl in West Palm and Jim in Tallahassee, where those court decisions were coming down on an almost hourly basis it seemed at sometimes. And Jim did a won an award actually for his analysis of those opinions. And we covered that story I remember I was personally was so into it that I was staying up late at night reading Florida case law on the Internet to try to be in a position to interpret these decisions. And we really, I think, did a very good job on that story and began to catch on the public’s estimation.
And then, after 9/11 throughout that campaign year we did well, but then after 9/11, everybody had this massive audience spike at and the aftermath of 9/11. So, we’re talking about September, October, November, December. And then, things began to settle down to more normal viewing levels.
And the question was going to be, who would retain viewers gained during that period. We retained a much larger share of ours than our competitors did theirs. And that was when we became top rated and have been ever since.
Now, the others have gained some ground, as inevitable they were going to do. I mean, when you’re number one of course, you’ve got to be you want to be when you’re first, you want to be alive to change, but you’re a little loathe to change something that’s working. You might undo what people have come to you for. If you’re not first, you’re have the freedom that we had when we started out to try all kinds of different stuff until you hit on until you hit on something that begins to work and then you go with that. So our competitors have been in that process and they’re finding some things that are working for them. And it tends to be they found some things that seems to me that are kind of on the talk side, more than on the news side. But nonetheless that’s what we did too. We’ve done very well with those evening talk shows, in particular.
BRIAN LAMB: Back in your interview with Howard Kurtz in 2006, you mentioned that a day doesn’t go by that you don’t think about your late son, Sandy. And I bring it up, because you and I’ve never talked about this, but he hosted our call-in show about two weeks before he died.
BRIT HUME: Yes. I remember that. He and I were on C-SPAN together one time. Remember that?
BRIAN LAMB: Yes. And
BRIT HUME: I love we loved that experience.
BRIAN LAMB: Was it 10 years ago?
BRIT HUME: Ten years ago in February.
BRIAN LAMB: What’s the overall impact? What have you thought about?
BRIT HUME: Well, it was a terrible, crushing blow. He committed suicide. He was had been a tremendously successful kid. He was an all-metropolitan lacrosse player. Played four years of varsity lacrosse at Middlebury. Graduated from there with honors. He had just been hired by ”U.S. News & World Report” here away from ”The Hill” newspaper to be a correspondent for them. He was a Fox News contributor. He just started that. It was Roger’s idea. He thought it’d be fun having him on my show in a guest segment from time to time. He and I appeared together on C-SPAN. A lot of people remember that. And but Sandy had got Sandy was a kid, who he wasn’t a drunk, but when he drank, he got himself in trouble. And it had happened a couple times. There’d been a couple incidents. And it had passed the time when he should have outgrown that stuff and stop doing that. And I remember saying to him, I said, look, you’re going to have this and it didn’t happen often, but it was when he did, he’d do risky, crazy stuff.
And on the particular night, he was drinking and speeding, I guess, afterwards down on Canal Road and the police chased him. He tried to get away. Ran his car into a puddle. Stalled the car out. Got caught. He thought it was all over. He thought this was a ruinous development from which his life and career would not recover. That was crazy. He committed suicide.
Fortunately, for me, I was I escaped the terrible burden of guilt that one might have when you think, if only I’d had a better relationship with him. I had a wonderful relationship with him. And I didn’t I didn’t have to look back and say, if only I’d done this or done that. I mean, it was I had none of that, which was a tremendous relief.
The other thing was that a time like that, Brian, is when you find out what you really believe. And I grew up in Washington. I went to St. Albans School nine years. Church school. Baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church. I was a kind of nominal Christian all those years. Suddenly this unspeakable tragedy hits. And at a moment like that you find out what you really believe. And the one thing I recognized almost instantly was that I believed in God and I believed that God would come to my rescue. And I remember I said to people and it was kind of a half in jest, but it there was truth to it, that I kept expecting in the days after what happened to Sandy that the phone would ring. And I’d pick up the phone and the voice on the other one would say, this is God. This is what this was about, because it seemed so inexplicable. And it seemed so undeserved for him, for me and for everyone else in the family. Well, obviously, nothing like that occurred, but something did occur. Somewhere in the middle of that, I felt closer to God and to Christ than I had ever felt in my life, which is in a sense paradoxical. But there it was. And it was unmistakable.
And I got I don’t think what the exact number was within about three weeks of his death, I had received in my mailbox, this is quite apart from any emails, and a reason I have a number in my head is that my assistant and I were sending out thank you responses to the people who wrote to me. The number within three weeks had hit 973. Now, look, my program on Fox was just starting then.
BRIAN LAMB: 973 letters.
BRIT HUME: 973 letters, prayer cards, expressions by mail to me of sympathy, support and so on. I would go home at night and my mailbox would be crammed with them. Sometimes, there’d be some on top of the mailbox. And I read everyone of them. Everyone of them. And I remember, I wept over some of them. And I but I was enormously buoyed by this outpouring. Now, think about this, Brian. I mean, my Fox News was really kind of nowhere. This was 1998. We were just in business a couple years. We were mired deep in third place. The ratings for we were doing 25,000, 30,000 viewers tops some nights. My show had just started. I’d been had some people who knew of me from my days at ABC News, but I was--compared to where Fox News and the people on it are now, we were nowhere. So, somehow, this event touched these people and somehow they found in them to respond. I consider it to be sent a miracle. And it was and I, I mean, I just felt so buoyed by it. So supported. So loved. And I thought, thank you, God.
BRIAN LAMB: Brit Hume, thank you very much.
BRIT HUME: My pleasure, Brian. Thank you. It’s always good to see you.