Daily Archives: April 19, 2006

True Brit

If there’s one thing you can’t take away from Howie Kurtz it’s his timing. On the same day the FBI announces it’s after the papers of the late Jack Anderson (doubtless searching what Brokebackesque dish he divined of the bureau’s founder) Howie profiles Anderson’s most noted colleague (or is it cohort ?) Brit Hume, the better to explain how the former “muckraker” got down (or is it up?) in the muck with Fox News moving “From Liberal Outsider to The Low-Key Voice of Conservatism.”

Well the voice has a low-key intonation to it. What it’s actual saying is another matter entirely.

As a senior Fox News executive and anchor who landed the only interview with Vice President Cheney after his hunting accident, Hume has traveled light-years since his early days as a dogged investigator. He has made the transition from newspaper reporter to television star, from outside critic to charter member of the Washington establishment, from garden-variety liberal to committed conservative. He has become an acerbic critic of his chosen profession. And he has endured a family tragedy that changed his outlook on life.
There is a formal bearing about Hume that transcends his suspenders and American flag lapel pin. He speaks deliberately, unhurriedly, making his points with logic rather than passion. On a network filled with flamboyant personalities, he gave his nightly program the bland title “Special Report.”

He’s flamboyantly bland.

“One of the things he needs is to be respected and thought of as somebody who matters in the world, and he’s very upfront about that,” says Kim Hume, who is Fox’s Washington bureau chief. “But he is not egocentric in the normal sense of what you think of a TV anchorman.”

You mean like Katie Couric? And why pull a Rodney Dangerfield when everyone knows fear and loathing are much more powerful feelings to encourage in the “mainstream” media?

“Hume’s first job was not what you would call glamorous.
It was 1965, and he had married his first wife, Clare Stoner, in his senior year at the University of Virginia, where by his own account he barely managed to graduate.”

How . . .Presidential !

“The son of a Washington manufacturing rep who marketed his own inventions, including a bird feeder, Hume had attended St. Albans but had no great media contacts. So when an employment agency landed him a $5,000-a-year job as a reporter for the Hartford Times in Connecticut, Hume grabbed it.
Hume fell in love with the paper, which has since folded, and then jumped to United Press International. A year later he joined the Baltimore Evening Sun, which led to a fellowship at the Washington Journalism Center, where he was befriended by Ralph Nader. The consumer advocate suggested that he dig into corruption at the United Mine Workers and even put Hume in touch with his publisher. The book research led to an article in the Atlantic, and that, in turn, persuaded Anderson to hire the young reporter.
“I was in hog heaven,” Hume says.
Hume loved working for Anderson and came up with a huge scoop. Anderson had obtained a memo from an ITT Corp. lobbyist that linked a $400,000 contribution to the Republican National Convention with the Nixon Justice Department’s settlement of a major antitrust suit against the corporation. Hume confirmed the story with the lobbyist, Dita Beard, and wound up testifying on the Hill amid a tidal wave of publicity. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for failing to tell a Senate hearing that President Nixon had told him to settle the ITT suit.
After Anderson had to retract a 1972 charge that Democratic vice presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton had been arrested for drunken driving, Hume concluded that his boss’s credibility had been tarnished and resigned. But he was thrown together with Anderson again when a former general counsel for the mining union sued for libel over a column based on information from a confidential source.
“I was so worried about this,” says Hume, who admits that part of the story was wrong. “It hung over me for six years.” The case took a crucial turn when his lawyer persuaded the source — the daughter-in-law of a senior union official — to testify. A federal jury acquitted Hume and Anderson in 1975.”

How nice for them. But I recall a much more entertaining “scoop”of theirs.

It was a different era, a different administration and a very different Brit Hume.
Thirty-six years ago, as a long-haired reporter for columnist Jack Anderson, Hume was handed information that Spiro Agnew’s son had left his wife and moved in with a male hairdresser. Hume tracked down the vice president’s son in Baltimore, talked his way in with a made-up tale about reports that Randy Agnew was living in a “hippie crash pad” and confirmed the details. Although Hume expressed strong reservations about the story — his wife thought it was disgraceful — he convinced himself that it could be a big deal.
“It’s a story I wish I hadn’t done,” Hume says now. “We had no idea whether what the story implied was true, that the kid was gay and his gayness had anything to do with the rift with his family.”

Oh now really, Brit. The story was Absolutely Fabulous! Even though Anderson had second thoughts about it down the line

“He {Spiro Agnew] had reason to hate one journalist in particular: Jack Anderson as much as outed his son James “Randy” Agnew in a column that Anderson apologized for 30 years later in his book “Peace, War and Politics: An Eyewitness Account.”

A harbinger of both the “outing” era to come, and the current Vice President (every bit the lightning rod that Agnew was) and his lesbian daughter. Those lucky enough to have saved that period’s papers doubtless have pics of the babe-a-licious Randy who apparently went into the exercise business (a “lateral move” from hairdressing.) Here’s hoping he’s as lovely now as he was then.

There’s never been lovely about Brit Hume, however. Why only two years ago –

Brit Hume, a conservative news anchor on the right-wing Fox News Channel, continued his staunch support for the Republican Party when he told critics of President Bush–including families of American soldiers killed in his Iraq war–to “just get over it”, on the 28 March 2004 edition of Fox News Sunday.
When asked on-air about the criticism Bush had received, from Democrats and families of American soldiers killed in Iraq, concerning jokes about non-existent WMD during a White House event, Mr. Hume unsurprisingly defended Bush, calling his harshly-criticized jokes a “good-natured performance”.
Mr. Hume then said of those critical of Bush’s WMD jokes, including families of American soldiers killed on the premise that such weapons existed, that “you have to feel like saying to people, ‘Just get over it’.”

Oh really Brit? Was that the advice you got?

On Feb. 22, Sandy Hume killed himself with a hunting rifle in his Arlington apartment. He had been arrested the night before for driving under the influence, had tried to hang himself in a D.C. jail cell and was released after being evaluated in a psychiatric hospital.
“It’s a moment of truth when you realize what you believe,” Hume says. “I realized I believed in God.” He had been “a fallen Christian,” Hume says, but “it was such a devastating loss I was thinking, ‘How in the world am I going to get through this?’ I had this odd thought that I would get a phone call: ‘Brit, this is God.’ I had this idea that somehow I was going to be okay and God was going to rescue me.”
Why such a promising young journalist took his life was a mystery. “The proximate cause was the arrest for DUI, which he believed, for reasons that are not entirely clear, was going to be ruinous. . . . He was manifestly depressed about it.”

Well if you read the comment attached to this story you’ll know that Sandy Hume and Randy Agnew had something in common.

And it wasn’t hairdressing or bodybuilding.

“Was Hume racked with parental guilt? “It was a great help to me that I’d had a very good relationship with him. I didn’t have to live with a lot of regrets about how we’d gotten along.”
Within six weeks, he had received 973 Mass cards. “I cannot tell you how buoyed I felt,” Hume says. “I thought, this is the face of God. I just got on with my life.” Hume now struggles “with trying to make Washington political journalism consistent with an effort to lead a Christian life.”
He says he still thinks about his son every day.”

I’m sure he does, in that “low-key” way of his.