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His love of political theater shows through

Brit Hume showed both his curmudgeonly and good-natured sides during Fox News' New Hampshire primary coverage. Brit Hume showed both his curmudgeonly and good-natured sides during Fox News' New Hampshire primary coverage. (Fox news)
Email|Print| Text size + By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / February 19, 2008

Who's the biggest romantic on television? Possibly, Brit Hume.

Yes, that Brit Hume, the Fox News veteran anchor, the crustiest man on cable news. He delivers his political pronouncements with a trademark growl. He looks as if his mouth is frozen in a smirk. And yet, in a campaign season filled with deep cynicism and knee-jerk hyperbole, Hume somehow finds ways to hone in on the happy moments.

A classic example came on Super Tuesday, when Hume replayed a portion of Barack Obama's speech as Fox's graphics crew fixed a spotlight on a woman behind the candidate. She was middle-age, white, and clearly entranced, and she inspired a snarling little tribute from Hume about the power of emotion in campaigns.

"American politics needs people like this," Hume said. "She's not just for Obama. She's enchanted by Obama. She hangs on his every word. . . . Someone who thought enough of Barack Obama to be absolutely rhapsodic about him. Wonderful stuff."

In less-seasoned hands, this could have sounded mocking. From Hume it was a statement of optimism. The longtime ABC correspondent, who joined Fox News in 1996, has embraced his anchor's duty to set the mood. And it's nice to have a human being to hone in on, as the cable channels carry out their arms race of high-tech toys and dizzying graphics. (On this front, Fox News is a chief offender. Sometimes it's a wonder we can see Hume's head at all.)

Hume isn't the only anchor who's clearly finding glee in this twisting, unpredictable presidential race. ABC's Charlie Gibson, in his first campaign as anchor supreme, oftentimes looks giddy in his chair. NBC's Tim Russert probably goes to bed dreaming of maps and delegate counts, and saying a little prayer for a startling upset. But they're good-natured guys to start with, self-consciously folksy. If they suddenly go soft, it's not so much of a surprise.

Hume, for his part, isn't entirely free of cynicism; his curmudgeonly words are sometimes just that. On Super Tuesday, after Arkansas and New York returns rolled in, Hume announced that "Hillary Clinton has won her home state. Her adopted home state. Maybe that's the way you ought to run for president: Just move around the country a lot."

But the fun of watching Hume is that you can't predict the tiny, heartwarming moment that will set him on a tear. On the night of the New Hampshire primary, Hume interrupted his own analysis to chuckle at live footage from Clinton headquarters in Manchester. "The Clinton people, they're jumpin' and dancin'," he said, still growling. "It's nice to see a little joy, you know."

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to viewerdiscretion.net.

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