With every election comes a changing of the guard, and so it will be for Fox News Channel. Brit Hume, 65, the television news veteran known for his growling voice and detached delivery, plans to step down from his day-to-day duties as Washington, D.C., managing editor and host of "Special Report With Brit Hume." (He'll remain on the air as a senior political analyst, and calculates - he's counted - that he'll work 1.3 workdays per week.)
We spoke to him by phone last week about the past and the future.
Q. Your voice on Fox has been notable compared to other anchors. I've always thought you sounded detached - not in the fray, but above it.
A. Well, I appreciate that thought. One of the people that I used to look at when he was in his heyday was Roger Mudd, and Roger always had that slightly amused, detached quality about him, and I always admired that. I can't say I copied it, but as I've gotten older it becomes more of the way I look at things. There's really nothing new under the sun. Obviously it's a new thing that we have an African-American so close to the presidency, but you get down to the things he's doing and talking about, the ideology . . . It's something I'm very familiar with.
Q. Yet in this election, the pitch of the rhetoric seems angrier and more extreme than ever. Do you attribute that to blogs? Talk radio? 24-hour cable?
A. To some extent it's become more visible because of the accelerated news cycle and omnipresence of coverage. Plus you have things that have happened here in Washington that have contributed. When I was a reporter, "Democratic Congress" seemed redundant. They'd had it over decades. I was there when the Republicans controlled the Senate for a few years but the House . . . it never seemed close to change. And then it did, and I think it was very difficult for Democrats to stomach that. Newt Gingrich was a very polarizing figure. After that was the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And then there was the Florida recount. Then you have the war in Iraq. You add all those things together and you get this brew of ingredients that gives us this current atmosphere that is pretty polarized and pretty ugly. It makes news but it's disheartening.
Q. Doesn't the partisanship of the media outlets themselves contribute? You can now get your news filtered through a left- or right-wing lens.
A. You can do that if you want to. But I'm bound to say that the difference we have now is - I worked in the mainstream media for years as a correspondent at ABC News, I was there for 23 years. Before that I worked for newspapers. There was never any doubt in my mind, after I woke up to it, that the media tilted left. There's a homogeneity of viewpoint about a whole range of issues. There's an unspoken consensus about abortion and the environment and tax policy and the use of military force. Now, there are some countervailing forces. There's a blend in the media and more of a balance.
Q. When you anchor on Fox, do you see yourself as providing a sort of antidote to left-wing bias?
A. Not quite. What I would say about Fox News is that we saw the competitive opportunity that was afforded us. . . . Strictly talking about news coverage now, there were two places we could look to run to daylight. One was stories that were legitimate, but they just were not being emphasized or done at all. ACORN: That's a very good story, we had a free run with that for a couple of weeks before anyone got into it. And then there are stories that we develop in a different way than others do it. It is now a consensus in the media that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were a bunch of liars. What we found is that they were mistaken some of the time and they were right some of the time. I think those are journalistically valid approaches. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio, was supposedly on the [Senate] floor, talking about how hard it is going be for Bill O'Reilly on election night when he has to report that Barack Obama won. But it's not going be Bill O'Reilly. It's going to be me.
Q. Still, are you conscious, when you anchor, of trying to perpetuate a balance?
A. I'm a conservative, but I was a reporter long before I was a conservative, and I'm still a reporter first. And unless people have ideas that only liberals should be reporters, I would think they wouldn't have any problem with me. When I'm sitting in the anchor chair, I don't state my opinion, and I try very hard to be evenhanded.
Q. Can we recover from this partisanship once the election is over?
A. I don't have any doubt there will be a honeymoon as there has been in the past. Now if the president comes stumbling out of the blocks the way poor Bill Clinton did, the honeymoon won't last very long. [But] Barack Obama, he's a tremendously likable and appealing guy, and if he's elected, most Americans will say, 'Give him a chance.' That's the way Americans are. And I think it's a nice thing and a good thing. If he turns out to be as moderate in policy as he is in temperament, the honeymoon could last a long time.
Joanna Weiss can be reached at email@example.com.