Because I am one of those people -- cultural conservatives who go to church all the time -- many of my friends in academia and journalism assume that I watch Fox News. Actually, I don't like Fox News at all, for many of the same reasons that I don't like other television news shows in prime time. I am not, as a rule, interested in celebrities, spectacular murder cases, tiny political soundbites and 90-second reports on complex medical issues. I also prefer to get my entertainment news from a wide variety of print sources. I like information.
So I don't watch Fox News, but I do watch Brit Hume and his Special Report quite a bit, especially the first 40 minutes or so in which he basically covers hard news with that dry style that somehow lets you know that he knows more than he is letting on. It's a news show, not a star vehicle. I am vaguely aware of his political views, but, frankly, not to the same degree as I am when I am watching most TV news stars. Once he was a liberal, now he's a conservative, and he's still a journalist.
I bring this up because the official voice of the Washington media establishment -- Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post -- did a profile of Hume the other day (there's an obvious topic that should have been done a long, long time ago, don't you think?) and discovered that there is a major God role in the anchorman's story. Read the piece and you will see that this element of the story -- a family tragedy and a rebirth of faith -- is the turning point.
But Kurtz is not sure what do to with it. It seems to get in the way of his political analysis. Check this out:
Hume, like his network, has clearly become a lightning rod in a polarized media environment. Hume is almost evangelical in his belief that he is fair and balanced while most of the media are not, an argument challenged by several studies showing that his program leans to the right.
Hume is no partisan brawler in the mold of some of Fox's high-decibel hosts. By virtue of his investigative background, his understated style and his management role, he represents a hybrid strain: conservatives who believe in news, not bloviation, but news that passes through a different lens, filtered through a different set of assumptions.
Note the presence of that interesting word "evangelical" floating around in there. Yes, I know the meaning of that word in that context. But Kurtz always has a way of letting you see what he is thinking. The story goes on to show that Hume is actually very centrist in his news work and quite respected. I think what Howie is trying to say is that Hume believes his work is, in large part, more centrist than the left-leaning mainstream in TV news.
But the heart of the story is linked to the 1998 death of Hume's 28-year-old son, Sandy, a journalist with The Hill newspaper, Fox and other outlets. Here is that section of Kurtz's report:
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."
Clearly, this is a key part of the story and Kurtz either has to go deeper or simply mention it and then back off. There is a chance, of course, that Hume did not want to discuss this in depth and I think everyone can respect that choice.
Still, as a religion reporter, I was left wanting to know one or two facts that may not have been too private. Kurtz hints at something with the "evangelical" reference and then, later, makes a reference to a specific tradition in Roman Catholicism -- Mass cards.
Was Hume racked with parental guilt? "It was a great help to me that I'd had a very good relationship with (his son). 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."
Now there is an interesting story, one that could lead in all kinds of different directions.
As an Orthodox Christian who has worked and taught in Washington -- to one degree or another -- for more than a decade, I know that there are many Christian believers who are committed to journalism careers in this town (no matter what some on the Religious Right think). I also know that some are liberal and some are conservative. I also know that many are, with good reason, hesitant to talk about their faith because they worry that others will say this is a handicap in mainstream journalism.
It is hard to dig into a man's faith. I know that.
Still, I wonder if we could have learned a few basic facts. Is Hume an evangelical or a Catholic? Is a strong faith community a part of his strategy for staying sane in Washington journalism? Is Kurtz hinting that faith is that "different lens" through which Hume views the news? Would it be possible -- without "outing" anyone -- to know who some of the other believers are (other than Fred Barnes, obviously) who share his commitment to faith, family and to the craft of the news?
There is a story in there.