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Doing D.C. their way

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Brit and Kim Hume, the husband-and-wife power duo at Fox News in Washington, are joking about the Barbeque Country restaurant in rural Warrenton, Va., not far from their modest getaway home in tiny Delaplane, Va.
“This is a genuine, legitimate, authentic barbecue joint,” the veteran newsman says in his familiar monotone.
“It qualifies as a dump,” interjects his wife, also a seasoned news pro at Fox.
She adds that she loves the place.
“One day we came in here about a year and a half ago and there was a TV in the corner of the bar and the TV was on Fox News,” Mr. Hume says. “The people who ran the place said they never watch anything else. That for us was a moment-that was a sense of arrival.”
The Humes have indeed arrived: They’re the centerpiece of Fox News Channel’s Washington bureau, putting them at the heart of the cable war News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is waging against CNN and MSNBC.
The idea of these two media heavyweights blending in with the truck and tractor crowd near the Blue Ridge Mountains may be a leap for some, but they say their weekend escapes from the Washington merry-go-round are a secret of their success.
“You can get so caught up … that you lose your perspective completely,” Ms. Hume says on why they leave D.C. every Thursday night and return for Brit’s appearance on the Fox broadcast network’s “Fox News Sunday.”
“We’re not in the Washington social scene at all,” Mr. Hume says. “I know a lot of people have a wonderful time with that, but I’ve lived here nearly all my life and it’s never been to my taste, and I suspect I’ve probably never been its taste.”
Complementary roles
The Humes are a perfect complement to each other, with their careers at Fox on separate but related tracks. Brit is Fox’s premier on-air talent in the nation’s capital, serving as a news analyst and a senior editorial adviser, while Kim, as bureau chief, oversees the 150-person newsroom, handling everything from plotting coverage to hiring and firing.
Kim started at Fox in mid-1996 and was followed four months later by Brit. He arrived after 23 years at ABC News, where he’s best remembered for his stint as chief White House correspondent.
Their offices are at opposite ends of the bureau, though that wasn’t by design. Some days at work Brit doesn’t see or talk to his wife at all. She’s often privy to juicy gossip he’s clueless about. They rarely discuss work at home.
Underscoring a key similarity, they passionately defend their decisions to wear patriotic lapel pins in the office, and in Brit’s case, on-air.
It’s a sensitive issue since Sept. 11. Purists say journalists should never wear such symbols because they create a perception of bias. The Humes disagree.
The flag, Brit argues, represents the nation and its citizens, not the government.
“If you’re going to be neutral in this current struggle, who are you neutral between? The United States and terrorist murderers? If that’s the case, I’ll admit I’ll take sides in that controversy,” he says.
As to Fox News’ pesky reputation for leaning right, Brit says the cable channel covers stories that others won’t but is always fair.
“No slant is perceptible in the overwhelming majority of what we do,” he insists. “People have seen they have nothing to fear if they come on here.”
Ratings success
That wasn’t always the case: Fox News had trouble booking Clinton administration officials after it began operating in 1996, a situation Kim blames on the fact that it was new.
“What’s happened is that we’ve become so successful so quickly that a lot of that has just fallen by the wayside,” she says.
Stronger ratings and a Republican White House make it easier for Fox News Channel to attract powerful guests. The network’s 24-hour average of 591,000 viewers in May topped CNN’s average of 478,000 viewers for the month, according to Nielsen Media Research. And its prime-time average of 1,022,000 viewers for May beat CNN’s 814,000 viewers.
For the year, through June 14, Fox was averaging 647,000 viewers a day, compared with 526,000 at CNN. Meanwhile, Fox has a dramatic lead over CNN in attracting viewers in the highly coveted 25 to 54 demo.
But Fox’s reputation for leaning right hasn’t translated into hotter scoops from the Bush administration: The Humes complain the White House keeps a tight lid on information.
Kim doesn’t provide formal critiques of Brit’s on-air appearances but does so informally as his wife, and Brit values the input.
The biggest downside to their arrangement: no time to run errands. But there are upsides, such as Kim’s willingness to push Brit on certain work-related issues, something she might feel skittish about if he weren’t her husband.
“Special Report,” the hour-long nightly newscast on Fox News Channel hosted by Brit, tries to distinguish itself with news analysis, a longtime staple of Sunday morning talk shows and PBS.
“It seems to be one of the most popular features of the broadcast,” Brit says, adding that he prefers to interview experts-such as former Mideast negotiator and now Fox analyst Dennis Ross-rather than pols.
“I’m not looking for somebody to give me a sound bite,” Mr. Hume says.
Do broadcast networks still have a lock on high-quality news?
Brit says no but concedes to being “envious” of the nets at times. Of course, they’re plowing most of their resources into half-hour nightly newscasts.
Narrowing the gap
“They have more people, they have more seasoned people, and they have, for the top people, higher payrolls, but the difference between us in quality is shrinking-and shrinking fast,” he says.
Discussing the popularity of cable shows hosted by provocative mouthpieces-such as Oliver North and Bill O’Reilly at Fox-Kim says the programs are added for entertainment.
But she and her husband agree it’s dangerous when the news panders to viewers seeking to be entertained rather than informed.
It’s rare to see emotion from Brit on TV, and in person he’s steady as a rock.
But this admittedly hardened and jaded newsman softens a bit when describing his experience carrying the Olympic Torch on its journey through Washington.
“When I got out there and did it, I was very moved by it,” he says. “I ran as best as could. Now, the people watching said they couldn’t tell.”