Kurtz's soft-brush profile of Hume ignored Fox anchor's falsehoods

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz presented Fox News' Brit Hume as the "Low-Key Voice of Conservatism on Fox News" who rarely -- if ever -- runs afoul of the facts on his nightly news program. Kurtz's profile of Hume largely ignored the numerous false and misleading statements Hume has made during his tenure as a Fox News host and commentator, and even presented some of Hume's falsehoods as the truth.

In his April 19 profile of Fox News anchor and Washington bureau managing editor Brit Hume, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz quoted Hume saying: "Sure, I'm a conservative, no doubt about it. ... But I would ask people to look at the work." But instead of presenting an analysis of that work, Kurtz presented Hume as the "Low-Key Voice of Conservatism on Fox News" who rarely -- if ever -- runs afoul of the facts on his nightly news program, Special Report with Brit Hume. Kurtz largely ignored the numerous false and misleading statements Hume has made during his tenure as a Fox News host and commentator, and even presented some of Hume's falsehoods as the truth.

Kurtz wrote:

Despite an aura of self-confidence bordering on cockiness, Hume shies away from self-promotion. The day that he scooped the world with [Vice President Dick] Cheney's first account of his accidental shooting of a hunting companion, the former ABC newsman declined an invitation from "Good Morning America," saying he had time only to appear on Fox's morning show.

Cheney's choice of Hume was widely mocked, although most journalists acknowledged that the interview, while polite, was thorough. 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.

Kurtz did not identify or quote any of the "journalists" who deemed Hume's interview with Cheney "thorough" (although he apparently agrees). As Media Matters for America noted, however, Hume did not ask Cheney a number of questions that -- at the time -- were quite relevant to the controversy surrounding Cheney's hunting accident. For example, Cheney, during the interview, appeared to accept responsibility for shooting his hunting partner, Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, in the face. Hume, however, failed to ask why Cheney allowed his surrogates -- without challenging or correcting them -- to publicly blame Whittington for the accident. Also, following Cheney's admission to having had a beer prior to the accident, Hume did not ask about statements by Katharine Armstrong -- the owner of the ranch where the incident occurred and Cheney's designated spokesperson -- that appeared to conflict with Cheney's admission. Hume did ask Cheney, however, whether he hit the quail he was aiming for when he shot Whittington.

Additionally, rather than "sh[y] away from self-promotion," Hume spoke approvingly of his own performance in the Cheney interview four days after it happened. From the February 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

HUME: The last thing in the world that Dick Cheney needed on that day was a soft interview, because he was trying to get this thing over with. And the only way to get it over with was to answer every question that anybody might have, within reason.

[...]

But my job was simply to sit there and walk through this episode with him and ask all the relevant questions, because he was ready to answer them and needed to answer them. That's why, you know, there's no problem about asking about the drinking, no problem about any of it.

Kurtz went on to write:

But Hume is well aware that some people, particularly on the left, view him as a conservative hack and Bush apologist.

"It bothers me a little bit," he says. "I think we look conservative to people who are not. ... I knew the rap on us from Day One was going to be that we were a right-wing news outlet." But, he says, "I believed if we tried that, it would never work."

Hume and Fox News were among the first to jump on the charges by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth about Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record, with Hume pushing the controversy day after day.

As the lead panelist on "Fox News Sunday," Hume said in August 2004 that the book by the Swift Boat Veterans "is a remarkably well-done document. It is full of detail. It is full of specifics. The charges that are being made of Kerry, of irresponsible and indeed in some cases mendacious conduct in his service in Vietnam, are made by people who were there."

In fact -- contrary to Hume's characterization of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's book, Unfit for Command Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry (Regnery, 2004), as "remarkably well done," which Kurtz cited uncritically -- many of the book's allegations and the Swift Boat Veterans' accusations were false, discredited by the official record, as Hume had reason to know even as he was touting their misinformation. Hume also falsely claimed that "major news organizations," with the exception of Fox News, ignored the Swift Boat Veterans.

Kurtz continued:

More recently, Hume said the press corps "behaved badly . . . like a pack of jackals" during the Cheney hunting accident furor. He also criticized an erroneous Associated Press report that said Bush had been warned that the New Orleans levees might be breached, when the word that a weather official used was "overtopped." "Much of the rest of the media fell for it hook, line and sinker," Hume said.

Kurtz, however, is the one who appears to have swallowed a falsehood -- Hume's -- "hook, line, and sinker." Hume was referring to the AP's March 3 clarification to an article from two days earlier that reported, "[F]ederal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees." This report appeared to prove false Bush's assertion, made two days after Katrina hit, that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." The AP's correction read, in part: "The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking." But, as Media Matters noted at the time, the clarification echoed the Bush administration's explanation of why the AP report did not contradict Bush's claim about not anticipating a breach of the levees, and ignored key facts that indicate the White House was, in fact, warned of potential levee breaches prior to the storm's arrival. For example, in the early morning of August 29, 2005, just before Katrina hit land, the Department of Homeland Security warned the White House that Katrina, based on a 2004 Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane planning exercise, could cause levee breaches as well as overtopping.

Nevertheless, Hume seized upon the AP's correction to claim on the March 5 edition of Fox News Sunday that Bush "received no such warning," and that the whole controversy "ended up turning out to be totally bogus." Kurtz, who is described by CNN as "the nation's premier media critic," failed to note any of this.

Hume's pattern of misinformation extends far beyond these examples:

  • He sought to dismiss criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld from retired generals by falsely claiming none of the generals have been "critical of what's happening now" in Iraq.
  • He falsely claimed that the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post rarely express common views.
  • He and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer misrepresented polling data to falsely claim Americans "overwhelmingly" support the administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program.
  • He falsely claimed Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) "never said that he wasn't fully briefed" on the warrantless domestic surveillance program.
  • He was quick to denounce a February 28 CBS News poll showing Bush's approval rating at it lowest ever for "wildly oversampl[ing] Democrats" but was conspicuously silent when a March 13 poll showed the same approval rating for Bush, despite having sampled more Republicans and fewer Democrats than the previous poll.
  • He falsely claimed President George H.W. Bush never criticized the Clinton administration while it was in power (a falsehood that he later corrected).
  • He famously -- and falsely -- claimed that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted privatization of Social Security.
  • He joined the White House in falsely spinning White House senior adviser Karl Rove's June 2005 statement, "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," as a comparison of two "philosophies," and not two political parties.
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
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Howard Kurtz, Brit Hume
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