In the first of a series of blogs offering video snippets from Stephen Hess’ numerous interviews with the prominent journalists featured in Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012, Brit Hume, the founding anchor of Special Report on the Fox News Channel, talks about the unexpected turn in 1965 that propelled him into journalism as a cub reporter on the Hartford Times.
Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012 is Hess’ latest book, in which he set out to find the 450 Washington reporters he first surveyed in 1978. He tracks them in France, England, Italy, Australia, and 19 U.S. states in addition to the Washington area, locating 90 percent and interviews 283 of them, producing the first comprehensive study of career patterns in American journalism.
The reporters who came to Washington after World War II, the so-called “Greatest Generation,” tended to spend their entire careers working for one news organization. But Brit Hume was at the beginning of a new generation whose careers spanned employers. As in Hume’s case, this was especially true in TV after the arrival of cable news programming in 1981 suddenly increased job options.
As a correspondent at ABC Hume had covered Capitol Hill for 11 years and the White House for 8 years. Yet as he explained in an interview with me, leaving ABC was “the easiest decision I ever made….If you don’t want to leave Washington, you can kind of work your way through the available beats and then you’ve done them all and then where do you go?….ABC News had nothing to offer me….and along comes Fox News. [Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News in 1996, with Roger Ailes as the CEO.]”
In late 1997 [Ailes] said to Hume, “‘I want to do a political show at six every night.… I want to put it on the air in March.’ We were just getting started around January—we didn’t have a studio, we didn’t have a director, we didn’t have squat….The Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. My wife Kim—who was a veteran producer from ABC who was hired by Fox ahead of me…and she was the bureau chief—walked up to me and said, ‘This is the time to start your show, right now.’ I called Roger Ailes. He said, ‘We’ll start it tonight.’…and we put the show on the air. It was called Special Report, which was a dumb name…and still is a dumb name….Well, it’s been a bigger rating success than we ever imagined.”
Each Tuesday, we will be releasing a new conversation and blog post by Stephen Hess. Click here for an entire schedule and to hear more about the project.