The thing I always loved about Washington," says veteran TV journalist Kim Hume, "was that it has real news, hard news. When there's nothing else going on, you can always turn to Washington for a story that is well worth reporting."
The move from her longtime home at ABC News' Washington bureau for the 24-hour news cycle at Fox News offers a lot more airtime and a chance at a lot more stories. And given the public's taste for news, she thinks it may be the only way to go.
"There's a difference between news that goes for 22 minutes and news that goes for 24 hours, a huge difference," she says. "With networks, there was a huge amount of specialization, beat reporters covering every possible aspect of the world. The problem, of course, was that very little of your work ever got on the air. That's what happens when you have a very small news hole. It's a form that, in light of 24-hour cable, seems really wasteful and old-fashioned.
"People have adopted Fox News as their own," she adds, "the way certain neighborhoods adopted certain newspapers back when there were more newspapers. That's what happens when you treat your viewers like intelligent, capable viewers."
She acknowledges Fox's "in-your-face" attitude. "Fox News is a news channel; we discuss what's in the news. When somebody like [top-rated Bill] O'Reilly expresses his personal opinions on the air, the effect is to make people think. But my job is totally about covering news."
Hume disputes the perceptions—frequently offered by others in the media—that Fox tilts toward the right and is not the "fair-and balanced" news organization its slogan claims. Such conclusions, she says, are grounded in comparisons with a media that generally tilts left.
"I really do think that our philosophy of news is underestimated," she says. "When we talk about being fair and balanced, our audience knows that 90% of the news you see [on TV] is not fair and balanced. But, at Fox, we strive to be fair."
And fairness, she says, is a skill. She cites longtime ABC news colleague Sam Donaldson and her husband, Fox News Managing Editor and Chief Correspondent Brit Hume, as examples of journalists capable of having opinions and expressing them but who set them aside when reporting.
In reporting on issues like gun control or abortion, she explains, the media is affected "by what I refer to as group-think. Everyone in a newsroom thinks gun control is a good idea; they don't even try to examine that premise. We try to. I don't think people sit around a newsroom and say, 'Let's be biased.' But most people who go into journalism go in it to fix the world. This is a liberal idea, fixing the world, and it brings in government. A conservative is trying to keep things from happening that are sponsored by the government.
"Most journalists are not intentionally trying to persuade. But they happen to look at the world that way, and it comes out in their reporting."
She recalls a network producer's telling her once during the 1980s that he hated President Reagan and always looked for the most unflattering photo he could find. "I could not believe he had actually said that.
"With President Bush a lot of people in the media—before 9/11—would report from the premise 'How did this dope get elected?' I would posit that's an unfair premise, but I don't think a lot of journalists have examined that premise. The premise about Bill Clinton was that he's the right guy but with some bad character traits."
Journalists are entitled to feel that way, she adds, as long as their feelings don't end up as the premise of their story.
The mainstream media has been largely elitist and sometimes arrogant, she believes, even while doing work that is "honorable and immensely important. But that economic model no longer works, and it's largely because there is this alternative. Cable is different. And cable news is becoming the alternative of choice."
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