Welcome Back, Brit Hume
Anyone who's been reading my columns over the past year knows that I haven't been particularly pleased with the direction Fox News has taken in this election cycle. While the shows that focus primarily on hard news and serious interviews (like Special Report and Fox News Sunday) have remained at the top of their game, a number of commentary-heavy programs have taken a stark turn for the worse – too often resembling Trump campaign infomercials instead of mediums for insightful analysis.
Of course, some critics would argue that the network has always served as a podium for the Republican party, and that what we've been seeing is just a natural extension of that.
Contrary to popular opinion, the success of Fox News was not built on political advocacy. It came from the granting of a respectful, unapologetic platform for conservative thought and traditional viewpoints in a news industry where such sentiment was (and continues to be) often misrepresented and largely held in contempt. FNC gave a voice to the voiceless, and met a philosophical and societal demand that the rest of the news media had long overlooked.
With that success has come a great deal of latitude given to the network's on-air commentators. They can pretty much say whatever they want to, frame stories however they wish, and build on their own brands. This culture speaks well of the faith that Fox has in its employees, and I do believe that the network has historically demonstrated an impressive knack for hiring and promoting quality talent.
The problem, however, is that this culture also allows for individuals, who recognize a personal opportunity (whether it be job security, book sales, or the advancement of a friend's presidential campaign), to sidestep basic journalistic tenets (and even ideological consistency), and go into business for themselves.
We've seen too much of this on Fox (and elsewhere) over the past year. And while the sycophantism has proven profitable (and therefore tolerated or perhaps even encouraged), it has further damaged a news industry that already struggles with severe credibility issues.
As a longtime Fox News viewer (two of my son's first words were "Factor" and "Colmes"), I've been wondering if the higher-ups at the network have recognized this problem, and realize a need to fix it. Today, I was given hope that they just might.
It was announced this morning that after 14 years, Greta Van Susteren has left Fox News. Taking over her On the Record show will be former Special Report host, Brit Hume. As of the time I'm writing this, it isn't clear whether this is a temporary or permanent arrangement. Either way, I see this as a very positive development.
While it would have been unfair to lump Van Susteren in with the likes of unabashed Trump enthusiasts like Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling, she had definitely established herself as an advocate of the same cause. She recognized the benefits of Trump-friendly programming and had infused it into her brand.
To cater to Van Susteren's existing audience, Fox could have easily replaced her with someone willing to carry the same jug of water that she did (there would have been several candidates to choose from). Instead, the network went with Brit Hume, one of their most respected and credible players.
To me, that's a big step in the right direction. Hume has never been one to shelve his journalistic principles for the sake of a ratings surge, or to court a popular mindset. He's fair, reasonable, and consistent in his analysis. That's exactly what Fox needs more of right now. Heck, that's what the news industry needs more of right now.
Sure, it's certainly possible that Hume will have a hard time drawing a prime-time audience. Times have changed since he last filled a hosting chair, and these days, it's unchecked hyperbole and tribalism that seem to sell...not so much thoughtful, responsible analysis.
Regardless, I admire the fact that Fox weighed its options, and erred on the side of legitimacy. The network's decision makers could have chosen someone who would have latched onto the Trump sugar-high until November, but they didn't. Thus, they deserve credit.
Welcome back, Brit. I'm looking forward to seeing you at the helm.