A tribute to the retiring Brit Hume
November 25, 2008
Brit Hume, after almost four decades of highly professional print and TV journalism, is retiring. Hopefully, Brit will now add more books to the two he has already written.
Back in 1987, when yours truly was editor-in-chief of The Capital Times of Lincoln, Neb., and also writing 650 words of opinion each week under the title “Central View,” I took a call from a reporter for the relatively new USA Today. He was desperate for some quick facts about some Nebraska political figures. I was happy to help.
Shortly, he called again, needing more help. At the end of that conversation, he asked how he could repay my kindness. I asked him to bring “Central View” to the attention of the editorial staff at USA Today. He said, “Oh, I get it. Lincoln, Nebraska, is near the geographical center of the USA. That’s how your column got its name.” I said, “You got it.”
Patience. I’ll get to Brit Hume in a minute. Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, hailed from South Dakota. Al had this nutty idea that folks in fly-over land might actually know something. Now, I had two elements working for me: A contact inside USA Today who owned me a favor plus Al Newharth’s philosophy.
One day, already in Washington, D.C., on another matter, I decided to see if I could break into USA Today with a story about the then on-going Iran-Contra Hearings. Arriving outside the hearing chamber without any Capitol Hill press credentials, I knew I was up against the system. But it wasn’t ingenuity and resourcefulness that saved my bacon that day.
Sans press credentials, I lined up in the hallway with the hoard of folks trying to get inside. The sergeants-at-arms would count off the number of people to be let in to take the places of the folks being let out. Each group only got to stay inside for a few minutes before being hustled back out.
Cut to the chase: Brit Hume, whom I had only seen as the ABC-TV Capitol Hill correspondent, came to my rescue. When time came to be ushered in, I caught the eye of the only familiar face amidst the rows of reporters, that of Brit Hume. Brit, in his smiling, avuncular way, came ambling over. I whispered my name and told him I was trying for a piece in USA Today. Brit put his arm around my shoulder as he explained to the sergeant-at-arms that his journalist-colleague, Bill Hamilton, would be sitting all day with Brit in the press area.
Thanks to Brit, I got the full flavor of the media circus known as the Iran-Contra Hearings. Once back in Lincoln, I used satire to report that, due to some kind of TV-switching error, I had witnessed the Presidium of the USSR conducting a show trial of some American agents who had been caught trying to overthrow a Soviet-backed regime in Central America.
Apparently, I did OK. The satire appeared in USA Today on July 3, 1987. Since then, I have completed dozens of assignments for the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper.
For example, in December 1990, when Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev led a coup to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev, my then-USA Today editor, Sid Hurlburt, recalled that my wife and I had, a couple of years earlier, interviewed Gennady Yanayev in Yanayev’s Moscow office. Sid let me opine that the hopelessly alcoholic Yanayev could not organize a one-car parade and that his coup would fail within hours. On our prediction, USA Today scooped the rest of the world press by several days.
Brit Hume, Sid Hurlburt, and Al Newharth provided the kind of breaks most writers from the “central” fly-over part of the United States rarely get. Forever grateful to them all; I am especially indebted to Brit.
” William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, was recently named to the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame and was also inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.
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