Having It Both Ways

What Hugh Hewitt’s ‘interview’ with Sarah Palin says about journalism today

Chris Cillizza is a reporter who writes a blog about politics for The Washington Post, one of our nation’s best newspapers. Hugh Hewitt is a political partisan who uses his syndicated talk-radio show to score political points. Today, Cillizza links to a transcript of Hewitt’s Tuesday interview with Sarah Palin, in which Hewitt, predictably, tosses softballs to the would-be vice president that let her hammer home the only two selling points Palin has offered thus far: the liberal press is treating her unfairly, and, by golly, she and Todd are just like you and me.

There is zero journalistic value in Hewitt’s interview. There isn’t even the illusion of critical distance, of healthy skepticism, of intellectually honest inquiry, of some sense that it is crucial to deeply sound out this person who wants to lead our nation at such a perilous time on what she would bring to the table. Instead, we get culture war nonsense about Joe Six-Pack and “gotcha” questions from the Elite Media. And this from a Harvard grad, no less. I wonder if Hewitt learned about irony at Harvard.

(It’s interesting that Hewitt describes himself in his bio as a “broadcast journalist.” So, he’s a “journalist” who went to Harvard and Michigan Law, whose op-eds have appeared in papers like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He surely makes a comfortable living. So why isn’t he part of the Elite Media? Well, first of all, because he isn’t a journalist; his interest isn’t in learning the truth, whatever it may be, but rather in asserting those “truths” that he favors. And second, as has always been the case, people who engage in media bashing do it selectively, targeting only those who have the temerity to say or write things that challenge the “truth” they are trying to assert.)

So my question to Cillizza—and to ABC’s Jake Tapper and to Jimmy Orr at The Christian Science Monitor and anyone else who cited this interview—is, if you’re going to call attention to Hewitt’s work, why not go the extra step and label it what is? Especially when what you’re calling attention to is his ridiculous media bashing. Otherwise, you risk giving Hewitt’s hackery the imprimatur of real journalism. Cillizza’s link is accompanied by the boilerplate stuff that has been the substance of the mainstream media’s response to the McCain camp’s anti-press strategy: a tepid reminder that this has long been a staple of the right and the suggestion that Palin’s central job in the campaign—rallying the conservative base—will not be enough to sway undecided voters. Tapper didn’t even give us that.

There is nothing wrong with what Hewitt does, but let’s be honest—and clear—about what it is and what it is not. The blurring of lines between journalism and politics that has been under way for some time in this country has reached outrageous levels in this age where information comes at us constantly and from all sides. Deference is not part of journalism’s role. It should be left to the Hugh Hewitts, on the right and the left.

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Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.