Last night on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report,” Brit Hume led off his “Political Grapevine” segment with a shot at ABC’s Terry Moran. In a bit of an intramural squabble, Hume was taking aim at the question that Moran had posed to President Bush during a press conference this past Wednesday. Moran asked Bush:

Last month in Jordan, a gentleman named Ali Hatar was arrested after delivering a lecture called, “Why We Boycott America.” He was charged under section 191 of their penal code for slander of government officials. He stood up for democracy, you might say. And I wonder if here and now, you will specifically condemn this abuse of human rights by a key American ally. And if you won’t, sir, then what, in a practical sense, do your fine words mean?

Bush replied, “I’m unaware of the case. You’ve asked me to comment on something that I didn’t know took place. I urge my friend, His Majesty, to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan …”

Apparently Moran’s question didn’t sit too well with Hume, who, on last night’s broadcast remarked:

At President Bush’s press conference yesterday, ABC News reporter Terry Moran described the case of a Jordanian activist, Ali Hatar, who Moran said had been arrested and charged with a slander for promoting a boycott of U.S. goods. Moran called it a, quote, “abuse of human rights,” and invited the president to condemn it saying, quote, “If you won’t, sir, then what do your fine words,” about freedom, “mean?”

President Bush said he was unaware of the case. He was in good company. The Hatar case appears never to have been mentioned by any news outlet in the U.S., including Moran’s own network. That is, of course, until Moran asked his question.

Oh, one more thing. Jordanian officials claim Hatar was not arrested for encouraging a boycott of U.S. goods, but for claiming that Jordan was buying weapons from the U.S. and using them against the Jordanian people.

Hume has two complaints. First, Moran claimed Hattar was arrested for “promoting a boycott of U.S. goods.” And, second, that the Hattar case hadn’t previously been reported in the U.S. media.

Unfortunately for Hume, a quick read of the press conference transcript reveals that Moran merely indicated that the title of Hattar’s speech was “Why We Boycott America.” Moran did not, as Hume claimed, say that Hattar had been arrested for “promoting a boycott of U.S. goods.”

As it turns out, according to a Washington Post story printed yesterday, Hume was correct in telling his audience that Hattar was arrested “for claiming that Jordan was buying weapons from the U.S. and using them against the Jordanian people.”

But this begs the question: What is Hume’s point, anyway?

Did he or his staff misread the transcript and misinterpret what Moran said? Or is Hume honestly contending that Attar belongs in jail for speaking out?

On to Hume’s next point, that no U.S. news outlet had reported on Hattar’s arrest prior to Moran’s question. This is technically true. However, in December the Hattar arrest was reported by the U.K. wire service Reuters as well as AP international, both available to anyone in the U.S. with a computer. And without doubt, President Bush is in a position where such information can be learned. Either way, it appears that Hume — a veteran newsman who once held Moran’s job at ABC News — is suggesting that Moran should not have asked that question because the U.S. media had not sufficiently publicized the case. And that it’s unfair for a reporter to ask someone in power a question that they might not be expecting to receive.

We may never know; neither Fox News nor ABC returned CJR Daily’s requests for comment.

Thomas Lang

Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.