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Hugh Hewitt Wants To Be Remembered For Being Fair

“Too many journalists bring their politics to work. Wolf Blitzer may be on a short list of five people whose politics I cannot guess.”

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I attended the University of Wisconsin. Harvard was my fallback school, and it turns out I was lucky. According to Hugh Hewitt — who graduated Cum Laude from Harvard — the Ivy League food kind of sucks.

“This was before colleges cared much about taking care of their students,” Hewitt jokes. “It was Spanish rice all the time. I remember the blizzard of 1978 when the college closed for a few days. We ate peanut butter sandwiches. It was not fancy.”

Hewitt said Harvard requires freshman to live on the yard.

“I lived in Winthrop House with other underclassmen,” Hewitt said. He’s still friends with many of his classmates.

“They’re Democrats, but still friends. As I like to say ‘They’re wrong, not rotten’.”

His days at Harvard were memorable. “It’s a great place. So liberal, so smart. I’ve been dealing with these smart people since I started doing radio in 1990.”

The host of The Hugh Hewitt Show for Salem Media Group said — figuratively speaking — everyone went to the same high school.

“I was talking to a group of young lawyers and said there were commonalities with all of them,” he said. “Personalities, groups are the same everywhere. There are a lot of common denominators.”

After Harvard, Hewitt worked with Nixon in 1978-80, serving as executive director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.

“I built the Nixon library and went back to run things for three years between directors,” Hewitt said. “The current director, Jim Byron, is fantastic. He should have been there a while ago.”

Hewitt served as President and CEO of the Nixon Library beginning in July 2019, and remains an active member of the board of directors, and continues to have a key role in much of the Nixon Foundation’s advancement and long-range initiatives.

He admired Richard Nixon but said the president should have owned up to the Watergate break-in and admitted what happened.

“I think he was too fearful,” Hewitt said. “Nixon had a 30 year battle with Harvard people. He brought down Alger Hiss and a lot of people never forgave him. Nixon always knew if he opened up his vulnerable spots, he would be susceptible to others.”

He believes Nixon was deeply alarmed by enemies. Believe it or not, Hewitt said Donald Trump and Nixon were friends.

“There was a huge correspondence between them. Pat Nixon was watching a young Trump on The Phil Donahue Show. She told Nixon, ‘That guy could be president’. Nixon wrote Trump a letter telling him what his wife had said.”

Hewitt said Trump is the best interview in America.

“You’re never quite sure what he’s going to say. He doesn’t cut me off. If he gets mad at something I’ve said, he’ll be angry the next day. Trump is always candid. Forthright.”

Despite being a fan of Trump, Hewitt admits the appearance of Trump and his Bible at St. John’s Church was a miscalculation. Hewitt knew someone who traveled to the church with Trump.

“They couldn’t get into the church because it had been burned, the doors were locked. I admit it was a bad visual.”

While speaking of journalists, Hewitt once said, in his opinion, Bob Woodward wasn’t rectitudinous. (I had to look it up.) He thought so little of Woodward, he banned him from the Nixon Library.

“I made a mistake,” Hewitt admitted. “Nixon called me up and said that was a stupid move. I’ve since made my peace with Bob.”

Hewitt said Woodward’s partner, Carl Bernstein, had only three good years in his career, and hasn’t done much since Watergate.

“He’s not virtuous,” Hewitt said. “Bernstein shows up now and again to talk about ethics. I want to see him go back and give us a fourth, fifth, sixth new story. He’s made a career off one story.”

Hewitt said former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was overflowing with rectitude. This is the same Scott Walker who said he went bald because he hit his head on a kitchen cabinet door.

“Walker was right about teachers,” Hewitt said. “My son is a teacher. I love teachers. I don’t like unions. The unions are responsible for a lot of ills in our society.”

On his way to complete baldness, Walker made sure he crippled Wisconsin teachers’ unions.

Hewitt said he’s been blessed with friends throughout his life.

“I don’t lose friends. I still play on a golf team with men and women from law school. They seem to keep me around for a chuckle. One is a billionaire, another is a small town lawyer in Ohio.”

Hewitt is spontaneous, witty, but I’m not sure if he appreciates comics. He went to the White House correspondence dinner in 2018 when it was hosted by comedian, Michelle Wolf.

“She’s rotten,” Hewitt said. “It was a horrible year for the event. The way Wolf treated Sarah Huckabee Sanders was rotten.”

I thought she was hilarious.

“I’m a jock-a-phobe,” Hewitt said. “I get really nervous when I talk with professional athletes. I remember Dennis Eckersley came up to me at an event and said he was a fan of my show. I couldn’t say anything. I think I said something completely stupid.”

During a speech, Hewitt once said media was biased. I asked what we would we see if media were not biased.

“There would be somebody like me and somebody like Rachel Maddow on every show,” Hewitt said. “Too many journalists bring their politics to work. Wolf Blitzer may be on a short list of five people whose politics I cannot guess. I think Dana Bash is that easy too. I view them as professional newscasters. But CNN isn’t non-partisan. I like Jeff Zucker. He turned me down for a job once. He wanted to hire me once and I said no. We both said no to each other. Tom Brokaw brought me in to NBC. He’s like Wolf Blitzer.”

Down the road, Hewitt said he’d like to be remembered as a fair guy. A good guy who gave everyone the opportunity to state their case. Made the world a better place.

“I’d never run for public office,” Hewitt said. “If you’re a politician, you can’t tell people what you really think. It’s a huge commitment. They are traveling all the time. I hate staying up late.”

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Media Bias and the Fight For Belief

Bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you agree with a particular viewpoint, it’s beautiful.

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Bias is the greatest problem facing media today, and it’s not just a result of newspapers trying to stay afloat in a sea of internet opinion platforms. As the great Carl Bernstein once said”

“The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.

“Google’s already left-leaning news aggregator platform Google News skewed even more off the charts in 2023, according to a recent analysis.

“Media company AllSides latest bias analysis found that 63% of articles that appeared on Google News over two weeks were from left-leaning media outlets. By contrast, the number of right-leaning news sources picked up by Google News in 2023 was 6%.”
Source: New York Post.

Wait, isn’t the New York Post a right-leaning paper? And who defines right and left anyway?

Yes, the New York Post is widely considered to be right-leaning and doesn’t claim otherwise. As you might expect, it was the only so-called major media source that reported this story. If you didn’t read it there because the Post is biased you probably didn’t see it anywhere.

How can we know who to trust and what to believe about anything?

Bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you agree with a particular viewpoint, it’s beautiful.

I recently retired after nearly 50 years of hosting radio news/talk shows and one of the reasons I bailed was that I just can’t face another Biden/Trump election. I’m far from alone. Recent polls show a large segment of the American public has Biden/Trump fatigue. But it’s not just the fact that we’ve all been there, done that, the question of biased reporting has soaked into our brains and we can’t find our way to truth through the maze of fake news, pontificating, exaggeration, and outright lies.

The U.S. Supreme Court seems as baffled by the problem as the rest of us. This past Monday justices heard what the BBC reported as “a landmark pair of cases that could fundamentally change the future of online free speech. At issue were challenges to Republican-backed laws passed in Florida and Texas limiting tech firms’ ability to remove political content they deem objectionable.

“Tech giants said the laws, passed after the 2021 Capitol riot, infringed on their right to editorial discretion.

“At times justices seemed unsure of how to apply existing law to tech firms.

“Industry groups have argued that the laws passed in Florida and Texas violated the right to free speech, which included the freedom of private companies to decide what content to publish on their platforms.

“Supporters of the laws say they protect the First Amendment rights of conservative users from censorship by what they imply are left-leaning tech companies.”

Dallas attorney and Constitutional law expert David Coale explains the Court’s dilemma.

“When the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in 2022, it drew an unprecedented amount of criticism for making a ‘political’ decision. Chief Justice Roberts is now trying harder than ever to write the Court’s major constitutional opinions in a seemingly nonpartisan way.“

Roberts commented, “I wonder since we’re talking about the First Amendment whether our first concern should be with the state regulating what we have called the modern public square.”

I asked Coale if the chief justice’s remark indicated his uncertainty.

“For sure. And there’s a real question lurking beneath Justice Roberts’ reference to ‘the modern public square.’

“A lot of our thinking about the First Amendment law is based on analogies to ‘media’ as it was understood in the 1790s: print newspapers, town squares, etc. But those analogies don’t hold up as well as they did even a few years ago. Print papers don’t think, but social media does. Algorithms feed everyone what they want to read. Predictably, biases get more entrenched. Bias has a different meaning now than it once did.”

If the polls on Biden-Trump fatigue are useful they give us, the news and talk media, a warning: it’s time we focus on helping listeners understand issues and stop beating them over the heads with one-sided arguments. More than any other medium radio, television, and local papers are the modern town criers; we conduct the daily meetings in the square.

News stations need to tighten up the information they deliver with clarity and transparency.

Talk hosts should continue to offer personal perspectives but do it in such a way as to invite curiosity and foster active rather than passive listening. Encourage listeners to think for themselves and inspire a desire to learn.

As strongly as we claim to want unbiased information we also need an unbiased consumer. We’re not going to get them by preaching to a partisan audience and encouraging social media battles. If radio cares about its future and the country’s welfare it would do well to encourage people to take the time to study issues and apply their open-minded judgment to facts rather than merely absorb well-crafted arguments by pundits and politicians who dodge questions.

When I was about 14 my father told me something that made it tough for me to do a talk show a few years later: “People say you have a right to your opinion, but that’s only half of it. You have a right to an informed opinion. If you don’t know what you’re talking about you should shut up.”

Dad was right. We need to reject bias where we find it. We need to help people listen,  learn, and think. Let’s start with ourselves.

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Allison Keyes Continues to Be Moved By Stories She Shares on CBS News Radio

“It’s still to this day means everything to me to watch the unity that people are capable of when they’re not being jerks and when they care about what’s happening to others.”

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(Photo: Allison Keyes)

Curious, there, and always learning, CBS News Radio correspondent and Weekend Roundup host Allison Keyes practices what she preaches when it comes to doing the best you possibly can in journalism.

“Be curious. Be there. Do stories about things you don’t know anything about so that you learn something,” Keyes told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call. On her show, Keyes’ segment “Kaleidoscope with Allison Keyes”, she discusses topics like race, gender, income inequality, and other social justice issues on a weekly basis.

Born and raised in Chicago, Keyes got an early start in the industry. “I sort of had been doing journalism since I was in high school, writing for our high school newspaper, writing terrible ledes about volleyball, like ‘Service Smack,’ you know?” She added, “So I guess even then I was thinking radio, we had an in-house radio station in school. So I did interviews for that and did a little DJing. And then I got to college and was like, ‘Well, I can do this.’ So I DJed at Illinois Wesleyan University, which is where I went to school.”

She planned to DJ until, “I got out of school, or as I was getting out of school, I went and had an interview — and I’m not going to name what station — and the program director was pretty much like, ‘Well, sure, you could listen to that voice. What else will you do for me?’ And I was like, not that.”

After the close encounter, Keyes, who was inspired by Lu Palmer, went back to her roots. “I decided, ‘Well, okay, I can do news. I like news. I’ve written for papers before so I can change [from DJing to news].’ So that’s how I ended up in the business.”

Through the span of her over 25-year career, Allison Keyes has developed incredible insight into what makes a great story. “It’s getting people to listen to a voice or read quotes from or see on television from somebody that they might not meet in their neighborhood, at the neighborhood store.” She added, “As bad as the divide is in this nation right now, it would be less if people just ran into people of different colors and different socioeconomic groups at the grocery store, for example, or at an outdoor live music concert, at a park, or at a museum or something like that.”

Allison Keyes has won countless awards for her work, but one in particular stands out, “One of my Gracies. I won for my coverage of the anniversary of September 11th. And I’m going to try and tell this story and not cry, because I almost got killed that day. My parents thought that I was dead.”

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Keyes was in her Brooklyn apartment and saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center. “I went, ‘Oh crap!’, and ran for the car. They’re paging me and I’m like, ‘I know’, and I’ve just gotten waved onto the Brooklyn Bridge because I’m waving my microphone and I’ve got my press badge on. And I called my mother to tell her everything was okay and then the second plane hit. So she heard the second plane hit and my voice went dead. She thought I was dead.”

Keyes recalled, “I parked in front of City Hall and ran for the Trade Center. And people are jumping out of windows, holding hands as the building burned. I had never seen anything like that in my whole life.” She went on by saying, “When tower two collapsed, I was like a half a block away or less, and everyone’s running the other way and firefighters are running into that building still trying to save people. It was really, really something.”

At the time, Allison Keyes was working for both ABC Radio and NewsRadio 880 WCBS. She reported from Ground Zero for two months, “Because how could you be somewhere else? You would come out of buildings and there’d be fliers on your cars, people that were looking for missing people for weeks and weeks and weeks.”

She holds this specific Gracie Award dearly because, “It’s still to this day means everything to me to watch the unity that people are capable of when they’re not being jerks and when they care about what’s happening to others. New York City became a whole city. Nobody was fighting. People would do anything. It was a whole unified city.”

As for today, she does not see that kind of unity in America, “Every time I interview somebody on both sides of an issue, I ask them. Nobody knows. Everyone is so angry at everyone else.”

Allison Keyes later added, “I feel like it’s getting worse every day. Every time I cover another demonstration, people are yelling at each other in a way where the anger is so deep in their souls. You wonder ‘How do they get past that?’ Remember when you used to be able to go to a restaurant and people would disagree? You might not know them, and you’d sit at a bar watching baseball or whatever and you could have a conversation and people would disagree [but then when they leave] they’d be, ‘Well, nice to meet you.’”

She went on to add, “And now it becomes screaming matches where people are going outside to fight. I don’t know that. Something really has to be done. Because if it isn’t, I don’t know how we survive as a nation. I am hopeful that that can be done. But I don’t know that it’s possible because people aren’t listening to each other anyway.”

For those looking to better the world through journalism her advice is simple, “Never forget where you came from. Never forget who helped you get to where you are. Never forget the people that saved you and got you other jobs.” She later added, “The other advice I have for people that are trying to get into this business is to meet other people in it, because you will be standing on the shoulders of so many people.”

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News/Talk Radio Can Still Shine Despite Lack of Super Tuesday Competition

This will be a chance to focus on those and show your local chops while explaining to your audience why these races oftentimes matter even more than who is in the White House.

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Every four years, most news/talk radio hosts look at early March and think to themselves, “We’ll be coasting.”

That’s because Tuesday, March 6th is what’s known as “Super Tuesday.” It’s the biggest day of the primary schedule with 16 states voting for who they want to be the next President of the United States. The contest will unfold from Alaska and California to Virginia and Vermont.

Every four years, at least for one political party, but sometimes for both if a President is in his second term, it means Americans get a much clearer picture as to who is likely to be their Presidential nominee.

But that won’t be the case this year. There’s zero juice around Super Tuesday. Joe Biden is running for re-election (for now) as the leader of the Democratic Party, while Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party.

So while Super Tuesday is traditionally a day to zero in on as a talk show host, it won’t be this year. And forcing it, just because it’s Super Tuesday, would be a mistake as a host or a producer.

There may be interesting off-shoot angles to turn into talk topics: While Trump will win, how does he perform vs. Nikki Haley in the suburbs? How does Donald Trump perform with college graduates, who have preferred Nikki Haley in prior states, coming up on Tuesday? What do those results mean for November?

On the other side, do Democratic primary voters go to the polls to vote for a long-shot primary candidate to send a message for an “anti-Biden” vote? Earlier this week, “uncommitted” received 13% of the vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary.

There will be topics to creatively build off of Super Tuesday’s results, however it will not be your typical ones where hosts analyze the winners and losers. That’s because we already know who the winners and losers will be. It’s a done deal.

If your state is a Super Tuesday state, there will likely be far more interesting races and angles to look at down the ballot. California has a U.S. Senate primary, Texans will grapple with another challenge to GOP attorney general Ken Paxton, North Carolina has a Governor’s race, and dozens of other races I am unfamiliar with, but hosts in their cities and states are well aware of.

This will be a chance to focus on those and show your local chops while explaining to your audience why these races oftentimes matter even more than who is in the White House. There will be casual listeners stopping by for the headlines on Super Tuesday, but if you can catch them and get them to care about the realities of their community in a way they have not previously considered, you can win them over. You can catch that extra occasion over sports radio or another spin of Led Zeppelin, Taylor Swift or Madonna.

Think of Wednesday morning as your next best chance to make a great first impression on new potential listeners. It’s like a first date or a first job interview. Put your best foot forward, impress your radio audience, and give them an angle that matters to them, and you might just win them over for the foreseeable future. Good luck. 

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