Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
Conservative author and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt likes to make predictions. Hewitt has been breaking out his crystal ball and peering into a future where Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, which, as Hewitt sees it, would have disastrous results for the United States. On C-Span’s Washington Journal, Hewitt opined that “Sen. Obama’s election will greatly increase the likelihood of an attack on the United States — a significant one.” He has also said that the United States is going to get “blown up by the Islamists under Obama.”
But Hewitt doesn’t have a great record on predictions. For instance, Hewitt predicted that a “healthy” Republican majority in the House of Representatives would “endure until at least the next redistricting” (it didn’t); that Mitt Romney would win this year’s Republican presidential nomination (he didn’t); and that a majority of Americans would eventually view the Iraq war as “just” (they don’t). But for this neoconservative insider and pundit, getting it wrong is just another day at the office.
Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated conservative radio program, which has built a sizeable following. Hewitt began his ascent into conservative radio with a show on Los Angeles’ KFI; a few years later he began co-hosting PBS’ Life and Times. He won three Emmys during his tenure at PBS, but thereafter abandoned legitimate journalism to spew conservative talking points. As of 2007, he has roughly 1.5 million weekly listeners, which puts him in the same category as Randi Rhodes, Dennis Miller, and Gordon Liddy.
But Hewitt’s influence extends to the ears of conservative lawmakers. He helped Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) craft an immigration bill, which at Hewitt’s request included “separate treatment,” calling for tougher restrictions on “illegal aliens from countries of special concern.” Hewitt’s influence over legislation is disturbing because of his track record on the radio.
On his show, Hewitt has been unapologetic in his support for the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, calling the decision to invade one of the “wisest” Bush has made, and likening Bush to a poker player who, despite lousy poll numbers, “ends up taking all the cards and all the money off of the table.” Hewitt also failed to challenge Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) when McCain falsely asserted that Iranian agents were training Al Qaeda operatives inside Iran. Finally, Hewitt has advocated a complete ban on abortion and stripping gay couples of all legal protections, both of which he said were “mainstream conservative positions.”
Even though he has a long career in radio, Hewitt’s conservatism didn’t start there. After graduating from Harvard University in 1978, he worked as a ghostwriter for Richard Nixon. He then attended law school at the University of Michigan and became a clerk for Judge George MacKinnon, a Nixon appointee who unsuccessfully campaigned for Minnesota governorship on the GOP ticket in 1958. Hewitt next went to Washington, taking up many posts in the Reagan administration’s legal department, including assistant White House counsel.
Once Reagan left office, Hewitt became the first executive director of the Nixon Presidential library, a place so short on scholarly material that Watergate scholar Stanley Kutler said that its “level of reality is only slightly better than Disneyland.” Apparently the superficiality was evident. “Everybody who visited it, who knew the first thing about history, thought it was a joke,” said Nixon scholar David Greenberg. “You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
During his tenure at the library, Hewitt made waves by attempting to bar “unfriendly researchers”—such as the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward—from the premises. The library, which until recently was the only privately funded presidential library and bore Nixon’s personal stamp of approval, attempted to paint Watergate as a “coup” and accused Woodward and Carl Bernstein of “offering bribes” to informants in the pursuit of their famous Watergate coverage.
After he had made it both as a conservative operative and as a radio pundit, Hewitt started a side career in written commentary. He is currently a blogger, columnist, and executive editor of Town Hall, a virulently conservative website. He has also written a column for the online version of Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard, and is the author of many books, including: If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It; Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority; and A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney.
But despite his conservative credentials, Hewitt’s book about Romney actually garnered him some criticism from the right. The Washington Times wrote that Hewitt’s unabashed support of Romney reveals that he is “not so much a doctrinaire conservative as he is a Republican Party loyalist.” He also said that Mitt Romney has only “been attacked for being a flip-flopper from the left,” despite documented attacks on Romney coming from conservatives and evangelicals. The Politico calls Hewitt a “cheerleader” who “picks up the pompoms and shakes them like mad for the former governor of Massachusetts.” Politico goes on to note that Hewitt “reads [Romney’s] greatness in fairly mundane things,” and “writes as if the gripes of conservatives who haven’t caught the Romney bug are self-evidently silly.”
Hewitt launched what the Times called a “blog war” among online conservatives when he wrote a review of a Romney speech saying that “objectively, the speech cannot be judged as other than an extraordinary success for Romney…there can be no objective argument against that conclusion.” Even conservative blogs Hot Air, Sundries Shack,and Ace of Spades realized that it’s impossible for a cheerleader to “objectively” judge the merits of a speech, and called Hewitt out for his “weird rhetorical ploy.” The Times also reported that some conservatives thought Hewitt was “risking his credibility by employing such rhetoric.”
The Romney incident aside, Hewitt has managed to disseminate his conservative thoughts and words all across the media landscape in an alarming way. From the influence of his radio show to his books and his blog, his potential for changing public discourse is terrifyingly great. But more importantly, conservative members of Congress take what he has to say seriously and seek his input on legislation. Progressives should keep a watchful eye on Hewitt—objectively.
Patrick Garofalo is an Intern with Think Progress and a recent graduate of Brandeis University. He will be joining the Wonk Room.