SpongeBob on Brit Hume's Target List
The steady creep to the top for Brit Hume's nightly Special Report on Fox--not just the No.1 Washington-originated cable show but also the fourth in all basic cable at 6 p.m.--has the host eyeing the next victim. "We've been having a series of meetings here about how we can beat Nickelodeon," he says. "We just hope that they don't put SpongeBob SquarePants up against us." Fun aside, Hume's hourlong mix of news and debate now reaches 1.5 million nightly while dominating the key 25-to-54 age demographic. And it happened in a very un-Fox-like way: without fanfare, even though Hume has recently surged to the No. 2 spot among all cable news shows, after Bill O'Reilly.
When Special Report started in 1998, the goal was giving the growing Washington bureau some visibility. Now the top audience-getter of Washington shows, including CNN's Situation Room and MSNBC's Hardball, Hume says, "We kind of pinch ourselves." Like a good boss--Hume is the managing editor of the D.C. bureau--he credits his news team. But the "poisonous" mood in Washington doesn't hurt either. "For those who have a rooting interest in it," he says, "they want to hear about it."
While beating the pants off SpongeBob is a long-term goal, Hume has a more immediate worry: No. 12 ESPN's March Madness coverage. "If they've got games on at 6 at night," he frets, "that's gonna be tough."
California Condi Has a Nice Ring
She doesn't want to run the country, she says, but Condoleezza Rice is the hottest thing in politics right now. Pollster Frank Luntz did a straw poll at the recent California Republican convention. Guess who won? Stanford University's provost before joining the Bush administration, Rice was first with 29 percent, followed by Virginia Sen. George Allen at 26 percent and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at 16 percent. What's it mean? With Rice on the 2008 ticket, even as veep, California could go Republican.
CIA to Bloggers: Honor the Oath
The CIA's Publications Review Board is sending out terse reminders to agency veterans reminding them of the rules requiring that any writings--even blogs--must first get agency approval. Among those getting the warning is outspoken blogger and ex-agency man Larry Johnson, who smells censorship. "It's very selective," says Johnson, who has been critical of the CIA's failure to defend outed ex-spook Valerie Plame. His note from CIA brass referenced his blogging. A CIA spokesman described the reminder as standard operating procedure. "Should anyone be surprised if CIA reminds people of the obligations they voluntarily assumed?" asks the agency in a statement. Exempted from the review list: radio and TV appearances--unless written notes are used.
New Hints That, Yep, Rudy's In
Republicans looking for some excitement in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential race are starting to chant Rudy, Rudy, Rudy. While Rudolph Giuliani, New York's 9/11 mayor and national hero, hasn't talked about running, there are hints he's ready. A key Republican senator tells us that Rudy's peeps are already at work in Florida. And we hear that he's making a trip to Iowa--home of the first 2008 presidential caucus--to help raise money for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jim Nussle.
Rummy's Really a Pressroom Junkie
Imagine this: You're the dean of the Pentagon press corps and planning a retirement party miles away at your wire service's downtown Washington HQ. You invite SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, known for snarling at the press, and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And they show up! That's exactly what happened at Reuters last week at reporter Charlie Aldinger's retirement party. And attendees say it wasn't just a quickie stop. Pace gave Aldinger, 68, a medal for his service to the country--22 years on the beat--and he and Rumsfeld stayed for over two hours, a rare tribute to a journalist. "I was deeply moved by it all," says Aldinger.
The Coyotes on Old Wolf's Tail
OK, so we know that Fox is king of cable news, largely at CNN's expense, but now it looks like Ted Turner's brainchild is under attack from the other side. Little MSNBC is making an advance during the key 6 p.m.-to-9 p.m. period, hounding Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room, Paula Zahn, and Lou Dobbs. "This is really big news," says MSNBC's Jeremy Gaines. First, let's be clear: CNN has more viewers. But, as they say in TV, only the "demo" matters, and in the key 25-to-54 demographic that ad rates are based on, MSNBC is nipping at CNN. Here, The Abrams Report has seen a 35 percent jump in just a year, though it still lags behind Dobbs. But Hardball With Chris Matthews, up 52 percent, edges Blitzer by 1,000 viewers in the demo, and Countdown With Keith Olbermann, up 39 percent, ties Zahn. MSNBC's Gaines credits "consistency" and good hosts for the trend. At CNN, they note that total viewers are still higher and say that any February pop was due to MSNBC's Olympic coverage. "People were tuning in to watch Bode Miller slip and slide down a ski slope," says spokeswoman Edie Emery, "and they got Chris Matthews instead."
A Snapshot of Presidential Power
White House photographers last week got a lesson in presidential authority. Already in place for a Bush visit to a New York seniors facility, the newsmen were asked by the master of ceremonies if they'd take pictures of the crowd before President Bush arrived. No one stepped forward. That is until Bush heard and called on Reuters photographer Larry Downing to get snapping. "Ask and ye shall receive," grinned Bush. "The president just sort of ambushed me," said Downing. Downing is something of a Bush fave. In Istanbul in 2004, Downing recalls taking a picture of NATO officials, then pausing to write down their names. From behind, a man asked, "Do you need any help with the names?" It was the prez.
With David E. Kaplan and Dan Gilgoff
This story appears in the March 27, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.