The New Yorker glances at Planet Hewitt

WizardHughThe August 29 New Yorker includes a six-page profile of über-blogger Hugh Hewitt, calling him the “Most Famous Conservative Journalist Whom Liberals Have Never Heard Of.” A color illustration by Eric Palma depicts Hewitt as a smirking colossus, sitting atop a half-black, half-white globe and doing his radio show while fingering his laptop.

Like many other magazines, The New Yorker releases only some of its pages to the Web — and this Web-centric piece is, oddly, not one of them. Hewitt’s blog, however, provides lots of reading material, including his evaluation of the profile, written by veteran journalist Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s journalism school.

Hewitt’s Christianity does not appear frequently in Lemann’s piece — which focuses more on Hewitt’s efforts to challenge old-media hegemony — but when it does pop up, the details are informative:

Hewitt’s radio employer, Salem Communications, owns a hundred and four radio stations, covering twenty-four of the country’s twenty-five major markets, and purveys the work of eight talk-show hosts, five of them mainly conservative and three mainly Christian. Salem, whose headquarters are in Camarillo, California, is led by two brothers-in-law who are graduates of Bob Jones University; it is publicly held, and growing swiftly enough to have joined the handful of radio-station groups that are bunched together far behind the two national leaders, Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting. . . . Hewitt thinks of himself as the most liberal-friendly of the Salem hosts — he calls his program “National Public Radio for conservatives.”

Much later in the story comes this surprisingly nontheological description of how Hewitt, who grew up Catholic in Warren, Ohio, eventually became a Protestant:

Like many conservative Republicans of his generation, he was increasingly drawn to evangelical Protestantism. And Hewitt had come to dislike the political direction that the Catholic Church had taken. (“They were wrong on the Soviet Union, wrong on nuclear weapons, and wrong on poverty,” he says.)

The profile is fascinating because of Hewitt’s tendency to call out journalists on their cultural and political preferences. Lemann describes Hewitt’s reasons for doing this:

When somebody like [The Washington Post's Dana] Milbank gamely steps up to the plate, Hewitt uses the appearance as an opportunity to pursue one of his cherished goals, what he calls “transparency” in journalism. He has no problem presenting himself as an active, loyal Republican — so why won’t people who work in the mainstream own up to views that surely affect their work?

Lemann mentions early in his piece that Hewitt agreed to speak with him if Lemann would agree to be interviewed for a possible article. Near the conclusion of his article, Lemann explains why he plans to decline any invitation from Hewitt to declare himself:

If Hewitt does write about me, he will surely ask me to reveal whom I voted for in the last Presidential election. I might as well get started with the transparency now. Although I do vote, I’m not going to tell him. Like the house of the Lord, journalism has many mansions, and the one Hewitt inhabits is surely one of them. But in another of the mansions, reportorial journalism, the object is different. One can be curious or not, fair-minded or not, empathetic or not, imprisoned by perspective or not. For a reportorial journalist to announce his voting record is to undermine his work. It dishonors the struggle to do it right.”

About the art: Borgard Blog submitted this witty collage to a vast collection of images (warning: long load time) promoting Hewitt’s Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World, which enjoys almost scriptural authority among conservative bloggers.

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  • Tom Breen

    I side with Lemann: I don’t think blogs and newspapers are inherently at odds. After all, I’m a newspaper report and I have a blog. It’s just that people have to understand there are different standards for different media, just like there are different standards for different departments within a news organization.

    Also, the Catholic Church was “wrong about the Soviet Union”? Does that mean Hewitt thinks the Soviet Union should still be a going proposition?

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Also, the Catholic Church was “wrong about the Soviet Union”? Does that mean Hewitt thinks the Soviet Union should still be a going proposition?

    The same language made me stumble, Tom. I haven’t seen Hewitt’s further thoughts on this, but I’m guessing he may mean the Catholic Church was wrong about the nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union.

  • Tom Breen

    That would make sense, although the larger question his statement suggests is, What makes people join (or stay in) a religion? After all, a Catholic who believed that the church was wrong on poverty, nukes, and the Soviets but right on the sacraments and papal primacy would probably opt to stay with Rome.

  • Brian Volck

    Indeed. Hewitt’s brief assessment (or at least that recorded here) of the Catholic Church seems to raise many more questions than it could possibly answer. It’s hard to know what fault a conservative could find in Rome’s approach to the Soviet Union. Perhaps he misses a more definable enemy. As for nuclear weapons, even the American bishops’ statement came short of condemning the possession of such weapons, to the disappointment of many on the left. If I recall correctly,though, it did proscribe targeting civilian populations and, by inference at least, the first use of such devices.

    The American bishop’s later letter on the economy certainly enraged the Catholic right (Weigel, Novak et al.), but is that what Hewitt rejects? Perhaps it’s the supposedly unbiblical emphasis on corporal works of mercy (cf. Matthew 25)he finds troubling.

    Again, Hewitt surely has far more to say about this than Lemann’s article apparently lets on, but it’s interesting that his stated objections to the church of his childhood are political rather than theological (though I, for one, see theology as political in ways most conservatives and liberals find troubling). As a cradle — and still practicing — Catholic who was once was asked with obvious incredulity by a member of a house church I had been invited to address, “So, you were raised Catholic and you’re STILL Catholic?,” I recall how my brother’s sharp right turn in politics coincided with his embrace of a virulently anti-Catholic evangelical protestantism. His early attempts at “converting” my mother included screaming from our driveway that anyone dying Catholic merited certain and eternal damnation. His theology has softened a bit, though we no longer talk politics.

    I know far too many Catholics for whom their faith, if lived at all, has not the hint of scandal or cost in the world’s eyes. I have also learned much from my evangelical sisters and brothers in Christ, and I would be far poorer in spirit were I to reject that channel of grace in my life. Perhaps most of all, I treasure those evangelical touchstones: God’s Word and sovereignty. Nonetheless, I have also met many evangelicals whose faith seems nothing more than a syncretic confusion of loyalties, comfortably mixing country and Christ in order to meet the needs of those who love America more than God. I’ll have to read more in order to learn if Hewitt fits that bill as well.

  • Tom R

    Maybe by “Soviet Union”, HuHew meant “Franco”, “Mussolini”, “Pinochet”, or “Saddam”, because otherwise you’re right — what we know of the RCC’s attitude to the USSR, and Hewitt’s own attitude to it, would make no sense.