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Hamilton: Brit Hume is back

The return of the Emmy Award-winning, Brit Hume, to prime time at Fox News Channel brings back a fond memory of a huge favor that Hume did for a relatively unknown writer from fly-over land. Back in May, June, and July of 1987, the televised Iran-Contra Hearings were commanding a huge viewing audience. Coincidentally, there was the prospect, albeit dim, that yours truly, the then editor-in-chief of The Capital Times of Lincoln, Nebraska, might become a commentator for USA Today.

Seeking a break-through news story, and without any official press credentials, I lined up in the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building along with the hoard of folks trying to get inside the ornate hearing room’s tiny visitors’ gallery. The sergeants-at-arms would count off the number of people to be let in to take the places of the folks being let out. Each group only got to stay inside for a few minutes before being hustled back out. To be able to file a credible story, I knew a stay of several hours would be needed.

Brit Hume, whom I had only seen as the ABC-TV Capitol Hill correspondent, came to my rescue. When the time came for me to be let in, I caught the eye of the only familiar face amidst the rows of credentialed reporters, that of Brit Hume. Brit, in his smiling, avuncular way, came ambling over. I whispered my name and said I was trying to place a piece in USA Today. As if we had known each other forever, Brit put his arm around my shoulder as he explained to the sergeant-at-arms that Bill, his journalist-colleague, would be sitting all day with him in the press gallery.

Thanks to Brit Hume, I got the full flavor of the media circus known as the Iran-Contra Hearings. Back at my home newspaper, I used satire to report that, due to some kind of TV-switching error, I had witnessed the Presidium of the USSR conducting a show trial of some American intelligence agents who had been caught trying to overthrow a Soviet-backed regime in Central America.

Apparently, the piece was okay. The satire appeared in USA Today on July 3, 1987. Following that, I enjoyed 24 years of completing dozens of assignments for the nation’s most widely-circulated newspaper. For example, in December, 1990, when Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev led a coup to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev, my then USA Today editor, Sid Hurlburt, recalled that my wife and I had, a couple of years earlier, interviewed Gennady Yanayev in Yanayev’s Moscow office. Sid let me opine that the hopelessly alcoholic Yanayev could not organize a one-car parade and that his coup would fail within hours. On our prediction, USA Today scooped the rest of the world press by several days.

But it was Brit Hume, and my long-time editor at USA Today, Sid Hurlburt, and USA Today founder, the late Al Neuharth, who provided the kind of opportunities that most writers from fly-over land rarely receive. Forever grateful to them all; I am especially indebted to Brit Hume.