Friday, December 16, 2005

Hugh Hewitt's Fetish

Hugh Hewitt has an annoying practice of asking journalists who appear on his radio show whether they voted in 2004 and for whom. He seems to believe it tells us a great deal about reporters and their biases. He has asked Dana Milbank, who claimed to have written in Chuck Hagel. He has asked Steve Henderson, who declined to answer. Most recently, he asked Mike Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times.

Here's the exchange with Henderson:

HEWITT: Steven Henderson, did you vote for president in 2004 and 2000?

HENDERSON: Well, I'm not going to talk about my votes for anything. That's not anybody's business.

HEWITT: Sure it is. I think you're biased. I think you have an agenda. I think you were an editorial writer.

This is America, Hugh, where we have a little something called the secret ballot. No one -- politician, journalist, radio talk show host, blogger -- is obligated to disclose how he voted. It is not Hewitt, or anyone's, business.

It gets worse. When Hiltzik refused to answer, Hewitt treated as some sort of gotcha moment and badgered Hiltzik for the ensuing four or five minutes. And this was after Hiltzik answered a series of personal and ideological questions.

HEWITT: . . . do you own a gun?

HILTZIK: No.

HEWITT: Do you attend church or synagogue regularly?

HILTZIK: Yes.

HEWITT: How often?

HILTZIK: Every few weeks.

HEWITT: What denomination?

HILTZIK: Jewish.

HEWITT: And do you support abortion rights?

HILTZIK: Do I support abortion rights? You mean the right to an abortion? Yes, I do.

HEWITT: Even in the late months of the pregnancy, or the so-called late term abortion?

HILTZIK: No.

HEWITT: Oh, so you would cut it off when?

HILTZIK: You know, I don't know what the conventional cutoff is. Late term abortion is the third trimester, right?

HEWITT: Yeah. Generally speaking.

HILTZIK: You know, somewhere in there.

HEWITT: All right. Do you support embryonic stem cell research?

HILTZIK: Yes, I do.

HEWITT: Did you support the decision to invade Afghanistan by the United States?

HILTZIK: Yes.

HEWITT: Did you support the Iraq invasion?

HILTZIK: No.

At which point Hewitt asks the Bush-or-Kerry question -- and, after Hiltzik's refusal to respond, no more. Hiltzik was extremely forthcoming talking about his beliefs. One might wonder why, after revealing so much here and in his columns, he hesitated to state the obvious. But that's his right, which Hewitt apparently doesn't understand.

He also seems not to understand that a person's vote for president says very little about that person's political philosophy. Of course, it shouldn't surprise anyone that ueber-party man Hugh Hewitt believes that one's presidential ballot is the greatest insight of all into someone's politics. (Among his chief complaints about Lincoln Chafee: he wrote in George H. W. Bush in 2004.) Voting for president -- or any office, for that matter -- is a complex process, a calculus involving trade-offs on the issues and intangibles like personality and charm. For example, how many pro-choicers voted for Bush because of the war? (That number would include Rudy Giuliani, by the way.) How many self-described conservatives voted for Kerry because of the war? How many voted one way or the other simply because they "liked" the candidate aside from any consideration of the issues? The list could go on and on and on.

Hiltzik gets this. Over at Patterico, he posted a response to those who believe it's relevant, informative, and appropriate to ask how one voted.

What I don't get is this fetish Hugh has (and you too) with having reporters reveal their Presidential [sic] votes. As I said on his show, I don't believe it necessarily tells you anything you'd find useful. . . . [P]eople vote for president for a complex of reasons -- his positions, "warmth," persona, his opponent, his incumbency (or lack of it), etc., etc. Do you really think you can know everything about my perspective and outlook just by knowing how I voted for president?

I'm sure Hiltzik and I would agree on very little, and I don't share his squeamishness about revealing my voting booth choices. But he's correct about this. Hewitt calls Hiltzik's post a "public meltdown." If so, then what is Hewitt's narrow-minded focus on a person's voting habits? A lack of imagination or curiosity? Partisan hackery?

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