Columns » John Brummett

Huckabee’s smart TV route

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Sometimes some of us are too hard on Mike Huckabee, not that it appears to constrain him much.

While predictable, his joining Fox News as an expert inside commentator doesn't trivialize him.

It would be fair to say, at least, that he is trivialized no more than another Arkansawyer — retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark — got trivialized by working as an expert inside commentator, first for CNN, then Fox.

Clark was hired to lend real-life experience and accomplishment to war coverage. Huckabee has been hired to lend real-life experience and accomplishment to campaign coverage.

Clark brought a general's credibility and that he'd commanded the successful NATO war in Kosovo. Huckabee brings the ready quip and that he got to second place in the Republican presidential primary without any money.

I am getting credit in some circles for prescience in having written all along that Huckabee, in running for president, was mostly auditioning for a show on Fox or MSNBC. Actually, though, it's turned out rather differently than I had expected.

I had been referring to his selling out fully to his baser media instincts. I had been thinking that he would land his own show, like Sean Hannity or Joe Scarborough or Keith Olbermann.

He has instead gone the commentator route. It's the less pedestrian of cable television talking-head incarnations. It is less than full immersion in a media career and partly a continuation of a political career. It's one of those cross-pollinated abominations of modern talking-head punditry.

It also means he can't fail. He'll have no show with his name attached to submit to ratings. He'll merely get beamed up from time to time to hold forth. It means he will function much as Karl Rove functions for Fox and much as Pat Buchanan functions for MSNBC.

And now that we're into the general election cycle, he can do his expert commenting as a partisan hack and thus avoid offending any fellow Republicans. That'll keep him viable until he gets chosen as John McCain's running mate, a long shot, or contends again for the presidency, apparently a real possibility.

He can spend these next few months drawing a check from Fox to prop up McCain and pick apart Barack Obama, earning good Republican will along the way. He can hope that no more assassination jokes about Obama will pop out of his sometimes vile mouth.

Anyway, Fox has already aired one of those as well as snippets suggesting that the Obamas are fist-bumping terrorists and that Michelle is Barack's “baby mama,” meaning unmarried mother of kids he sired.

What's apparently happening at Fox is that 20-something producers and copy writers, wet behind the ears and full of themselves with the heady insensitivity of their underdeveloped conservatism, have been getting outrageous things on the air because no adult journalist has been present. Brit Hume doesn't count.

All-news cable moves fast, too fast, sometimes instantly from the brain of the kid in the booth to the world.

But that's no excuse. It's merely an explanation. There is no excuse for Fox.

Huckabee will better serve his own interests by carefully churning out his less incendiary metaphors, such as the one he concocted the other day. He said that Obama was like the new car on the showroom floor with all the bells and whistles and the new-car smell. But then you look at the price sticker and nearly faint.

Fox ought to like that kind of thing well enough.

One blogger who was praising me the other day for having predicted this cable news gig for Huckabee also suggested that perhaps I'd had my chronology wrong.

He wrote that I had suggested Huckabee was running for president to get into cable talk. He seemed to think that it might now work the other way round.

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