The Hugh Hewitt Interview


John Hawkins:: Why do you think the left hasn’t made it in talk radio yet?

Hugh Hewitt:: The essence of talk radio is entertainment. Rush showed everyone the way and others have picked up on this. You have to be happy with what you do, you have to be an optimist, and you have to be positive about the direction of the country. Generally speaking, people on the left that have tried talk radio are none of those. People don’t like to be yammered at, lectured, driven into the ground, and told what a terrible country they’re part of and what a horrible government we have. The refrain of the left is not very appealing to a drive-time radio listener.

John Hawkins:: Another radio related question — if the Fairness Doctrine were implemented again as so many on the left want, what would it do to talk radio?

Hugh Hewitt:: It depends on how it’s interpreted. On my radio program, I include a lot of lefties. I like lefties, they make for fodder and wonderful conversations. The sort of talk shows that have guests cover the fairness issue very, very, well so I don’t think it would have much of an impact. But I don’t see it coming back….

John Hawkins:: Well you know, there are a lot of people who’d like to get it back on the left because they’d like to use it as a bludgeon to destroy talk radio — at least some of the hosts like Limbaugh & Liddy who rarely have guests.

Hugh Hewitt:: I think you’re right. I think that they don’t view it as the Fairness Doctrine, they view it as the Censorship Doctrine. The Censorship Doctrine worked well for many years to control the information flow and keep it in the hands of the big 3 networks. But the fact is that there is huge diversity of voices and information out there. People can get what they want to listen to, it’s a free market of ideas, and I think it’s working. So I don’t think the Fairness Doctrine is coming back.

John Hawkins:: Let’s talk a little about the war. Recently we’ve heard Jay Rockefeller claim it was “hard to say” if the war was justified, Gephardt was complaining about Bush’s “machismo” & Howard Dean said “the ends don’t justify the means” when we killed Odai and Qusai. When you combine all that with the Dems incessant carping about the war, do you think the Democrats are making themselves look like such wimps that they the American people would be terrified to put their lives in Democratic hands in 2004?

Hugh Hewitt:: Yes. There’s a profound moral incoherence among the Democrats. It’s systemic, it’s deep, it’s on display on a daily basis, and it has an appeal to I think about 30% of the country. A solid majority of the people who remain are horrified by it. In the middle of a campaign, those who are undecided will shift decisively towards the view that the United States is a wonderful country, that the war was just, and that freedom is worth defending and spreading.

John Hawkins:: In a related question to that, who do you see coming out of the primaries for the Democrats in 2004?

Hugh Hewitt:: I think it’s going to be Howard Dean and I believe it’s because of his unique appeal to the unhinged element within the Democratic Party which is large in the primaries. Dean’s appeal is his pugnaciousness and the primary voters see reflected in him, their own sense of having been blocked out of every branch of government and their rage at George W. Bush’s success. They’re doing self-destructive things and the ultimate self-destructive thing is the nomination of Howard Dean and so I expect it.

John Hawkins:: He does seem to be the only guy who is producing any energy right now.

Hugh Hewitt:: The field poll in California should put to rest any doubts about that. He has moved from the middle of the pack to the top of the pack, he bled Lieberman and Gephardt significantly, Edwards is mired in the sand and anyone with charisma beats John Kerry. You can’t listen to John Kerry for six months. I do believe that absent an extraordinary gaffe he’ll be the nominee. He’s playing to the rage of the Democratic, Democratic, Democratic wing…

John Hawkins:: Let’s say Dean comes out of the primaries. How do you think he does against Bush?

Hugh Hewitt:: We’ll win 45 states.

John Hawkins:: Yeah, I think we’d kill him too. The war would be front and center if Dean were to win the nomination.

Hugh Hewitt:: He is the only candidate who I think would create the clearest choice since McGovern/Nixon. All the other candidates have some capacity to cloud the real choice, but Dean will make the choice very clear between national security and becoming part of Europe (laughs). You know what? We don’t want to become part of Europe (laughs).

John Hawkins:: Some people are speculating that Hillary is going to jump in. I know Dick Morris has been saying that lately. Any possibility of that?

Hugh Hewitt:: I do not believe so. The professional process of running a presidential campaign takes so many months to organize that the idea of a lightning strike without a staff, without having raised the money, with all the professionals signed up in other camps, is just fun, hot-stove league speculation, not even remotely possible.

John Hawkins:: Let’s go back to the war on terrorism for a moment. Where do you think we should be focusing our efforts for let’s say the next year or so?

Hugh Hewitt:: This is where the experts have to come to the fore and tell us about the immediacy of the threat. As I decode these things, it seems to me that the imminent threat is the combination of instability and technology in North Korea and right behind it Iran. While there are plenty of Islamist fanatics who’d love to do injury to the United States, weaponry that they need is hard to manufacture and difficult to transport. Iran and North Korea are the only two states in a position to supply them — Syria is distant third. The war on terrorism is best waged on the citadels of terrorism, not merely the soldiers.

John Hawkins:: Do you think we’re going to be able to come to a diplomatic solution with North Korea or do you see a war down the road?

Hugh Hewitt:: I don’t see a diplomatic solution. I expect that the preferable outcome to a war is the collapse of the regime under the combined pressures of the United States, Russia, and China.

John Hawkins:: A lot of people believe there is going to be a revolution in Iran. However, the question it seems to me is whether they’re going to be able to get nukes first.

Hugh Hewitt:: That is the question and: Michael Ledeen’s: urgency is well placed in light of that. My fear is that they know their time is limited, they know they’re doomed, and that nothing would please some of the fanatics more than taking Israel with them.

John Hawkins:: Yes, I think that’s a very real possibility. There’s a lot of pressure on Bush right now to send troops to Liberia. Do you think we should send troops or not?

Hugh Hewitt:: That is one on which I completely trust the President’s judgement. So many people have opinions on foreign affairs, but I spent some time in the government, I know what classified information is like, & I did some work on foreign affairs when I was at justice. So much depends on information we don’t have access to. For example, if we send peacekeepers in there, does that embolden Charles Taylor to make a last stand using our guys as human shields? If that’s what our intelligence sources are telling us, we don’t send them in. On the other hand, if we really thought he’d leave the moment we touched ground, we’d send them in. I trust this foreign affairs team on issues like that and speculation to what the best move is, is always counterproductive when you trust the occupant of the Oval Office.

John Hawkins:: I got you. Let’s shift back to the election. You’ve said that you think the GOP needs to keep majorities in the House and Senate until 2030 to undo the damage Democrats have already done. You’ve also said you have ideas about how to do that, could you share those with us?

Hugh Hewitt:: Yes, I think that naturally the Senate should evolve to a 60-40 split given that Bush in the closest election in history carried thirty states against huge odds. Now that the playing field is level, I think the Senate should gradually move towards its natural equilibrium which would be about 60-40. I believe the House of Representatives is a healthy majority that will probably endure at least until the next redistricting.

John Hawkins:: That makes sense. Now you’re a professor of law, so you’re well qualified to answer this question; do you think the United States needs some sort of loser-pays system to help get lawsuits under control?

Hugh Hewitt:: Yes, I’m a big fan of loser pays. The trial lawyers have redefined ethics in the court room, they’ve redefined the process of using the courts as a bludgeon on business. Until we do restore some sort of sanity to the cost of going to court on a lark, we’ll continue to have fast food lawsuits and pie in the sky litigation. These law firms are very well capitalized John and they have enough money to take flyer after flyer on a 1 in 100 return and that’s bad for the country.

John Hawkins:: I agree with you. Another legal question that will start coming up as we get closer to the election; we often hear people on the left complain about the SCOTUS getting involved in the 2000 election, but in your opinion, was the Florida State Supreme Court so out of line that the SCOTUS needed to get involved?

Hugh Hewitt:: The SCOTUS was absolutely right. The law professors who came forward to attack the SCOTUS’ intervention in Bush Vs. Gore were partisan by and large. Any serious legal scholar who goes back and looks at the Florida State Supreme Court’s “jurisprudence” has to laugh. So the position of the critics of the SCOTUS is that an out of control state supreme court must be allowed to be out of control because it’s an issue of Federalism. This coming from people who have never before or since embraced Federalism as a serious principle of the American constitutional order. It was all about power and the SCOTUS stepped in to insure that power did not trump law. It was good, it was right, and hopefully if a case like that ever reoccurs, even if the players are reversed, the SCOTUS will make the same demand that the process of law trumps political ends.

John Hawkins:: Give all of us non-Californians a little run down on what’s going to happen with the recall of Gray Davis and how it may effect the 2004 Presidential election.

Hugh Hewitt:: It is the equivalent of King of the Ring at a professional wrestling event where all the wrestlers get in the ring at once and whoever is left after they throw all the wrestlers out wins (Editor’s Note: Actually, that’s a Royal Rumble or Battle Royal). It takes about ten million to get into the game and there are lots of people with ten million out there. Bill Simon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, & Darrell Issa on our side. Tom McClintock might be able to raise the money as well. On the Democratic side, Al Checchi & Jane Harmon both got brassknuckled by Davis in 1998, & there’s no love lost there. Willie Brown might look in the mirror and see himself as governor because it may only take 10-15% of the vote the win this thing. He could mobilize the African American vote more than perhaps anyone else in the state. It’s a carnival and it’s going to be great fun. What’s your sense of that by the way, do you think the country cares?

John Hawkins:: I think it’s kind of a sideline issue. Other than political junkies like us, I don’t think anyone else cares.

Hugh Hewitt:: One of the issues that comes up in the radio world is, “How much can I talk about California issues without driving away audience from other states?” My theory is that everyone likes a good carnival and people will be interested in the recall because it’s a carnival and it has Arnold in it and that sort of thing. California is 1/5th of the country’s economy and right now it’s crippled because it’s run by Democrats top to bottom. To the extent that the US economy is limping, it’s limping because of the mismanagement, almost an assisted suicide of the economy by the California Democrats in control of the state. So it should matter even if doesn’t resonate.

John Hawkins:: That brings up another question. California hasn’t gone GOP since 88. Do you think W can change that?

Hugh Hewitt:: I do believe W. can win it in 2004 and I believe he was poised to win it in 2000 until the Florida effect kicked in. Democrats scoff at this, but in fact, when the networks erroneously called Florida for Gore in 2000, the California Republican party went home. They thought the national election was lost, it was a completely deflating, energy sapping event that has been overlooked in the fiasco that followed in Florida. If either Florida had not been called or had been called correctly for Bush, I believe Bush would have won California.

John Hawkins:: It would certainly be great if W. could take California. Changing course again here, unquestionably, there is a lot of hostility towards religion coming from the left today. Ann Coulter has an interesting theory about that and I’d like to get your opinion on it. She says that, ‘Liberals hate religion because politics is a religion substitute for (them)”. Do you see any truth in that?

Hugh Hewitt:: I don’t think I would analyze it that way. My analysis is that most faith based systems depend upon an absolute moral order. The declaration of things as absolutely evil or absolutely good, as sin or virtue, puts liberalism into a horrible position because it’s founded on no judgement on anything. As a result, any faith that is seriously practiced or understood is a challenge to the politics that depend on constituencies that would rather not be told that their choices are bad and their lives are not virtuous.

John Hawkins:: That makes sense to me, If you could get 3 pieces of legislation / Constitutional amendments passed, what would they be?

Hugh Hewitt:: The Defense of Marriage Amendment — that marriage ought to be limited to a man and a woman. What profoundly upsets me is that it’s going to be legislated by the courts. I would have no objection whatsoever if advocates of same-sex marriage brought bills before state legislatures and the state legislatures passed them and governors signed them. But I know what’s going to happen here is the judicial usurpation of legislative authority and it’s the wrong way to go. Therefore, the constitutional Amendment prohibiting courts from taking the matter into their own hands would be number one.

Number two would be the significant amendment of the Endangered Species Act in order to respect private property rights. It is really the most abused piece of legislation in the United States today. It was not intended to function as it has and it deprives lots of good Americans of their basic constitutional right to enjoy their property free of government coercion.

Then I would want to reauthorize the Patriot Act. This gets me into some trouble with fellow Conservatives who view it as inimical. The Patriot Act is a rather modest step towards protecting the national security of the United States. We are not safe from additional 9/11s and the fanatics are keeping their powder dry and waiting, so we can’t afford to disarm. So I’d like to see the Patriot Act reauthorized.

John Hawkins:: Tell us a little bit about your latest book, “In, But Not OF.”

Hugh Hewitt:: It’s an attempt to encourage people under the age of 45 to take seriously acquiring influence so it can be used for good purposes. It’s a very practical guide — I like to describe it to people as Dale Carnegie meets Chuck Colson. How do you acquire influence in the world, how do you plan a career to do that, and how do you make sure the process of acquiring that influence doesn’t turn you into a terrible person? As one my friends told me, “life is lived forward and understood backwards.” So once you’re past 45 you have a pretty good vision of what the good ideas were and what were the bad ones. How old are you John?

John Hawkins:: 32.

Hugh Hewitt:: One of the chapters in the book talks about starting a website because it’s the new technology, it’s a key means to acquiring influence. How many visitors do you have a day to Right Wing News?

John Hawkins:: It varies, but last month I averaged about 4700 daily uniques.

Hugh Hewitt:: That is far more significant than most people will ever have in their life because of your patient attention to the market, to details, and putting out a good product. I think you have a real world impact on the news cycle on probably three dozen weblogs. That’s the kind of advice I deal out based on what I’ve observed of successful careers over the last three decades.

John Hawkins:: You seem to be more tuned into the blogosphere than any other popular mainstream columnist. Why do you think a lot of the other big conservatives out there don’t seem to have picked up on what’s happening on the net?

Hugh Hewitt:: You know, I don’t want to judge whether or not they are, and this not specific to anyone, but some media commentators hate to acknowledge that their material isn’t original. To me, I’m willing to give credit away for any good idea I stumble across and if you live in the blogosphere, that’s one of the rules, you give credit where credit is due. If you’re going to try to sound authoritative on all things on the radio or television, you’re going to have to stop and credit your sources all the time and that may not come across well unless you learn how to do it. I’m not one to worry about that. I think it’s great to say, “I saw: Glenn Reynolds: say this” or “James Lileks: made this point.” Or “Right Wing News: said this” or “Little Green Footballs: said that” or “Virginia Postrel: is all over my case on this”. What it does is opens the world to the fact that you are open to debate and argument. Bringing on: Joshua Micah Marshall: or any of the bloggers is to me a statement of confidence about my theories. The information has to work. I would encourage other people in the broadcast industry to learn this. Did you see the: Boston Globe article: today John?

John Hawkins:: Is that the one where she’s talking about: Oliver Willis?

Hugh Hewitt:: You ever heard of Oliver Willis?

John Hawkins:: Yeah, I know who he is.

Hugh Hewitt:: I’d never heard of him until today.

John Hawkins:: Oh really?

Hugh Hewitt:: Yeah, I said to myself, “I gotta go read: http://oliverwillis.com/” because he’s not one of my lefties that I check in on. But I also thought the article was sort of archetype for big journalism. An editor says to a reporter, “Find out what’s happening on the web. What are all these blogs about?” So the reporter goes off and finds one blog, Oliver Willis, writes three paragraphs about that and then goes and asks non-bloggers to comment on the blogosphere. (Laughs) A lot of people don’t understand what’s going on out there…

John Hawkins:: The other thing they do Hugh is find the previous articles written about the blogosphere and go to the same bloggers. You’ll find like five articles all mentioning the exact same bloggers in them…

Hugh Hewitt:: Well you have to be willing to surf and follow the links. I found a great website last week,: Joyful Christian: which I’d never seen before. ButOxblog: puts out a pretty good list of blogs, so I go adventuring around to try to find these blogs. That just makes me a better talk radio host and everyone who’s in the business ought to be doing this.

John Hawkins:: What are some of the blogs you read regularly or semi-regularly?

Hugh Hewitt:: All the ones that I goto at least weekly are athttp://hughhewitt.com/. I think I start every day with: Lileks, the guy is the new Mark Twain w/ bad spelling. I wrote a: Weekly Standard: piece about him because I want to make sure everyone knows about him. Of course, I do the big 4,: Volokh,: Glenn Reynolds,: Virginia,: Mickey Kaus, & a bunch of others. I readRight Wing News: every day and I read: Little Green Footballs: every day because you guys have good breaking news and there are some esoteric ones like: Joyful Christian: or: Brothers Judd: that are right down my alley, that I found recently or have been going to for a while.: Patrick Ruffini: and then Rich Galen over atMullings: have some real good Republican stuff, excellent stuff.

John Hawkins:: Are there any political websites that you could recommend to our readers?

Hugh Hewitt:: I go to: Free Republic: every day, probably 20 times. I bet you that I’ve heard every major story first on Free Republic, except for 9/11 (I was broadcasting on 9/11 while it happened). Now there are some nuts at Free Republic, some absolute off the wall goofballs. I always warn my listeners and friends in the blogosphere that you have to learn to work that site to avoid the goofballs, but in terms of having thousands people looking for news and posting it, it is far, far, faster than any of the news services.

John Hawkins:: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?

Hugh Hewitt:: Yes, I want to say that I think talk radio is changing. The rising talk stars are Prager, Medved, myself, & Hannity. We’re gaining market share really quickly. Rush already has market share, he can’t get any bigger — but who’s advancing on him? Michael Savage has had some success, but I don’t see that as long lasting. I see the success of Hannity, Prager, Medved, & myself as built upon the new information technology. The smarter the host, the better the show, the greater the audience. Knucklehead radio is going to go away and in its place…if I were a thirty year old like you, I’d find a radio show to match with my blog because the synergy is overwhelming.

John Hawkins:: Well Hugh, thanks for doing the interview, I appreciate your time.

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