A longtime media reporter for The Washington Post, a one-time best-selling author, and now an important honcho at NewsBeast and a host of a CNN weekly media news program, Howard Kurtz is an example to other reporters of how to be a success in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, giving readers the relevant information they might need to understand the context and significance of a story -- especially when it involves potentially powerful or well-connected figures -- comes second, third, or fourth, if at all.
On May 21, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes gave a speech at Ohio University in which he calledNew York Times reporters "a bunch of lying scum." This is not such an unusual comment for Ailes, as not so long ago, he compared NPR executives to Nazis. Still, he realized it was probably not such a great idea, what with speaking to students and all, so he apparently authorized a "senior Fox News executive" to anonymously tell NewsBeast's Kurtz that "he went too far and regrets using that language."
Note that neither Ailes nor his spokesperson was willing to say that New York Timesreporters were not actually "a bunch of lying scum." They may be. In fact, it's possible that they are, even though the same unnamed executive says Ailes feels the Times "has been fair to Fox under its new executive editor, Jill Abramson," lying scumminess and all.
But one question arises: As The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone sensibly questions, why in the world did Kurtz grant this Fox fellow anonymity to relay Ailes's incredibly lame third-person nonapology? What pressing national interest justified the contravention of this most basic journalistic convention on behalf of merely being Roger Ailes's errand boy? Was the man risking his life, or even his job, to leak this crucial scoop?
Kurtz may have felt himself humiliated by questions like Calderone's and decided to stick it to Ailes a few days later. On May 30, the morning show "Fox and Friends" broadcast a "four-minute, elaborately produced taped package" about how much President Obama sucked. This offended Kurtz. He termed it to be "a classic piece of negative propaganda." And what made it even worse was the fact that the show's co-host, Steve Doocy, followed it up with a congratulatory "hats off" to the associate producer responsible for it.
Kurtz found the video "nothing short of revealing," and called it "a moment of truth" for Fox and Ailes. His solution? "Roger Ailes should denounce the video and criticize his network's handling of it. He should make clear that such partisan garbage has no place on Fox News. Otherwise people will assume that Fox's worst critics are right."
Now hold that thought for a moment while we turn to another more recent highlight of Kurtz's media monitoring.
On June 8, Kurtz used his NewsBeast column to announce that two "unabashed partisan warriors," Michael Steele and Lanny Davis, were now "joining forces -- politically and in business -- to urge their parties to tone down the negativity and personal attacks."
How, exactly, did they intend to do this? By forming a for-profit consulting firm, naturally, though this is never completely clear from the article. (Kurtz's wife is in the same business, as it happens.)
Rather, Kurtz presents them as they present themselves: pretending to be "courageously challenging their respective sides," which, according to the author, "gives them a certain marketability."
He then gives the two new consultants the final words: "I get more heat and more vitriol from my side than from conservative Republicans," says Davis.
In Democratic politics these days, Davis says, "You're not allowed to deviate from a purist, absolutist position. It disturbs me that people who are supposed to be tolerant of dissent are so venomous."
Steele adds, in his own inimitable fashion: "I'm annoyed that people would presume about me without knowing and understanding my walk."
During the video portion of the interview, Kurtz somehow feels compelled to add: "You're both very attractive guys."
What do these two stories have in common? A great deal, no doubt. But for starters, in each of them Kurtz makes an unspoken (one presumes) agreement to ignore the past and pretend that the news he is being fed at any one moment comes without a past, and without a context.
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