While CNN's and The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz has had an esteemed career as a media critic, and arguably been a generally balanced one at that, his TV and tweet critique of MSNBC and the Rev. Al Sharpton Sunday seems like an attempt to appear balanced purely for the sake of appearing balanced. However, there is no balance in Kurtz's critique, but rather an assertion of a false equivalency between Fox and MSNBC.
Kurtz criticized MSNBC and Sharpton on his TV show and tweeted the following Sunday: "Folks, we criticized Hannity when he went to Tea Party rally & was yanked back by Fox. MSNBC should hold Sharpton to same standard at rally."
Of course, Kurtz is speaking of the Trayvon Martin rally in Sanford, FL last Thursday. But this is a puzzling tweet on Kurtz's part because in his critique of Sharpton and MSNBC, he is not even applying the standards Fox applied to Sean Hannity's appearance at the Cincy Tea Party rally in 2010.
Fox pulled Hannity back from the Cincy rally when it was discovered that not only was he headlining the event, but charging admission for the event and using the proceeds to benefit the Tea Party.
Neither MSNBC nor Sharpton have promoted, sponsored or organized a partisan political event, or raised funds for a partisan political organization. Is Kurtz somehow equating activism on behalf of civil rights and social justice with partisan political organizing and partisan political fundraising?
Kurtz was silent when MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced that Sharpton would not be expected to compromise his activism while on the network. After all, Sharpton's National Action Network was around before there was an MSNBC. Griffin and the audience knew what they were getting in Sharpton. The New York Times called Sharpton a "hybrid," and Griffin went so far as to say, "We are breaking the mold. Anything he does on the streets, he can talk about on air -- we won't hide anything."
Kurtz is on record acknowledging that there can be a distinction between Fox's news shows and opinion shows. Why does Kurtz not apply the same standard to MSNBC and Sharpton? Clearly, Sharpton's Politics Nation, like most cable prime time shows, is a talk show with opinions, and not a news show.
Kurtz's tweet accompanied by his incredulous reaction to Hannity being withdrawn from the Tea party rally seem to suggest some empathy for Hannity. But here is where Kurtz is confusing, and I wonder, again, whether he is just trying to appear balanced for the sake of appearing balanced: Kurtz has acknowledged Fox's one-sidedness in the past via twitter, been critical of Hannity and on his CNN show Reliable Sources as recently as yesterday, the same day he commented on MSNBC and Sharpton, he even said Fox Contributor Dick Morris "apparently saw no reason not to use his Fox status" to raise money for the GOP by auctioning personal guided tours of Fox studios.
Kurtz clearly knows the deal at Fox, but why is he challenging MSNBC's relationship with Sharpton when the two are so different? Might there be a conflict of interest on Kurtz's part? John Hudson of The Atlantic raised this issue last year.
Kurtz, curiously, has not criticized other marches and rallies -- Troy Davis, Jobs, Selma to Montgomery -- led by Sharpton since he has been an MSNBC host. I hope that he is not making an issue of MSNBC and Sharpton now because Sharpton's network is beating Kurtz's network, CNN, in the ratings. That would lend credence to Hudson's piece.
I think Kurtz's criticism is ill-timed. With the entire nation riveted by the Trayvon Martin case, you would think he would be more empathetic with the feelings of all Americans of every race. This tragedy has called all our attention to Sanford, not just MSNBC's and Sharpton's. And after all, Sharpton in his capacity as a minister and as the leader of a civil rights organization was asked by Martin's parents to become involved with the case. I would ask Kurtz if Sharpton should have said no because he has a show on MSNBC.
I would even dare say the organic nature of this movement, and the emotions around it might even dictate that it would grow whether Sharpton were involved or not. This is a national tragedy bigger than one host or one network. The irony is Kurtz's critique is that his own network, CNN, is reported to have covered the Trayvon Martin case more than MSNBC between February 26 and March 19.
I hope that Kurtz is not being as insensitive to coverage of issues of particular concern to African Americans as he was when he questioned whether African American female journalists could be objective in covering First Lady Michelle Obama. Shall we ask whether Kurtz is objective in covering white males? I should think not.
Kurtz has too much integrity not to heed the advice former ABC anchor Carole Simpson gave, and critique diversity in media, rather than critique those who make media a little more diverse.
Alas, I am afraid Kurtz's latest tweets on the Trayvon Martin story undermine my hope that he is not being insensitive, at worst, toward Martin's family. He has succumbed to the police leaks smearing Martin, expressed sadness that witnesses supporting gunman George Zimmerman are "no longer around," and excused those seeking negative information to sully Martin's image.
The story should be that THE story was never told in court. The story should be why the Sanford, FL police did not arrest and charge Zimmerman. I would expect the nation's media critic of record to chastise the media for being manipulated by the Sanford police department. By leaking smears against the victim to the media, rather than submitting all information to prosecutors for trial in court, the Sanford police department is attempting to try Martin's character in the press. If the media is duped by this strategy, the Sanford authorities will win at dividing America's opinion on the case and, regrettably, further divide America racially. Does Kurtz think media has a responsibility to avoid this kind manipulation?
(In the interest of full disclosure, Rev. Sharpton and I are friends and fellow ministers, and I am a Life Member of the National Action Network.)