Somebody disappears: Let’s be clear: Howard Kurtz has done some good work down through the years.
Kurtz is smarter than most major journalists. On some occasions, he has actually challenged things that needed to be challenged.
In June 1999, Kurtz broke every rule in the book. He wrote a long analysis piece in the Washington Post in which he described the War Against Candidate Gore which had already taken shape.
Kurtz didn’t do nearly enough with this journalistic war. But in that piece, and twice on Reliable Sources that fall, he did more than anyone else within the tight inner guild.
Kurtz is smarter than most of his peers. In part for that reason, we were struck when he reminisced about his fifteen years on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
Last Sunday was Kurtz’s final show; he is moving to Fox. As he started his last segment, he started to reminisce:
KURTZ (6/30/13): This is my last edition as host of Reliable Sources after 15 years in this chair. I was part of a pilot for the program back when Bill Clinton was first running for president. He was mired in the Monica Lewinsky scandal when I took over the host role. And I haven't missed a show since then, my own personal Cal Ripken streak.Even then, Kurtz was claiming that his show “turned a critical lens on the media.” Inevitably, the first story he recalled on Sunday's show was the scandal about Miss Lewinsky!
Here's what the program looked like right after the controversial House vote.
KURTZ (videotape): The morning after. The media have an impeached president. Welcome to Reliable Sources, where we turn a critical lens on the media. We've been hearing from readers and viewers all year that we have over-covered this.
Let's be fair: For any serious media critic, that was a very big story. But as he continued, Kurtz recalled three other big stories. Is there something he possibly missed?
KURTZ: One of our most dramatic programs came in the aftermath of the 2000 elections, when the networks called Florida for Al Gore and then for George W. Bush.How weird! On Sunday’s final program, Kurtz recalled these four stories from the past fifteen years:
KURTZ: Sam Donaldson, ABC and the other networks were wrong twice in the most dramatic high-profile way imaginable, jerking the country around and the candidates as well. How could this have happened?
DONALDSON: Well, no one is happy about it. We have egg on our face, no question about it.
DAN RATHER: We made a mistake. We were wrong. We were just flat wrong.
KURTZ: In 2003, I exposed the serial fabrications of Jason Blair at the New York Times, and later asked him how he felt when I called him about the first of those lies, a plagiarized piece about a Texas woman whose son was missing in Iraq and whom he had never visited.
KURTZ: How did you think when you were doing it that you could copy the quotes from this woman, that you could use details like her Martha Stewart patio furniture, which, as it turned out, was still in boxes—which you didn't know because you hadn't gone there—and not get caught? I mean, it just seems like it's so risky in addition to everything else.
BLAIR: Well, some people say it was an unconscious cry for help. I don't know.
KURTZ: This program has been about asking difficult questions regardless of ideology. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, as most of the media was celebrating the new president, we were skeptical about the coverage.
KURTZ (videotape): The history and the hype. Did some journalists get carried away during Barack Obama's election victory? Is there a danger that all this will be seen as some kind of love fest involving the media?
Howard Kurtz remembers:Is someone missing from that list? Didn’t he start a weird war?
President Clinton gets impeached
The press corps calls Florida for Gore, then for Bush
Jayson Blair makes a lot of shit up
The press corps is soft on Obama
Looking back on the past fifteen years, Kurtz remembered Jayson Blair—and he forgot Judith Miller et al! He remembered soft coverage of Obama, skipped right past President Bush.
Howard Kurtz, welcome to Fox! “Turning a critical lens on the media” sometimes takes soft, funny forms.