Howard Kurtz still spinning about Limbaugh ratings

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

There are a couple layers of uncomfortable irony here.

The first is that Kurtz writes about the media for a living, but last Friday in making a claim about Rush Limbaugh's ratings, Kurtz seemed to indicate that he didn't understand how radio ratings work. (The next day, his colleague Paul Farhi set the record straight in the Post.)

Secondly, Kurtz works as a media critic, yet seems incapable of admitting when he makes errors in judgment. We're not sure which sin is worse. But both are unpleasant to watch.

We've already detailed the the problems with Kurtz's ratings reporting. Yesterday during an online chat with readers the topic came up. Here's the exchange [emphasis added]:

The blogosphere picked up a point where you stated that Rush's ratings had "doubled" since January, based on a claim by Michael Harrison at Talkers Magazine.

Considering that he's a radio insider with the highly subjective "Talkers Heavy Hundred" list, which ranks radio personalities without any hard survey data to back it up, isn't citing him as the (apparent only) source of the "doubled" claim questionable?

Howard Kurtz: Harrison's estimate to me -- and I provided the figures -- was based on research by his outfit. He may be off somewhat on the numbers -- as a followup piece indicated, it is difficult to measure Rush's audience across 600 stations -- but I don't believe he is wrong that Limbaugh enjoyed a huge spike in listeners during a week when the Rush vs. White House story line all but dominated the news.

According to Kurtz, he simply quoted "research" in his article and he doesn't believe that research "is wrong," therefore he's in the clear. What Kurtz leaves out is that not even the person Kurtz quoted thought his ratings estimate for Limbaugh constituted "research." It was more like a guess. (i.e. "thumbnail estimates.")

Yet Kurtz took that guesswork and announced in the first sentence of his article that Limbaugh's ratings had "nearly doubled," a claim that not even the self-promoting Limbaugh would sign off on.

Question: Does the Post need a media critic to critique its own media critic?

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