An unconvincing defense of Howard Kurtz

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Mediaite's Steve Krakauer defends Howard Kurtz's glaring conflict of interest, arguing that Kurtz's (tepid) criticism of CNN for not paying more attention to a controversial comment by Rep. Alan Grayson shows that Kurtz "doesn't hold back when giving his take on the network airing his show." Here's Krakauer:

The segment is one small piece of evidence that the CNN host doesn't hold back when giving his take on the network airing his show - there are many more. In this media environment where so many networks have partnerships and sharing deals with other outlets, these types of questions are bound to come up. (For example - here's CNBC correspondent and MSNBC anchor John Harwood writing about Fox News in the New York Times.) The questions are likely to continue and increase, but Kurtz has done a good job serving as a model of someone put in a position to balance two separate jobs.

I think Krakauer has this whole question backwards.

When assessing how someone deals with a conflict of interest, the approach shouldn't be to say that everything is ok as long as they sometimes don't let that conflict affect their reporting.

If a politician casts 99 votes that don't seem to unjustifiably benefit her spouse's business, and only one that does, would Krakauer praise her for "model" behavior? Probably not. Nor would most people. Most people don't hand out credit for being ethical most of the time.

Likewise, the question with Kurtz isn't whether he ever criticizes CNN. It's whether he ever seems to let his role at CNN compromise his reporting at the Washington Post (and vice versa). If Krakauer -- or anyone else -- wants to assess whether Kurtz "has done a good job serving as a model of someone put in a position to balance two separate jobs," he shouldn't be looking for examples of Kurtz criticizing CNN; he should be looking to see if there are glaring examples of Kurtz giving CNN a pass. And there are, as I explain here.

A couple other quick points: First, the primary question with Kurtz has always been whether his employment by CNN compromises his ability to cover CNN for the Washington Post. But in defending Kurtz, Krakauer didn't point to anything Kurtz wrote for the Post; he pointed to something Kurtz said about CNN on CNN.

And second, Kurtz isn't "someone put in a position to balance two separate jobs." Nobody's forcing him to work for both CNN and the Washington Post. He chose to. He put himself in that position. And he did so after having lectured other print reporters about the perils of being "seduced by the affluence and adulation that comes with television success" and warning about the danger of "those who pontificate for a living" being "in financial cahoots with the industries and lobbies they analyze on the air."

The Washington Post, CNN
Howard Kurtz, Steve Krakauer
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