Howard Kurtz's "Inescapable conflict" & the Lou Dobbs story

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

At times like this, it sure would be great if the Washington Post's media critic wasn't getting paid on the side by CNN.

Last week, CNN's Lou Dobbs abruptly resigned (or, if you prefer, "resigned") his job as perhaps the cable channel's most famous anchor. In the wake of the resignation/"resignation," CNN President Jonathan Klein continued his pattern of bizarre and often contradictory statements about Dobbs. But Howard Kurtz, who earns what we can only assume is a handsome salary from his side job as host of CNN's Reliable Sources, continues to give Klein a pass.

It all started over the summer, when Lou Dobbs was hyping the crazy Birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birth certificate. After this nonsense went on for a while, Klein sent around a memo to CNN employees declaring the story "dead," adding "anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef." But Lou Dobbs didn't consider it dead, and he kept on flogging it.

That's when things got interesting. CNN President Klein, who had previously declared the story "dead," flip-flopped, calling Dobbs' treatment of the topic "legitimate" and blasting Dobbs' critics as "people with a partisan point of view from one extreme or another."

One of the critics of Dobbs' relentless hyping of the Birther conspiracy theories had been Howard Kurtz. And Kurtz had mentioned Klein's memo on Reliable Sources. But, oddly, he never mentioned criticized CNN's president for endorsing Dobbs coverage -- in fact, he never even mentioned Klein's flip-flop.

Nor Kurtz ever mention that Klein's descriptions of Dobbs' Birther reporting were inaccurate.

Nor has Kurtz noted the obvious falsity of Klein's repeated claims that Dobbs had removed opinion from his broadcasts this year and begun doing straight news broadcasts. Klein has been pushing that line since the Spring, at least, and continues to do so in the wake of Dobbs' departure from CNN:

CNN President Jon Klein said the decision grew out of weeks of discussion with Dobbs after he had directed the anchor several months ago to rein in some of his more controversial opinions.


"We both came to the conclusion that the mission of the network was different from the mission he wanted to pursue," Klein said. "He was very friendly and engaging about it. . . . A few months ago, Lou removed opinion from his show for the most part, in an earnest effort to live up to the mission of the network. It occurred to him that was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He came to us and we agreed. . . . 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' was increasingly standing apart from the network."

Again: that is obviously false, as a few brief moments watching Lou Dobbs Tonight (or browsing Media Matters' extensive Dobbs archives) would have made clear. But Howard Kurtz has never mentioned that the president of CNN was making obviously false claims about the content of one of its most famous programs. On Reliable Sources yesterday, Kurtz noted "CNN president Jon Klein said that he had asked Dobbs several months ago to take the opinion off his program and Dobbs had largely complied." But he politely avoided assessing the truthfulness of Klein's statement.

It's hard to believe the nation's most prominent media critic would ignore Klein's defense of Dobbs' Birther reporting, and his repeated false statements about the content of Dobbs' broadcasts -- until you remember that CNN probably pays Kurtz more than the Washington Post does.

When Washington Post ombudsman wrote a few weeks ago about the "inescapable conflict" of interest represented by Kurtz' dual employment at CNN and the Washington Post, Kurtz responded:

"My track record makes clear that I've been as aggressive toward CNN -- and The Washington Post, for that matter -- as I would be if I didn't host a weekly program there."

That was obviously false at the time. Kurtz's continuing kid-glove treatment of his CNN boss drives that falsity home even more.

The Washington Post, CNN
Howard Kurtz, Lou Dobbs, Andrew Alexander, Jonathan Klein
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