CNN's longtime media reporter, Howard Kurtz, is moving to Fox News. As first reported by Mediaite and subsequently confirmed by the network itself, Kurtz will be taking over the spot currently occupied by Fox News' weekend media criticism program, Fox News Watch. The move comes after reports that CNN was “reviewing” Kurtz's “status at the network” after he was dropped by The Daily Beast following an erroneous and much-criticized column on NBA player Jason Collins' announcement that he is gay. Per Mediaite, “Jon Scott, the current anchor of Fox News Watch, will move to the specials unit, serving as an anchor for that programming.”
Regardless of your opinion of Kurtz, the mere fact that Scott is out as Fox News' in-house media critic can't be viewed as anything but a positive development. Fox News Watch was once considered one of Fox News' best and most balanced programs. Under Scott's tenure, the show became a parody of a media criticism program, mechanically framing segments around the “liberal bias” of the press and featuring panels of (overwhelmingly conservative) guests to complain about the “liberal media.” One of the program's recurring guests has been Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter best known for her disastrously inaccurate reporting on Saddam Hussein's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction.
More than anything else, Fox News Watch became a propaganda tool for the network. Any time Fox News or its parent company, News Corp., found itself in the headlines for ethical lapses or bad media practices, Fox News Watch would ignore the story. In 2011, when the scandal over phone hacking at News Corp.'s News Of The World was blowing up, Jon Scott and his Fox News Watch panelists were filmed discussing how they were purposefully not talking about it. When it was revealed that News Corp. had donated millions of dollars to pro-Republican political groups ahead of the 2010 election, Fox News Watch didn't say a word. In late 2012, after national security journalist Tom Ricks caused a huge stir by saying on Fox News that the network was “operating as a wing of the Republican Party” with regard to its Benghazi coverage, Fox News Watch ignored the story -- a fact that's even more remarkable when you consider that the person interviewing Ricks when he made that comment was... Jon Scott.
Conversely, whenever Fox News wanted to highlight positive coverage of the network, Fox News Watch would oblige. Journalist Zev Chafets' biography of Fox News president Roger Ailes, released earlier this year, drew fire from critics who questioned Chafets' objectivity. Fox News Watch covered the biography's release by re-airing a fawning interview Chafets had with the hosts of Fox & Friends earlier that week. Scott closed the segment by saying of Ailes: “He did build Fox News channel into number one. Tough being on top, everyone's always aiming at you trying to bring you down.”
Notably, one of the critics who challenged Chafets on his friendly treatment of Ailes was none other than Howard Kurtz, who has had a complicated history with the network. He has been harshly critical of Fox News in the past, whacking the conservative news channel for promoting conspiracy theories, being overtly political in attacking Democrats, and being too chummy with Republican politicians. At the same time, Kurtz has a close relationship with Ailes and has defended Fox News from allegations of bias.
In a tweet announcing his move to Fox, Kurtz said he will bring his “independent brand of media analysis” to his new show. Fox News' media criticism program has been devoid of independent analysis for some time, so at the very least he can't make it any worse.