On June 17, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote a blog post about Howard Kurtz, the Post media columnist who also hosts a television show on CNN. Two days earlier, Kurtz had conducted an online chat for the Post in which he defended CNN from criticism of its coverage of the Iran election controversy. As Eric Alterman noted, Kurtz did not disclose his relationship with CNN during the chat.
Here's Alexander, in his June 17 post:
Eric Alterman, a well-known New York-based journalism professor, columnist and author, was struck by what Kurtz didn't say and e-mailed me with a complaint.
“Howard Kurtz, who draws a regular paycheck from CNN, but is described in this chat exclusively as a 'Washington Post staff writer and columnist,' offers the lamest possible defense of CNN,” he wrote. "(B)ut nowhere in the chat does he bother to inform readers that he is in the pay of the network whose dereliction of duty he sees fit to defend."
“This is not 'the appearance of a conflict of interest,'” he continued. “This is an actual conflict of interest.”
He is correct that Kurtz should have disclosed his CNN connection. When I queried Kurtz, he readily agreed.
“When I took a couple of questions about CNN's Iran coverage in this week's chat, I didn't mention it in my haste to answer the questions,” he said. “That was an oversight and won't be repeated.”
Won't be repeated? In the few weeks since, it has been repeatedly repeated.
I have previously explained how Kurtz' dual roles with the Post and CNN have compromised his coverage of the Lou Dobbs/Birther controversy -- Kurtz was slow to address what was a raging media story; when he finally did, he omitted any mention of CNN president Jonathan Klein's endorsement of Dobbs' Birther conspiracy theories. To this day, Kurtz has still never mentioned Klein's defense of Dobbs -- a defense which is not only inconsistent with Kurtz' own criticism of the Birther nonsense, but is inaccurate, as well.
That's a huge, glaring, undeniable conflict of interest, and one well worth the attention of the Post Ombudsman. But here's something else: When Kurtz has written about Dobbs and CNN in recent weeks, he has failed to disclose his ties to CNN.
In a July 22 Media Notes column, Kurtz mentioned Dobbs in a section on Birthers -- but Kurtz didn't disclose his financial relationship with CNN.
In an August 3 Media Notes column, Kurtz mentioned Dobbs in a section on Birthers -- but Kurtz didn't disclose his financial relationship with CNN.
In an August 3 “Media Backtalk” online discussion, Kurtz answered two questions that referenced CNN and three that referenced Dobbs. But Kurtz never disclosed his financial relationship with CNN.
Remember: On June 17, Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander wrote that Kurtz should have disclosed his CNN connection when writing about the cable channel. He quoted Kurtz agreeing, and assuring him the “oversight” would not be repeated.
And then Kurtz went right out and did it again. And again. And again. It's almost as though he's thumbing his nose at Alexander.
And here's something interesting: Kurtz's Media Notes columns immediately following Alexander's June 17 rebuke carried a note at the end indicating that Kurtz hosts a show on CNN. This column, for example, makes only two passing mentions of CNN -- but at the end, it notes “Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, 'Reliable Sources.'” Curiously, that note went missing right around the time Kurtz began covering (or not) CNN and the Birther mess.
To be sure, there's a bigger problem with Kurtz' reporting lately than his failure to disclose his ties to CNN. The bigger problem is that Kurtz has been giving CNN president Jonathan Klein a pass, while cashing paychecks from CNN. That's the biggest conflict of interest in contemporary political journalism.
The fact that Kurtz has also been breaking his own (very recent) promise to disclose his CNN ties when he writes about CNN, just weeks after being chastised by the Post's Ombudsman for failing to disclose, is just icing on the cake.
Though it does raise the question of whether there's anybody at the Post to whom Kurtz is accountable. Does Washington Post management care that Kurtz is not only giving his CNN bosses a break, he is breaking promises made to Post readers, via the Post Ombudsman, to disclose his conflict when he writes about CNN?
UPDATE: Kurtz devotes nearly all of today's “Media Notes” column to a profile of AOL's Politics Daily site. AOL is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN, which employs Howard Kurtz. Did Kurtz disclose his financial relationship with AOL's parent company? No, he did not.