How much credence should I place, beginning now, in whatever media reporter and critic Howard Kurtz says or writes? First came his ill-considered contretemps regarding NBA player Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay. That led to this morning’s mea culpa on Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” program on CNN, quizzed on his credibility by two other media critics.
Did Kurtz, in his phrase, “screw up”? Most assuredly. Did he fail to immediately amend and apologize? Yep. He admitted to both today under (somewhat predictable) questioning by Dylan Byers, media reporter for Politico, and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.
His two (perhaps overly gentle) questioners noted that Kurtz had made other, serious errors in the past few years involving two members of Congress and a commentator at another network. Given that record, he was asked: “Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?”
Given Kurtz’ decades-long body of work, which includes five books and, in his phrase, “millions of words,” so much might be an exaggeration. But given his profile — CNN’s media authority at “Reliable Sources” since 1998 — he faces a higher standard. And he said as much this morning. To be fair, he should be judged by that decades-long body of work, not on selected excerpts. But he’d better learn from this sensitivity fiasco. He’s becoming the Darryl Strawberry of media reporting in the past few years.
Should CNN fire Kurtz? No. He did nothing wrong on CNN’s dime and time. After all, CNN didn’t can Fareed Zakaria after his journalistic lapse (it’s called plagiarism). Why fire Howie? (It’s likely, however, this is Kurtz’s last contract with CNN. New honcho Jeff Zucker has been revamping, um, infotainment-ing, the network. Kurtz is a serious man doing a serious program about consequential matters. In the long run, he’s toast at ZNN … er, CNN.)
I’ve read and watched Kurtz for decades. I admire his skill. He’s first rate at what he does — reporting on the media. (He is, perhaps, not so skilled as a critic.) His face-the-music dance this morning — 15 minutes with no commercial breaks — required no small measure of guts. (Then again, CNN needed to do something to try to rehabilitate his reputation.)
Whether I continue to support him depends on whether he’s learned what he ought to from this insensitive episode: Speed is dangerous. He made errors of haste and carelessness (reminding me of some of my sophomores). He did not read the Collins piece in Sports Illustrated carefully. He made snap judgments about content and tone. He gave little time to careful consideration of what he wrote. Speed is dangerous.
So, Howie, here’s some advice.
- Tweet less. Tweeting is about speed , and speed is dangerous. Twitter breeds haste. Cut back, Howie. Relentless tweeting breeds bad habits.
- Shed some jobs. Decide what you most wish to do, then tackle it earnestly. Right now, you’re a walking bundle of conflicts of interest. You have too many deadlines at too many enterprises (which you shamelessly over-promote). That leads to … speed. Haste. Carelessness. As you said this morning:
Sometimes, under deadline pressure or when you’re doing something quick and short where it’s a little too hazy and decided when you should press a button.
Your problem, Howie, is that you have too many buttons to push. Rid yourself of a few. Get back to being the damn good reporter you used to be.