Howard Kurtz's Octomom hypocrisy: He was against exploiting it for ratings before he was for it

by Brad Jacobson

Washington Post and CNN media critic Howard Kurtz dedicated an entire segment of this past Sunday’s Reliable Sources to a gratuitous pie fight between two players involved in Nadya “Octomom” Suleman’s never-ending nationally televised freak show. But a little over a month ago, Kurtz decriedthe media’s exploitation of the octuplet mother for ratings and for doing so under the false pretense that concern for her babies’well-being drove their 24/7 coverage.

What a difference a few weeks make.

In a February 15 edition of Reliable Sources, Kurtz asked Headline News host Jane Velez-Mitchell, “Jane
Velez-Mitchell, you’ve been talking about this constantly on cable for more than a week. All right. Let’s be blunt here. Aren’t the media feasting on this terrible situation?

Addressing the former editorial director of Star magazine, Bonnie Fuller, in the same segment, Kurtz asked, “Now, surely, Bonnie, you’re not suggesting that we, in the media, are doing this purely out of our own good-hearted concern for these little babies and that ratings and grabbing attention has nothing to do with it?”

Other key quotes from this February 15 Reliable Sources segment:

KURTZ: Bonnie, Jane, certainly willing to give the media some share of the blame here. So I’m wondering, you know, should “The Today Show” have put her on, because obviously, that kick-started this story into the stratosphere? And now people are saying, well — and I think you suggested, well, she just went on TV so she can get a book deal and try to basically make some money off the situation. […]

KURTZ: Jane Velez-Mitchell, here’s what drives me crazy. We’ve kind of touched on it here. I wonder if we’ve reached a point with these cable melodramas where at some — we cross some sort of invisible threshold, where it’s no longer about Nadya Suleman. It’s no longer about the 14 kids. It’s about continuing an argument that we can package and sell.
You know, “Coming up, should the kids be taken away?” And it just takes on a momentum of its own, whether there’s any new developments or not. […]

VELEZ-MITCHELL: So this idea that we’re all doing this for some altruistic purpose is
nonsense. We’re doing it for ratings, and let’s be real about that.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I’m glad to have you admit that right up front.

Then, in a CNN article published prior to and promoting Sunday’s segment, Kurtz began by reiterating his prior issue with the media capitalizing off the octuplet saga.

While almost no one defends what Suleman did — having eight babies after already giving birth to six children, with no financial means of supporting them — I began to feel that the media were demonizing her. Pundits and pop psychologists analyzed her, trashed her and accused her
of aping Angelina Jolie, all the while capitalizing on America’s latest soap opera.

He even cited Velez-Mitchell’s quote from the February 15 segment.

As HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell acknowledged on my program several weeks ago, “This idea that we’re all doing this for some altruistic purpose is nonsense. We’re doing it for ratings, and let’s be real about that.”

But then came this curiously self-serving and timely twist:

But I lost my last remaining traces of sympathy when Suleman turned down free care from a group of volunteers, which had been arranged by Phil McGraw, the syndicated talk show host. Maybe Dr. Phil was grabbing the limelight, too, but at least the overwhelmed mother got something out of it.

The volunteer nurses came from the group Angels in Waiting, and [Gloria] Allred, their lawyer, went to Suleman’s California home to check on how things were going. It was there that she got into a shouting match with Suleman’s lawyer, Jeff Czech.

It was a media mob scene, with a horde of cameras, wires and microphones while the Angels tried to care for the first two premature babies to be brought home from the hospital. Allred and Czech blamed each other, as they recounted in a clash this week on Dr. Phil’s
program. […]

Needless to say, I’ve got plenty to ask Allred on CNN Sunday morning, including why one of the nannies called the police to have her thrown out of the home.

So Kurtz initially calls out the media for extreme bottom-feeding and for defending their actions with disingenuous claims of altruism. Then he announces his plans to troll the same cesspool, justifying his actions by borrowing the same bogus defense.

What’s more, Kurtz then manages to end this article with a mind-boggling lack of self-awareness, returning to his original criticism.

Everyone involved claims to be primarily concerned about the babies. But media outlets also seem to be feasting on the tragedy as it drags on through yet another ratings period.

Got that?

With his latest Reliable Sources Octomom segment this past Sunday — a Crossfire-like vapid shouting match between Angels in Waiting lawyer Allred and Ray Richmond, television writer for The Hollywood Reporter— Kurtz purports to examine questionable media coverage in which he, the media critic, jumps into the shallowend of the cesspool to also feast “on the tragedy as it drags on through yet another ratings period.”

Kurtz confirmed his concern for the children and the media circus surrounding the Suleman story in a Twitter message he posted on Sunday at 9:21 a.m. after his article became the “Most Popular on CNN.” Less than an hour before the Allred/Richmond spectacle aired on Reliable Sources, Kurtz wrote:

My Octomom story on got 550,000 hits in one day. Wowza. Now I know what people are *really* interested in.

Kurtz seems to signal that he’s in on the joke. So, you know, it’s okay. The problem is, he’s not just in on the joke, he’s part of the joke of which he’s supposed to be critiquing.

How might Kurtz have better spent a segment critiquing the media?

Obviously scores of worthy topics were open for a substantive media discussion, as they are weekly. But to mention just one glaring example, he might have covered the fact that, according to LexisNexis, not one broadcast or cable network news program — including CNN — reported last week’s revelations that Bush administration prosecutors tried to pressure former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, after years of being brutally tortured and having never been charged with a crime, to sign a statement saying he was never tortured and that he committed terrorist acts he didn’t commit in return for his release.

Sure, it’s no Octomom. It’s merely the kind of story that, consciously or not, affects every single American when millions of them are deprived of its coverage.

It’s “wowza” that really matters.

Cross-posted from MediaBloodhound

4 replies »

  1. He’s following the well-trodden, manure-littered path of Nancy Grace… if you scream “I want justice for the children” enough, you can exploit them all you want.

  2. Howard Kurtz is one of the most intellectaully dishonest and morally bankrupt journalists alive. It’s a tragedy that Kurtz is regarded by many elites as the dean of media critics.

    Kurtz is an abomination, an obscenity, and a malignant media carcinogen.

  3. Ann mentioned Nancy Grace. Octomom (whoever thought up that name is a genius) has got women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred on her case for being a neglectful mother.

    It must be acknowledged that this story is ten times better than the Natalie Holloway saga and all those missing white women cases. At least it doesn’t involve murder.