Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spinning Howard Kurtz

According to some liberal bloggers, Howard Kurtz, media critic and reporter for the Washington Post, is a shiller for GOP talking points.

To some liberal bloggers, Kurtz is running around the media telling everyone that the coverage of the war is too negative I guess because Karl Rove told him to (or told his wife to tell him).

This is a transcript from an interview Kurtz did with CNN's Wolf Blitzer...the excerpts you won't read or hear about at some other liberal blogs...because they don't fit in with the meme that Howie's nothing but a right wing hack:

BLITZER: We're joined now by Howard Kurtz of CNN's "Reliable Sources," and "The Washington Post." He's joining us from the newsroom of "The Washington Post."

Howie, is it true, based on your observation of the news media, as the president, the vice president continue to maintain that the negative -- all of our mainstream media reporting has tended to be on the negative?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: Well, certainly not all of it, Wolf, and I don't agree with that woman in West Virginia who said that journalists are doing this because they don't agree with the Bush policy.

But I've look very carefully in recent weeks from the time of those mosque bombings through the third year anniversary stories of the U.S.-led invasion, and the tone of a whole lot of this coverage has been negative, has been downbeat, has been pessimistic, in part that's because a lot of the news out of Iraq has not been good. But I think we may be reaching kind of a tipping point here that we saw in Vietnam where the press coverage seems to tilt against this war effort.

BLITZER: So you've seen a change in recent weeks? Is that what you're saying?

KURTZ: Absolutely compared to say a year ago or two years ago. I think it's not unconnected to the public opinion polls. I think journalists are finding it easier to ask aggressive questions of President Bush, to frame the stories more negatively in terms of the American presence there because they know a majority of the country now questions or disagrees with that war effort.

I do think, however, that a lot of journalists make an effort to talk to ordinary Iraqis and to report on signs of progress. But, let's face it, in our business, the car bombing, the suicide attack, the attack on a police station, those tend to be top of the newscast, top of the front page kinds of stories. The other reconstruction efforts are less dramatic and tend to get pushed back.

BLITZER: It's the same basically covering any story. Here in Washington, D.C., if there's a major incident, let's say a shooting incident, whatever. We don't report, you know what, 99.99 percent of the kids went to school today, businesses were open, things were flourishing. But if there's a horrible shooting incident, we're going to report that in local media as well.

KURTZ: There certainly is a bad news bias in that sense. We cover plane crashes. We don't cover safe plane landings.

But the additional complicating factor here, Wolf, as I know you know, is that it's very dangerous for journalists in Baghdad. We've seen that with some of the deaths and injuries of journalists there. Most recently ABC's Bob Woodruff. And so journalists are frustrated that they can't tell more of the story of ordinary Iraqis and what they think about the U.S. presence there because they have to curtail their travels or travel with security details.

So when you add that to the natural tendency to play up violence, the dramatic pictures that television, of course, loves, I do think we are seeing more negative coverage now. And, obviously, it's in the political self-interest of George Bush and Dick Cheney to highlight that because they are trying to make the case that things are not as bad as they seem in Iraq and the media are a handy target.

BLITZER: Very briefly, is there any sign of a backlash against the mainstream media because of our coverage of what's happening in Iraq?

KURTZ: Yes, among conservatives, among military family members and others. A lot of people, as we saw that woman from West Virginia, blaming us for the situation there.

I fail to recognize one GOP talking point expressed in that interview by Howard Kurtz.

Is the coverage of the war in Iraq negative?

Yes. It should be. It's a freaking war, fercrissakes.

Kurtz is just trying to get to the reasons why.

Last December, in a post called Ganging Up on Kurtz, I wrote Kurtz is "mercilessly attacked cause he didn't write the article like a typical "liberal" blogger would...with an ample supply of venom or rage or namecalling or obscenities or snark."

"It's ridiculous that anyone in our media is entertaining the notion seriously the charge that they're underreporting all the great stuff that's happening in Iraq," Atrios writes.

I don't get this.

Should the media ignore the attacks on the press by the Bush Administration about the "bad press" in Iraq?

Or should they only cover these attacks by calling them stupid?

Kurtz certainly doesn't seem to agree with the conservative meme on this. His conclusions are not the same as his questions. Kurtz has a responsibility to reach both sides of his audience: right and left. So Kurtz has to sometimes ask questions on the other sides behalf (why is that so difficult for some liberal bloggers to understand?).

Excerpts from Kurtz' Reliable Sources show from CNN:

WILLIAM BENNETT: I understand. And they should be prudent. They shouldn't get themselves blown up. And that's obviously a sensible concern. John Burns of "The New York Times" says that the reporters are under-reporting the good news. He says we're guilty, absolutely guilty.

You were asked the other day -- you're a fair-minded guy -- and you said it's negative, of course it's negative. You're just seeing exactly what the American people are seeing.

KURTZ: Why it's negative. I don't believe it's negative because journalists are trying deliberately to paint a negative picture of this war.


KURTZ: Isn't it absolutely natural, Bill Bennett, for stories about schools and health clinics and rebuilding to be overshadowed by all of the suicide attacks that kills 20 people or a roadside bomb that kills 10 U.S. soldiers? Isn't that by definition news?

BENNETT: Yes and no. This analogy that's made in local news, well, you know, if there's -- if there's a fire we cover that, not if there's peace, if the question is, are things working in Iraq -- you know, the question is, you know, should we get rid of the police department or fire department in Washington? Are things working in Iraq? How about giving some at least equal time to the notion that thing are working? Because that is really the question.

If Howie were a shill would he ask "are there times when you want to report on something the military has done, perhaps something more positively, and you don't get much help from the Pentagon?" or "[t]he White House and the P.R. blitz that I referred to earlier in the show, are they trying to make the media an issue to deflect attention from the war itself?"

On the other hand...

My fellow bloggers on the left may be correct when it comes to the ombudsman of the Washington Post.

This latest column by Deborah Howell is outrageous: The Post and the Whole Picture in Iraq.

Howell starts her column off with these two paragraphs:

The third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq provides an opportunity to look at The Post's war reporting, which has brought a steady trickle of complaints that the coverage focuses too much on violence.

It's understandable that military and civilian readers, especially those with family members in Iraq, hunger for positive stories. The Post has done many such stories, but they are overshadowed in readers' minds by the more spectacular articles and images of violence from the insurgency.

Howell never even mentions how readers on the left feel about the Iraq coverage. Howell never even mentions that the Post apologized to its readers for its subpar coverage of the build-up to the war in Iraq. Howell pretends that only conservatives read the Washington Post and complain about its war coverage.

To be fair, Howell doesn't necessarily agree with the meme and defends the coverage of Washington Post reporters in Iraq (as well as other media organizations). And her broader article built off the column is a worthwhile read.

In this lengthy article, Howell also touches upon the Bill Roggio controversy that I wrote about a few months back for Raw Story, Washington Post ombud says paper will answer complaints about putting blogger in propaganda story, and we have exchanged a few emails on the topic (though there really isn't much to quote from that segment...nothing all that new or newsworthy...and I kind of think Howell missed a chance to show that it wasn't just right-leaning readers that were upset about the Roggio hit she kind of writes isn't even quoting from the military blogger himself...though Roggio seems pleased with it...UPDATE: on second read the Roggio part was much better than I first thought...and I was wrong...Roggio was quoted once).

I've had a different experience with the Washington Post ombudsman than other liberal bloggers have had.

Even though I live in New York City, and used to subscribe to The New York Times, I have never gotten a personal response from the Times ombudsman Byron Calame (or original ombud Daniel Okrent). On the other hand, Howell has always responded rather quickly to my emails, and I've never even been to Washington D.C..

But though she's been cool to me...and I think much of the anger against her on the Internet has been over the top - and a portion of it very offensive - I'd still have to say that I don't think she's done a very good job as Washington Post ombudsman.

The ombudsman should represent all the readers, and for Howell to write hundreds and hundreds of words on media coverage of Iraq, yet not even mention critics from the left, shows and proves that she does not.

Fuck adding a liberal blogger to the .com site, The Washington Post needs to recognize that their ombudsman situation might just be the most pressing problem in that paper.


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