Monday, August 17, 2009

The press critic as flack

I’ve commented before on the way Howard Kurtz turns his show into a PR organ for journalists in trouble.

Even when he tackles a serious issue, he is as relentless as a Teacup Chihuahua.

An egregious example happened two weeks ago when he had Linda Douglass in his crosshairs:

KURTZ: OK. I've got a half a minute.

Thirteen journalists by one count have now joined the Obama administration. Jill Zuckman, formerly of "The Chicago Tribune," was one of them. She was a guest on this program.

So, some people are saying, well, you were all a bunch of closet liberals just waiting for a Democratic administration so you could cross over.

DOUGLASS: Well, as you know, Howie, because we've known each other a long time, I retired from ABC News back at the end of '05, and I joined the Obama campaign last year because I wanted to be an advocate for his candidacy. And as I say, I'm privileged to be able to help with this effort in his presidency. And it's a different stage in life, it's a different career, but I'm really gratified to be able to do it.

KURTZ: And we're gratified to be able to have you.

Linda Douglass, thanks very much for stopping by this morning

How typical of Kurtz to introduce a serious question when there was little time to explore it. What is even worse is that he let Douglass mislead his audience about her career and the activities prior to joining the Obama campaign:

Douglass may have retired from ABC News in 2005, but she did not retire from journalism:

Most recently, Douglass had been writing about the presidential campaign for National Journal magazine (an influential inside-the-Beltway publication) and hosting the weekly "National Journal On Air" program on XM Satellite Radio's all-politics channel.

Douglass was working as a journalist right up to the time she joined the Obama campaign. Kurtz knew this because she was a frequent guest on his program after she left ABC News:

KURTZ: You were a journalist for three decades. You worked for ABC, you worked for CBS, "National Journal." You were a guest on this program many times.

Yet he let’s Douglass muddy the isse with her misleading timeline. It makes you wonder if Kurtz was really interested in exploring the issue.

One other thing stands out about Douglass and her response: is was an artful, if deceitful, answer. Is she merely a fast learner or did she hone her skills at obfuscation while she was a journalist?

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