Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Signorile Attacks!

Goes after the loathsome Howie Kurtz in a great column.

Why haven’t we seen a thorough and incisive critique of this guy from those supposedly edgy, weary warriors at Salon since the onset of the Bush II years? What about the haughty crowd at Slate, where seemingly intrepid media critic Jack Shafer and resident wise-ass Mickey Kaus leave no stone unturned in bringing forth every boring bit of minutiae about goings-on at the New York Times? They’ve thrown a couple of softballs at Kurtz about his conflicts—and Shafer once wrote a short, defensive response to a Kurtz slap at Slate—but I’ve not seen any major piece about either Kurtz’s conflicts or his political agenda. Alterman notes that only the New Republic, in a 2000 piece by Franklin Foer headlined "Howard Kurtz and the Decline of Media Criticism," has substantively taken on Kurtz—and it appears that the magazine paid a price for that in the form of repeated whackings by Capo Kurtz in the Washington Post.

Kaus, in an off-the-cuff but quite honest remark at a conference not long ago, admitted the reason why he often refrains from criticizing rabid sensation-stalkers such as Matt Drudge or Andrew Sullivan, even when he disagrees with them: He might not get linked to their websites, which bring Kaus traffic. A similar fear perhaps explains why the wannabe dragonslayers don’t go after Kurtz. The guy spends almost every day copying and pasting large chunks of their and a few other peoples’ work (complete with links to it) in his online column on the Washington Post’s website, and often writes them up positively for his column in the dead-tree version of the prominent newspaper, which can certainly help their careers. He’s highly selective about whom he quotes and whom he doesn’t. Kurtz’s online column in particular is not about the media in the broadest sense of the word; it’s rather about Howie’s World, a small handful of online magazines, newspapers and bloggers who are, for the most part, centrist to far right, with a few left-of-center tokens. He drives traffic to them, not to mention that he might have them on his CNN Reliable Sources show, which can also boost their careers and their publications.

From their perspective, why should they piss him off, even if he represents everything that is troubling about the media today—and media criticism—and even if they do consider themselves trouble-exposing journalists and commentators? Rationalizing, they’d probably tell you privately that Kurtz is not taken very seriously by the true players in the media and politics, so there’s no significant reason to make him an enemy. Though he’s problematic, they might tell you, the exposure he gives them helps them in taking on what they see as much bigger, more influential transgressors—sort of like looking the other way of Iran’s nuclear program in order to get its help in going after Iraq.

After I wrote a widely linked column last year about Washington Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove’s furthering of cybergossip Matt Drudge’s smears against Blinded by the Right author David Brock—a column in which I also criticized Kurtz for not being more critical of Grove—I received a voicemail message from an editor at one of America’s largest daily newspapers (no, not the New York Times), who got my phone number through my editor. This individual didn’t send me an email, nor even say on voicemail what the call was about, perhaps fearful of leaving any trail. When I called back, I was told: "I just want to say thank you for taking on Grove and Kurtz. They are accountable to no one. It’s terrific that you did that."

Never mind that this editor’s paper has the power to make them "accountable" if it chose to expend some capital. Never mind that the paper’s own columnists, if they weren’t so focused on sucking up, could actually take a few shots at these guys. Never mind that I’m writing for a small alternative weekly and that Kurtz and Grove, let alone their bosses, couldn’t care less what I have to say.

Click the link for the rest...