In Depth: Howard Kurtz Punts on Octavia Nasr…

I made sure I had Reliable Sources DVR’d today so that I could see how Howard Kurtz, and by extension CNN, treated the Octavia Nasr controversy.

One of the biggest knocks on Kurtz by some of his most vocal critics, Mickey Kaus and Eric Alterman being two, is that he has an inherent conflict of interest problem because he’s supposed to be covering the media for the Washington Post but he has a show on CNN. Well, based on what happened today on Reliable Sources with the Nasr story, those critics will be feeling entirely justified in their conflict of interest claims.

The Nasr story was reported on Reliable Sources but that’s as far as it went. It got maybe two minutes of air time at the end of the show and was lumped in with a bunch of other media stories that occurred this week. There was no analysis or commentary.

This would not appear to be so galling if Kurtz hadn’t devoted an entire segment to Levi Johnston apologizing to Sarah Palin and another to Rush Limbaugh talking about how Barack Obama would have been a tour guide in Hawaii instead of President if he weren’t black. The Nasr story was tailor made for Reliable Sources to cover. It could have been approached from any number of angles; journalists in the age of Twitter, is a single tweet enough to compromise an entire career?, was CNN over-reacting in summary dismissal rather than suspension followed by re-assignment?, the delicacy of Middle East coverage…you could go on and on. It’s not like there was universal consensus on Nasr other than the fact that her original tweet was chronically brain dead. There’s been commentary on both sides of CNN’s decision to oust her and the story on that is far from settled. Instead of Reliable Sources doing what it’s supposedly there to do we got nothing beyond straight reporting on Nasr but got plenty on Johnston and Limbaugh.

Questions are going to linger around CNN and Kurtz as to why the Nasr story was treated that way. Did Kurtz decide it wasn’t a big enough story? Did CNN “suggest” that just reporting the story was all that was needed? Would the story have been treated differently if the subject wasn’t a former CNN employee?

Who knows. The one thing I do know is that Kurtz did his show a major disservice by not taking the Nasr story head on with a full panel to debate the many serious issues that go to the heart of what journalism is today. It was an opportunity wasted.


12 Responses to “In Depth: Howard Kurtz Punts on Octavia Nasr…”

  1. It’s a conflict inherent in having a “news-media watch” show on a news channel. You either take the jump and criticize the host channel, or do what Fox News Watch does every week: claim it covers the “media”, but really only “other media”. lame.

  2. I wasn’t surprised Kurtz wanted to avoid discussing this story on his show. After all CNN fired Nasr to avoid discussion of the story and Kurtz has never been a profile in courage when it comes to taking on CNN bad news stories.
    I don’t know how FNW will cover the story but my guess is they will bash CNN for having her as an employee in the first place. That would allow them to not have to deal with the real debatable question; whether someone should be fired for a single Twitter post no matter how odious the content to some readers.
    CNN is pushing Twitter & Facebook use among its on air staff and it’s only a matter of time before someone (can you say Rick Sanchez) posts an offensive comment. I predict a chill in posting anything but the most innocuous comment in the future.

  3. Reliable Sources has always been hamstrung by its unwillingness to fire within its own tent.

    Kurtz is well known, but he is not a big shot by any stretch, and if he is overly critical of CNN, they can dump the show or replace him as host, and the change will attract little attention.

    My guess is he likes being on television (both the attention and the paycheck) more than he likes being taken seriously as a media critic.

  4. stevemg Says:

    Mickey Kaus has been on the conflict question with Kurtz for years and CNN and Kurtz have never, for me, fully addressed the issue.

    With the near non-coverage of the Nasr story it’s more than an appearance of a conflict of interest. It’s a reality.

    I like Kurtz but no one can defend him on this question anymore. Well, you can but it’s a losing case.

  5. tinafromtampa Says:

    This is not unusual for Howie, giving CNN a pass on his Sunday reliable sources show is standard operating procedure. That is why the show is more unreliable than reliable. What surprises me is that Howie’s obvious conflict is made more of an issue.

  6. xlcr1000 Says:

    FOX Newswatch has Stormy on nearly every week to bash FNC. But I guess he doesn’t count, being nothing more than a “cartoon liberal”.

  7. joeremi Says:

    XLCR (welcome back, btw, I like your Cafe Racer) I’m referring to an old pet peeve of mine. Fox routinely mentions ‘mainstream media’, or in the case of last weekend’s FNW, simply ‘the media’, as though they are separate from it. Drives me batty.

  8. laura l Says:

    Ellis is your typical wishy-washy liberal. I miss Neal Gabler.

  9. […] ground talking about Fox News Watch not covering News of the World when Reliable Sources devoted just a few scant sentences to the firing of Octavia Nasr last year. Glass houses CNN…glass […]

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