By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Kurtz on why the media choked

Everyone is writing thumb-sucker pieces on John Edwards and the media. But I think Howard Kurtz perfectly nails how and why the media failed by giving him a months-long pass on news of his affair with Rielle Hunter:

The fact that big newspapers, magazines and networks have standards — that is, they refuse to print every stray rumor just because it’s “out there” — is one of their strengths. But in the latter stages of this case, it made them look clueless. Perhaps there is a middle ground where media outlets can report on a burgeoning controversy without vouching for the underlying allegations, being candid with readers and viewers about what they know and don’t know.

In the end, the much-derided MSM were superfluous, their monopoly a faded memory. People have hundreds of ways to obtain information in today’s instantaneous media culture, and are capable of reaching their own conclusions about what is reliable and what is not.

Kurtz also quotes chief Edwards inquisitor Mickey Kaus as saying that the chief reason the reporters laid off was out of solicitude for Elizabeth Edwards. But, as Kaus wrote, “If a politician whose chief appeal is his self-advertised loyalty to his brave, ill wife cheats on his brave ill wife, what’s he good for again?”

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  1. zadig

    Unfortunately, I think the media will take the wrong lesson from this as usual. They could learn this lesson:If I hear a rumor, I should perform meticulous research until I know the Truth, and publish that.Instead, they will likely learn this lesson:I should publish every rumor I hear.We’ve seen the media do that with the whole “liberal media balance issue,” where instead of dealing with (mostly trumped-up) accusations of bias by meticulously researching a subject and printing only the Truth, they instead opted for publishing the talking points from both sides and pretending that’s balanced.

  2. Steve

    The thing about this, zadig, is that the story had been around for quite some time (a year?). The media had ample time to do meticulous research – there was no need to rush to press in order to avoid getting scooped. But there seemed to be no urgency about this story, back when Edwards was a candidate and it was, arguably, the public’s right to know.

  3. Jon Garfunkel

    Howard Kurtz is a bore. I’ve only read a handful of his columns over the last decade, but I’ve never seen him elucidate much about the craft of journalism. He simply ingratiates himself with the bash-the-press minions. (Which is a common affliction amongst journo-prof-bloggers as well… I suppose one has to matriculate as a student in order to learn more about the craft. :-)If Kurtz wanted to make the case about how the press dropped the ball (and not just grandstand on it), he needs to remind his readers of the timeline of events. The Enquirer first broke the story in October 2007, and then ran an update in December, whereupon it was poked a little bit by Don Imus and by MediaMatters. Indeed, nobody else looked into it further (should they have?). But then again, none of the pajamaheeden did either. (Most of the oppo firepower was focused on the GOP candidates and Clinton/Obama at the time.)Kurtz didn’t mention it, but two days earlier, a reporter at his newspaper’s sister publication explained how Rielle Hunter had been a source of his. That would be Newsweek’s Jonathan Karman– What Rielle Hunter Told Me. It’s an interesting view into how reporters work and think. Now perhaps Kurtz’s angst is about the MSM’s silence this past two weeks. Well, give us a break. It was pretty much the endgame, and I suppose they wanted to let the Enquirer (or at least broadcast television) finish it out.I seem to remember new media soothsayers saying that the scoop was dead, and now they chastise the press for laying off a scoop.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Jon: The “pajamahedeen” … I like that. Is that yours? I may use it at some point.

  5. mike_b1

    I am sure all this will conveniently drown out the two or three papers that might note how Bush has purchased a place in a posh Dallas neighborhood, and will retire there, as opposed to the ranch in Crawford. Wait, I thought Bush liked ranching? Not really. It seems the Yale and Harvard alum actually bought the Crawford place as part of a PR concoction to position him as a common man — something Vanity Fair pointed out years ago, and the country bought, thanks (or no thanks, depending on your POV) to the MSM.That the media got played so badly on Bush’s background presents a far bigger problem, given how his administration has turned out.

  6. lovable liberal

    Time will prove zadig (and me) right in our fears of even more rumor-mongering – matriculated journos and their alleged standards notwithstanding. We live in a media age when getting the story right is traditional media’s only comparative advantage, yet they’re rapidly abandoning it in favor of Kurtz’s style of self-excusing flattery that readers “are capable of reaching their own conclusions about what is reliable and what is not.”

  7. Neil

    I just plowed through Kurtz’s article. Good grief it’s certainly long. It’s so full of quotes that it’s hard to find Howie’s own words. Here are a few: “I didn’t know how right I was.” Note to self: Attaboy!(When you get paid by the word, do quotes count?)In answer to Kaus’s: “If a politician whose chief appeal is his self-advertised loyalty to his brave, ill wife cheats on his brave ill wife, what’s he good for again?”…the Globe published a letter today that I thought answered that question nicely. “I supported Mr. Edwards as a candidate because of his views and his political action.” Obviously some kind of nut! Though it runs counter to the dominant trash culture paradigm, maybe, just maybe, there’s more to candidates than their “appeal”. Talk about an unexplored story!Kurtz: The argument that Edwards is merely a private person who should be left alone doesn’t carry much water….Do the standards change dramatically the day after you drop out? Yes. Now, it’s none of your goddam business. Kurtz and his pundit buddies can go off on a self-referential wank about the failings of their profession, how they can weed out the spitting-on-vet liberals in the MSM, how to prevent this kind of egregious oversight etc. all they want, but leave Edwards and his family, and Hunter, alone.At the end of his lengthy meanderings he shifts for some reason to deep thoughts about Obama, quoting Peggy Noonan and Josh Marshall. The topic? Whether Obama is presumptuous or not. Hard news Howie!

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