Howard Kurtz & Fox News: A true love story

The purported media critic has long treated the "fair and balanced" network with awe and romance

Topics: Howard Kurtz, Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, Media Criticism, Journalism, ethics, Editor's Picks, CNN, Cable News, Roger Ailes, Gawker, Sean Hannity, , ,

Howard Kurtz & Fox News: A true love storyHoward Kurtz (Credit: AP/Evan Agostini)

Fox News and Howard Kurtz may be a good match not only because the conservative news network has become a stable for journalists who have fallen on hard times, but because the former Daily Beast Washington bureau chief has long been more generous to the network than many of his fellow media critics.

Not surprisingly, Fox has often come in for a drubbing from media watchdogs for its often conservative, narrative-driven news coverage. But Kurtz, while occasionally willing to call foul on Fox, is generally pretty credulous of the cable news channel, defending it during controversies, favorably profiling its personalities, and seemingly overlooking its lapses.

John Cook at Gawker pointed this out, suggesting that Kurtz may have scooped him in 2004 at the behest of a News Corp. PR agent, and pointing to some other examples:

Kurtz wrote a negative review of Robert Greenwald’s anti-Roger Ailes film Outfoxed. He also wrote a related item, quoting Briganti, accusing the New York Times Magazine of “ambushing” Fox News in a feature about the movie. More recently, Ailes turned to Kurtz for an exclusive interview in June 2011 after two damaging stories in Rolling Stone and New York magazine portrayed him as a paranoid lunatic. A few months after that, Kurtz wrote an influential story claiming that Fox News had become more “moderate” under Ailes’ strategic guidance. Several months after that, a “senior Fox News executive” turned to Kurtz to express “regret” after (the now moderate!) Ailes called the New York Times “lying scum.” Kurtz transmitted the apology, as well as Ailes’ “respect” for Times editor Jill Abramson, but did not note that Ailes had called her “lying scum” in the course of telling a bald-faced lie himself.

But there’s more.

Kurtz took Sean Hannity’s side in his battle with Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison after the Fox host called the congressman an Islamic “radical” comparable to the Ku Klux Klan; he defended the network after the Shirley Sherrod scandal; downplayed News Corp.’s $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association; favorably profiled anchors Bill Hemmer, Shepard Smith, and Megyn Kelly, along with chieftain Roger Ailes; seemed to take the network’s side in its dispute with former host Glenn Beck; and declared that Karl Rove is “generally fair-minded in his commentary.”

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In the early days of the Tea Party rallies in 2009, Kurtz equated “whatever role Fox played in pumping them up” with mainstream reporters who were “late in recognizing the significance of the protests.” Journalists at CNN and MSNBC who “also performed badly on April 15th,” he wrote in a Washington Post Q&A with readers by being a few days on their importance. When another reader questioned the bleeding of opinion programming into Fox’s straight news block, Kurtz pointed to the quality work of Major Garrett, a good reporter who later left his job as Fox’s White House corespondent because he said wanted to “think more.” Garrett’s work is solid, but he’s a single anchor and reading the Q&A, it feels like Kurtz is going a bit out of his way to defend the network. He played the same Major Garrett card in an interview with former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn during the height of the White House’ war on Fox News.

This isn’t to say Kurtz hasn’t criticized Fox News. He’s had a number of scrapes with the network, especially his made-for-TV feud with Bill O’Reilly that led to an on-air debate in February. But that fight was about O’Reilly making an isolated error and being too stubborn to correct it, and Kurtz never even came close to addressing Fox’s fundamental flaws as a news organization.

But considering how much there is to criticize about the network, one might expect more from one of the country’s most prominent media critics — who had a media watchdog TV show on a rival network for years. Perhaps, as some smart liberals like Alyssa Rosenberg and Simon Maloy have written, the move could actually be good for Kurtz and Fox. It could hardly get worse.

Alex Seitz-Wald
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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