On CNN's Reliable Sources, while discussing Rep. Tom DeLay's intention to resign, Howard Kurtz asked conservative Power Line blogger Scott Johnson if "the press" was "to blame for the fact that the congressman is under indictment" in Texas, because "a lot of people have criticized those charges." Later, while discussing media coverage of Rep. Cynthia McKinney's recent altercation with a Capitol Police officer, Kurtz asked Johnson whether "some in the media" have "gone easy on McKinney ... because she's a liberal Democrat." The comments are not the first Kurtz has made suggesting that the media's purported liberalism controls their coverage of political events or scandals.
On the April 9 broadcast of CNN's Reliable Sources, while discussing Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) intention to resign, host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz asked conservative Power Line blogger Scott Johnson if "the press" was "to blame for the fact that the congressman is under indictment" in Texas, because "a lot of people have criticized those charges." Continuing, Kurtz also wondered whether the media was responsible for "the fact that two of his former closest aides pled guilty" to corruption charges stemming from the investigation into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Later, while discussing the media coverage of Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) recent altercation with a Capitol Police officer, Kurtz asked Johnson whether "some in the media" have "gone easy on McKinney ... because she's a liberal Democrat."
Kurtz's comments are only the latest in which Kurtz has suggested that the media's purported liberalism controls their coverage of political events or scandals. Whether discussing stories that could prove harmful to Democrats or Republicans, the underlying -- and unsupported -- premise in Kurtz's questions is often that the media's purported liberalism explains the nature of the coverage. For instance:
- Media criticism of McCain
Responding to what he felt was a recent "spate of critical columns," Kurtz suggested in his April 10 Washington Post Media Notes column that "some of the liberal sniping" at Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "seems based on ideology." But Kurtz did not just single out New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, The Huffington Post blogger Arianna Huffington, and the Post's own E.J. Dionne as "liberal" columnists and bloggers; rather, he repeatedly used the terms "disaffected liberals" and "pundits of the left" interchangeably with "journalists" and "the press," including NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert:
John McCain was expecting journalists to start slapping him around, and he hasn't been disappointed.
A spate of critical columns, some of them by disaffected liberals who were once honorary McCainiacs, seemed to culminate last weekend on "Meet the Press" when Tim Russert asked:
"Are you concerned that people are going to say, 'I see, John McCain tried "Straight Talk Express," it didn't work in 2000, so now in 2008 he's going to become a conventional, typical politician, reaching out to people that he called agents of intolerance, voting for tax cuts he opposed, to make himself more appealing to the hard-core Republican base'?"
The reasons for the chilling of the climate go beyond a desire by journalists to prove they aren't in the senator's pocket. The press has a weakness for mavericks, and McCain is running as more of a regular Republican this time, embracing President Bush on most issues, making amends with the religious right, and voting to make permanent the tax cuts he once derided as excessive.
"When loving McCain was a way of expressing a negative opinion about the Republican Party, they were all for him," says Mike Murphy, a top McCain adviser in 2000. "Now that McCain is a strong potential candidate, some fickle liberal hearts are not fluttering as much."
McCain's apparent flip-flops are fair game, of course, but some of the liberal sniping at the senator seems based on ideology. McCain has always been a conservative, pro-life, pro-military Republican who took more moderate positions on a few key issues. Now he is suddenly being outed as ... a conservative Republican.
Why are liberals suddenly more exercised about McCain? In 2000, he was a colorful underdog running against the party establishment's candidate. He was funny, told great stories, admitted mistakes and enjoyed dining with reporters. He was endlessly available for television interviews. He championed what seemed like a quixotic crusade for campaign finance reform. He was a certified war hero as a former prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton. He was unfairly slimed in the South Carolina primary. And, in the view of the press, he had little chance of winning.
This time around, McCain is arguably the front-runner for the GOP nomination. If he runs, he could well win the White House, shutting out the Democrats for the third straight election. And that is rallying the pundits of the left.
- Iraq war coverage
Media Matters for America has previously noted that in his March 27 Media Notes column, Kurtz questioned whether the media coverage of the Iraq war was too negative, asking: "Have the media declared war on the war [in Iraq]?" In that column, as well as in a March 27 online chat, Kurtz suggested that media coverage of the Iraq war is probably at least partially determined by "journalists' own views," and that "the way [journalists] frame many stories about Iraq sliding toward civil war carries echoes of Vietnam," during which "the media coverage played a role in turning the country against the war." In support of his comparison of Iraq war coverage to Vietnam war coverage, Kurtz cited questions posed to President Bush at a March 21 press conference and media reports on the third anniversary of the Iraq war, in which journalists merely reported the conditions in Iraq. By making this argument, Kurtz apparently ignored the response CBS News correspondent Lara Logan gave to a similar question he asked on the March 26 edition of Reliable Sources. In a detailed response, Logan flatly rebutted accusations repeated by Kurtz that the media have overemphasized the violence in Iraq.
- The release of Bush's Katrina briefing tapes
On March 1, video footage and transcripts were released documenting how, on the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Bush was warned -- and expressed concern -- over the possibility that the levees in New Orleans would be breached by the storm. The videos provided the first visual evidence contradicting the claim Bush made on ABC's Good Morning America days after the storm hit that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." But during the March 5 broadcast of Reliable Sources, Kurtz trivialized the findings as old news, asking whether the story had been "pumped up by the media" in an "effort to portray President Bush as a liar about what he knew and when he knew it." Kurtz additionally asked if the media's coverage of the reaction of Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the man the administration initially blamed for the government's faulty response to the hurricane, to the tapes was really "journalists now being receptive to" Brown because "now he's criticizing Bush and [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff and the administration."
- The Dick Cheney hunting incident
On February 11, Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner, 78-year-old Texas attorney Harry Whittington. As Media Matters has previously noted, in the aftermath of the accident, media reports overlooked unanswered questions and inconsistent accounts of how the incident was revealed to the press. Yet, while reporting on the incident during the February 9 broadcast of Reliable Sources, Kurtz told Huffington -- who noted that there were gaps and inconsistencies in the accounts -- that "[i]t sounds like and you your liberal friends just can't stand Dick Cheney" and asked of Johnson, who was also a guest on the February 9 broadcast, "How much of this detective work do you think is driven by anti-Cheney or anti-Bush emotions by his critics on the left?"
On the March 5 broadcast, while reporting on rumors that "according to senior GOP sources" Cheney is "expected to retire within a year," Kurtz asked U.S. News & World Report editor at large David Gergen, a former White House adviser: "[W]hat do you think both about this Cheney resignation rumor and the larger question of, in the wake of the hunting accident, whether the media are just really ganging up on Dick Cheney?" (Reliable Sources 3/5/06)
- Ben Domenech/RedState controversy
On March 21, the Post's online edition launched the Red America weblog, authored by Ben Domenech, an editor at the conservative Regnery Publishing Inc, former speech writer for Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), and co-founder of the partisan weblog RedState. Following the announcement, many websites, including Media Matters, noted Domenech's thin journalistic credentials and numerous controversial statements made in his RedState weblog postings. Ultimately, Domenech resigned after evidence arose that he had repeatedly plagiarized the work of other writers.
Before the alleged plagiarism was discovered, Kurtz defended the Post's actions, suggesting that critics were focused on Domenech's conservatism. In doing so, Kurtz ignored the objections raised by critics over Domenech's thin credentials and inflammatory comments. As Media Matters previously noted, in his March 22 Media Notes column, "Bush, The Salesman," Kurtz wrote -- quoting a March 21 Editor & Publisher article -- that the hiring of Domenech "has created an 'uproar,' " and went on to write: "I don't get it. One conservative blogger? It's not like The Post doesn't have a left-leaning blogger, or liberal columnists. Is the New York Times a GOP mouthpiece because it employs David Brooks and John Tierney? If people don't like what Domenech has to say, don't click on him. It's not like you can say 'cancel my subscription!' since the Web site is free."
Additionally, in his March 24 Media Notes Extra column, Kurtz minimized allegations of Domenech's plagiarism, which forced Domenech's resignation half a day after Kurtz wrote his column. In purporting to address those allegations -- which included Domenech signing his name to a column in his college newspaper that appeared to have been lifted entirely from conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke's book Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990) -- Kurtz mentioned only two examples of Domenech allegedly lifting specific passages from movie reviews, ignoring the apparent plagiarism of O'Rourke in addition to that of other publications.
From the April 9 broadcast of CNN's Reliable Sources:
KURTZ: All right, let me get Scott Johnson in. Is the press to blame for the fact that the congressman is under indictment? I know a lot of people have criticized those charges, or the fact that two of his former closest aides pled guilty in the Jack Abramoff investigation?
JOHNSON: Well, the answer is certainly no to those questions. Ronnie Earle is responsible for the indictment, and the merits of that remain to be determined.
My view, based on what I've read in the court filings, is that Ronnie Earle is going to lose that case and that it's a case of prosecutorial abuse rather than something else, rather than illegal conduct on the part of Representative DeLay.
But I would just observe that I think that Representative DeLay's resignation represents a real loss to the Republican Party, akin to the time in 1989 when first Jim Wright and then Tony Coelho stepped down from their posts with the Democratic Party.
KURTZ: All right. I've got to jump in here, because we're coming up on a break. We'll see if that case is lost in Texas or not.
KURTZ: Scott Johnson, have some in the media gone easy on McKinney, who has a history of inflammatory statements, because she's a liberal Democrat?
JOHNSON: Well, sure.