CNN's Kurtz, CNN president at odds over whether Dobbs is in "straight newscast" business

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

On CNN's Reliable Sources, host and media critic Howard Kurtz said that he doesn't "think there's any question that [CNN host Lou] Dobbs is in the opinion business." Yet the Associated Press reported in an August 1 article that Kurtz's boss, CNN President Jonathan Klein, said, in the AP's words, that "Dobbs has been doing a relatively straight newscast," and quoted Klein stating that Dobbs "brings more than three decades of experience reporting and broadcasting the news."

From the August 2 edition of Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Leave aside the question of somebody being banished from the airwaves. The Associated Press yesterday said that Lou Dobbs has become a publicity nightmare for CNN. Brooks Jackson, a former correspondent of this network, says he's an embarrassment. He says he's just raising the questions. But when you raise the questions in the face of what the CNN network itself says is a settled question -- in other words, there is really no dispute, no factual dispute that Obama is a citizen -- don't you therefore raise questions about yourself?

MICHEL MARTIN (NPR host): Well, there are other remedies here. If CNN wants to continue to use him as a commentator per se, then that seems reasonable to me. Newspapers have op-ed pages and opinion pages. The difficulty, then, is reporters appear on his program, they're required to answer his questions, he's put in the power position of being a host. He interviews people and so forth. So the difficulty here is you're blurring the lines for all the other people who work on this network. That's the problem.

KURTZ: I don't think there's any question that Dobbs is in the opinion business, and he was criticized for his position on the birthers by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Lou then took a shot back at Rachel.

CNN president Klein reportedly says Dobbs doing "relatively straight newscast"

AP reported that Klein says Dobbs does a "smart newscast" and "relatively straight newscast." The Associated Press reported in an August 1 article that "Klein said Dobbs does a smart newscast that explores issues that get little in-depth attention elsewhere." The AP further reported that since Klein and Dobbs met after last year's election, "Dobbs has been doing a relatively straight newscast, Klein said. 'He brings more than three decades of experience reporting and broadcasting the news,' Klein said, 'and that's very valuable to a news network.'" From the AP article:

Klein said Dobbs does a smart newscast that explores issues that get little in-depth attention elsewhere, such as trade with China, health care funding and the stimulus plan. He suggested Dobbs' CNN work is unfairly lumped in with his unrelated radio show, and that he's judged on the show he did a couple of years ago, when Dobbs became a political target for his campaigning against illegal immigration.

The two men sat down after last year's election to make changes, aware that the anti-immigrant Dobbs' image ran counter to the brand CNN was trying to create. CNN calls itself the network of unbiased reporting compared to conservative commentators on Fox and liberal ones at MSNBC.

Since then, Dobbs has been doing a relatively straight newscast, Klein said.

"He brings more than three decades of experience reporting and broadcasting the news," Klein said, "and that's very valuable to a news network."

Despite "opinion" contradiction, Kurtz again declines to criticize CNN boss

Kurtz ignores Klein. While discussing Dobbs on the August 2 Reliable Sources, Kurtz did not mention Klein, much less Klein's role in enabling and defending Dobbs.

Kurtz noted AP article on Dobbs, but not Klein's reported comments in that article. Kurtz noted the AP article, stating: "The Associated Press yesterday said that Lou Dobbs has become a publicity nightmare for CNN. Brooks Jackson, a former correspondent of this network, says he's an embarrassment." Kurtz did not mention the AP's reporting of Klein's statement that, in the AP's words, Dobbs has been doing a "relatively straight newscast" nor attempt to reconcile Klein's reported comments about Dobbs with his own.

Kurtz has repeatedly avoided criticizing his CNN boss. As Media Matters for America senior fellow Jamison Foser has noted, Kurtz has given "Klein a complete pass. ... He has remained completely silent about Klein's endorsement of Dobbs, even as Klein misrepresents Dobbs' reporting in order to defend him."

From the August 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: I mentioned at the top Lou Dobbs and the controversy over the birthers. These are the people who, against all available evidence, insist or question whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States. In fact, he was born in Hawaii in 1961. Let me show you a little bit of what Dobbs has been saying on this issue, and he got some unexpected support from Fox from Bill O'Reilly, who was disagreeing with a guest about whether or not Dobbs should be kicked off CNN. Let's watch.

[begin video clip]

DOBBS: A lot of questions remaining, and seemingly the questions won't go away, because they haven't been dealt with, it seems possible, to -- straightforwardly and quickly.

RICHARD COHEN (Southern Poverty Law Center president): CNN ought to do something about it.

O'REILLY: I still disagree with you calling for his head. Look, I don't mind you coming out and saying you disagree with him, that it's totally absurd, it's wrong to exploit it, he's playing upon fears, there might be a racial component, although I don't think Lou Dobbs is a racist at all.

[end video clip]

KURTZ: Dobbs says he personally believes Obama is an American citizen. But he has people on the show, and he continues to raise questions about why doesn't the White House just clear this up. Is that a responsible position to say, "Oh, lingering questions remain about whether Barack Obama is truly an American"?

AMANDA CARPENTER (Washington Times reporter): I think it's almost too clever by half. And when I was thinking about the coverage of this story, I was trying to think, why is this being talked about now? Because this is something that's been on the Internet, you know, we've been getting e-mails about forever. And I sort of trace it back to the Republicans that are sponsoring a bill to require future presidents to produce documentation of their citizenship --

KURTZ: Which is clearly a shot at Obama.

CARPTENTER: Yeah. That started in March, but then it got 10 more co-sponsors recently, and I think people are using that as a reason to cover it across the networks. And I think that's wrong.

MARTIN: But that just makes me uncomfortable, the idea that someone should be kicked off the air for covering a particular story. Because we all cover stories -- I mean, I cover some stories perhaps on my program -- perhaps some stories with more depth and more duration than others, because I think they're of particular interest to my audience, and they make some people uncomfortable, so it does makes me uncomfortable, the idea that somebody should be penalized for covering a story.

KURTZ: Leave aside the question of somebody being banished from the airwaves. The Associated Press yesterday said that Lou Dobbs has become a publicity nightmare for CNN. Brooks Jackson, a former correspondent of this network, says he's an embarrassment. He says he's just raising the questions. But when you raise the questions in the face of what the CNN network itself says is a settled question -- in other words, there is really no dispute, no factual dispute that Obama is a citizen -- don't you therefore raise questions about yourself?

MARTIN: Well, there are other remedies here. If CNN wants to continue to use him as a commentator per se, then that seems reasonable to me. Newspapers have op-ed pages and opinion pages. The difficulty, then, is reporters appear on his program, they're required to answer his questions, he's put in the power position of being a host. He interviews people and so forth. So the difficulty here is you're blurring the lines for all the other people who work on this network. That's the problem.

DOBBS: I don't think there's any question that Dobbs is in the opinion business, and he was criticized for his position on the birthers by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Lou then took a shot back at Rachel. Let's show you that.

MADDOW [video clip]: Today on his radio show, CNN host Lou Dobbs called me a "teabagging queen," because I made fun of him on this show for helping into the mainstream the off-the-deep-end wingnut racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is secretly foreign and therefore secretly not really president. A "teabagging queen"? What kind of queen would that be, exactly?

MICHELLE COTTLE (New Republic editor): You know, I'd like to ask, what in the heck was he talking about, anyway? A teabagging queen? I mean, what does that mean?

CARPTENTER: Well, she's the one that introduced that term into the mediasphere when she was making fun of the tea party protesters. That started on her show, and so he slammed it back against her, and now she's offended. Maybe I hope she understands why now the tea party protesters were offended when she said that.

COTTLE: But she's not -- I understand --

KURTZ: But the average person --

COTTLE: -- we're just calling names at this point. It has nothing to do with what she's done --

KURTZ: I was about to say, the average person must be watching this -- must be watching this and saying, this is like a high school spitball fight.

[crosstalk]

COTTLE: Well, you know, O'Reilly -- O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann, you know, would go at each other like this. I mean, this is not the first time this has happened. You know, cable news hosts decide that they need a nemesis, and it actually kind of jacks up their ratings if you can have somebody on the other side to get your followers fired up about being ticked off --

MARTIN: This is like a hip-hop beef, you know, where they sell records by beefing on each other.

COTTLE: You know, that's exactly it.

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Howard Kurtz, Lou Dobbs
Show/Publication
Reliable Sources
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