Howard Kurtz Correction Is a Journalism Gift That Keeps On Giving


Howard Kurtz is a middling, moderate media critic — one of many of the same kind of white male eggheads — who frequently gets singled out and faulted for being an especially unconvincing type of navel-gazing, insider asshole. That’s why much of the admittedly tiny circle of media-obsessed internet was riotous with schadenfreude when it came out that Kurtz not only made a mistake — we all do — but an especially embarrassing one that undermined an entire article. In fact, it’s probably his biggest story since Kurtz’s joined Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, and though the actual error occurred waaaay back in November, it’s not going away yet. That’s due to both Kurtz’s odd cover-up and one reporter’s crusade.

First, the story. Basically, Kurtz wrote up an interview with Rep. Darrell Issa, who he called the “GOP’s New Top Cop,” quoting the Congressman extensively. Two days later, Kurtz was informed that he hadn’t been speaking with Issa himself on the phone, but Kurt Bardella, his spokesman. Over a month later, Kurtz posted a correction on the Daily Beast, along with a message reading, in part:

Bardella had never told me that during the conversation, though there was one reference to “Darrell Issa” that I attributed to lawmakers sometimes speaking of themselves in the third person. To my best understanding, none of the opinions ascribed to Rep. Issa are inaccurate. But it’s now clear the attribution should have been to his spokesman, and I erred in not dealing with this matter immediately.

It had been well over a month, but Kurtz didn’t act until someone from the New Yorker asked him what the deal was. Politico asked Kurtz to explain:

“What made me realize that I should have dealt with this at the time, and I am kicking myself over that, was a call from Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker who had apparently gotten wind of the ‘confusion’ from Bardella,” he said, explaining that Lizza was working on a piece about Issa. “And then I did what I should have done immediately, which was just lay it all out.”

But Kurtz said he is still puzzled by how, “if the misunderstanding was on my side, why Bardella did not simply point this out when I sent him a note saying, ‘Hey, thanks for getting me the congressman so quickly’?”

Bardella told POLITICO that Kurtz’s email didn’t raise any red flags for him.

“I just assumed he reached the congressman somehow, and I wasn’t aware of it.”

Some were happy to just laugh off Kurtz’s ridiculous mistake and subsequent bundled reaction, but not Runnin’ Scared pal Hunter Walker, himself a reporter and j-school graduate, who has taken issue with Kurtz’s ethics.

In the past day, Walker has launched a one-man campaign on Twitter, with message after message either directed @HowardKurtz or about the ordeal. In addition to the overall strangeness of the delayed correction, the main beef seems to be Kurtz’s (and his employer’s) attempt to dampen the impact of the correction by leaving it off of social networks like Twitter and Facebook that Kurtz uses to promote his articles. Kurtz has over 50,000 Twitter followers, in addition to a show, Reliable Sources, on CNN.

There’s no doubt Walker is hamming up the watchdog role, going so far as to offer Kurtz a steak dinner in exchange for a tweeted correction, but the substance of his complaint remains. Kurtz waited a damn long time and might have never published the correction if he didn’t get caught. It’s a big oopsie!

But Kurtz is important enough to brush off gnats like obnoxious Twitter followers and he knows it; he answers to Washington politicians and players, and is probably aware that the “People Who Care” population is minuscule in this case, even compared to CNN’s anemic cable news numbers. If he continues to wait it out, the limited outrage will disappear altogether. But why not handle it with some self-deprecating humor and bite the bullet? Everyone he initially told about the article should also be told it was inaccurate. And then he can take the steak.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 13, 2011

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