Daily Howler logo
WATCH HOWIE REASON! CNN’s Howard Kurtz isn’t dumb. But yesterday's question was: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 14, 2006

WATCH HOWIE REASON: We humans reason very poorly. Howard Kurtz—and he ain’t dumb—gave the world a good example on yesterday’s Reliable Sources. Kurtz chatted with bloggers Johnson and Huffington about coverage of the Connecticut primary. As he started, Kurtz made this claim about the way journalists treated Lieberman’s plan to fight on:
KURTZ (8/13/06): Even before Joe Lieberman lost his Democratic primaries in Connecticut, journalists were busy analyzing what it would mean if he lost, for the senator, for the party, for the antiwar movement and for the liberal bloggers who backed Lieberman's opponent, Ned Lamont.

The morning after Lieberman went down to defeat this week, journalists seemed skeptical, even hostile about his plan to run this fall as an independent.
Wow! Had journalists really “seemed hostile about” Lieberman’s plan to keep running? As he continued, Kurtz gave us the evidence. He ran tape of four troubling TV hosts who had interviewed Joe Wednesday morning:
KURTZ: The morning after Lieberman went down to defeat this week, journalists seemed skeptical, even hostile about his plan to run this fall as an independent.

MATT LAUER (on tape): The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of Democrats who think that now, going forward, you are putting your own personal ambitions above the good of the party. How do you respond to that?

DIANE SAWYER (on tape): There are members of the party who've already said—commentators—that this is a selfish decision. How can you run against the party?

HARRY SMITH (on tape): You will run as an independent at risk of losing the seat to the Republicans. Do you understand that risk?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN (on tape): What do you do when the Democratic leadership—if they come to you and say, "You know what? It does not help us if you run as an independent. It's a problem if you run, Senator Lieberman, as an independent. We want you to withdraw from the race"? What will you say then?
Kurtz then threw to Arianna: “Do you think in light of what we just heard that the establishment press is going to turn on Joe Lieberman?”

Good grief, that’s a dumb presentation! Given the weakness of Connecticut’s GOP hopeful, Smith’s question was a bit poorly framed. But essentially, all four anchors had asked an obvious question. (Indeed, it would be hard to imagine interviewing Lieberman on Wednesday without asking it.) Take Lauer’s question, for example. What he said was perfectly accurate—there actually were “a lot of Democrats” saying that Lieberman was “putting his own ambitions above the good of the party.” It would have been strange not to seek Joe’s reaction. Yet according to Kurtz, Lauer was showing “skepticism, even hostility,” about Joe’s upcoming run.

Kurtz is smart—but his question was stupid. For the record, Arianna didn’t cover herself in glory either. (In fairness, she had to reply, on the fly, to a rather silly question). Here is her answer to Kurtz, along with the full text of his question:
KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, you've been attacking Joe Lieberman as selfish for staying in this race. You've put up all these liberal bloggers who have been ripping Lieberman. Do you think in light of what we just heard that the establishment press is going to turn on Joe Lieberman, as well?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely not, Howie. It's stunning to me that there isn't even more outrage at the fact that a candidate who lost an election is trying to get a do-over and re-run, effectively, in a new way. This is a democracy. He lost the primary. So to try and get another attempt to keep his seat is completely unprecedented, and I'm surprised there wasn't even more outrage and amazement.
Arianna was fielding a silly question—but her answer wasn’t great. She seemed to imply that the four anchors had expressed “outrage” in their questions. In fact, they’d done nothing of the kind. They had simply done their jobs. They had asked Joe an obvious question.

Kurtz’s question was very dumb. When journalists repeat what others are saying, that doesn’t mean they’re adopting the quoted position. But uh-oh! Out here in the liberal web, we often commit this same fallacy ourselves. If we want to have long-term success, we ought to train ourselves to be smarter than Kurtz. And no, he really isn’t stupid, despite Sunday morning’s rube-run.

WATCHING THEM GROW: For the sake of clarity, we think the following statement by TRex is worth a bit of a challenge. TR is speaking in this post about Ann Coulter, who really does come from a “wealthy” background. But as a general matter, we’d have to say this is wrong:
TREX (8/13/06): I think it’s pretty clear by now to anyone who’s paying attention that most of our Punditocracy are from uniformly wealthy backgrounds. Born in little socioeconomic veal pens and fed through a tube until they’re old enough to wear a school tie or a set of pearls, they’re then sent forth squalling and bleating on to the talk shows to chum the waters and distract people from the real issues.
As a general matter, that just isn’t accurate. In fact, Tim Russert doesn’t come from a wealthy background; neither does Chris Matthews, or Margaret Carlson, or Maureen Dowd, or Bill O’Reilly, or Sean Hannity, or a wide range of our better-known pundits. We’ve often described the “Millionaire Pundit Values” which seem to drive much of our pundit corps’ work. But most of these folk didn’t grow up wealthy; wealth has been thrust upon them as they’ve climbed the [corporate] ladder.

And that seems to be a part of the problem; they’re paid much too well for what they do. On the one hand, such wealth can dull the sensibilities of those who cover American politics. And uh-oh! In a world where (for example) Jack Welch can sit atop a big news org, such wealth can also produce the desire to go along with what Boss Man says. No one—no one—risks these jobs. These jobs are too good to give up.