Critic Howard Kurtz puts media credibility again in the crosshairs


CNN’s last few weeks had to hurt.

First its on-air reporters jumped the gun on arrests in the Boston bombings.

Now media critic Howard Kurtz had to apologize for careless reporting and faulty thinking involving Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out as gay last week. While the mistakes didn’t occur on CNN, Kurtz’s CNN show Sunday became his main forum for apologizing.

Kurtz, a University at Buffalo grad and former Washington Post media writer, surely has too many balls in the air. The Daily Beast fired him for his Collins mistakes, however, so now he’s got one less to juggle.

Kurtz, swimming against the nearly unanimous currents of positive coverage of Collins’ admissions, lost his Beast gig after writing wrongly that Collins held back in his coming out story in Sports Illustrated about his former engagement to a woman. But Kurtz compounded this careless reporting with other mistakes and faux pas.

Kurtz’s admissions included the following:

On Monday, I read the Sports Illustrated article by Jason Collins, the first pro-male team athlete to come out as publicly gay. I read it too fast and carelessly missed that Jason Collins said he was engaged previously to a woman and then [I] wrote and commented that he was wrong to keep that from readers, when I was in fact the one who was wrong. My logic about what happened between Jason Collins and his former fiancee and what was and wasn’t disclosed, in hindsight, well I was wrong to even raise that and showed a lack of sensitivity to the issue. Also, I didn’t give him a chance to respond to my account before I wrote it and in addition my first correction was not as complete and as full as it should have been. In a video where I discussed the issue, I wrongly jokingly referred to something I shouldn’t have joked about. I apologize to readers and viewers and most importantly to Jason Collins and to his ex-fiancee. I hope this very candid response will earn your trust back over time. It is something that I am committed to doing.

This is certainly a crisis of credibility for Howard Kurtz. Whether CNN or The Daily Beast suffer more is unclear. At this point CNN is expected to keep Kurtz employed. How readers of the The Daily Beast, a Newsweek-related aggregator and news website, react is an open question.

Interestingly, Kurtz had two experts and critics come on his CNN show Reliable Sources Sunday and grill him about his mistake. The self-inflicted flaying is at least admirable. That’s what he’s put others through in print and on the show, so why not take some hits there himself?

This is of course another example of that not rare bird, the self-inflicted crisis. If Kurtz were more careful, this never happens; if someone edited Kurtz at all, or more carefully, this never would have happened; if the 24/7 news maw didn’t demand an endless supply of text, video, photos and opinion, people could work a little more carefully.

Expect a contrite Kurtz for a while, and maybe some tightened oversight at CNN. We can hope.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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