Two Ethics Heroes : Media Critics Jeff Greenfield And Howard Kurtz

 

Maybe there are some cracks in the wall. God, I hope so.

Two media critics affiliated with major news organizations have recently come right out and stated what we have been talking about here on Ethics Alarms regarding the failure of journalists to observe core ethical standards in their commitment to bring down a President who horrifies them, and who has not taken his abuse lying down, as Presidential norms previously required.

The sharp contrast with Greenfield and Kurtz’s remarkable candor that marks most of their industry was on display today, as The Washington Post held a series of panel discussions and aired live video around the theme “Americans & The Media: Sorting Fact from Fake News.” One  segment featured Post political reporter Dan Balz, one of the Post reporters I would categorize as a straight-shooter most of the time, talking to PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff and Fox Special Report host Bret Baier. Woodruff’s comments were obtuse and depressing, but typical of most journalists and their defenders.

 BALZ: Judy you said something recently  I want to read to people: “You shouldn’t go into journalism if you want to win a popularity contest. If you’re doing your job, there are always going to be people who criticize your reporting. But we’ve never been at a place like we are today where there’s practically an entire industry around criticizing the media and holding the mainstream media up as suspect [ Balz didn’t read, but she also wrote, “and out to destroy an entire political philosophy in this country.” Well I said “most of the time.”]. I think the term ‘fake news’ has done a lot of damage to the media.” Describe the damage.

WOODRUFF: The damage is in the minds and the eyes of people who are consumers all across the country. And you see it in the polls. You see it in this [Knight Foundation] poll, a lessening of trust in the news media. I believe – it sounds corny, but I believe so passionately that a free press, free media, the role that we play, news media in our democracy, is part of what holds democracy together. And if enough Americans start thinking the press is not to be believed, that we are to be shoved to the side, regulated, or treated, controlled in some way, then I think we’ve got real problems. Even if it doesn’t get to that point, and they just don’t believe what we’re doing, then I think our democracy is weakened, and I think that’s what’s happening.

Got that? It’s the critics who are undermining the news media, not the unethical news media conduct that justifies the criticism! This quote is astounding. Journalists like Woodruff don’t see anything wrong with how they are doing their job, or rather not doing it. What harms democracy, Judy, is journalists behaving so unethically that the the public loses trust in them, not the criticism.

Now here are the two Ethics Heroes that do not parrot Woodruff’s defensive spin: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Tucker Carlson (No, I Mean Seriously, This Guy Is Really, REALLY An Ethics Dunce!!!)

Oh NO!!! Tucker Carlson is trapped by a conflict of interest! I'm coming, Tucker...just hold on! I'M COMING!!!!

Oh NO!!! Tucker Carlson is trapped by a conflict of interest! I’m coming, Tucker…just hold on! I’M COMING!!!!

Tucker Carlson is the founder and publisher of the conservative commentary and news site, The Daily Caller. In this post, I recently discussed Carlson’s ethical obtuseness in pulling a column by a Daily Caller contributor because it criticized Fox News, where Carlson has a gig as a weekend host of the network’s embarrassing happy conservative talk morning news show. I wrote,

The conflicts of interest on display here, the insensitivity to them, and the lack of any pretense of journalistic fairness or integrity is staggering. Carlson has placed The Daily Caller in the same, discredited ethics no-man’s land of Media Matters, Move-on.org, the Daily Kos and other sites that blatantly distort the news and their commentary on it for specific, ideological and personal agendas, and a personal agenda is the most unethical and cynical conflict of all. Carlson likes his Fox paycheck, apparently. Well, then, his ethical obligation is to have an independent journalist edit his website. In the alternative, he needs to refuse to work for Fox unless the network agrees to allow him full reign to say and write what he believes on his website, and to allow others to do so as well.

Apparently Carlson doesn’t read Ethics Alarms—I am shocked and disappointed—and moreover, has the imagination and ethics problem-solving skills of a banana slug.  Mediaite reports that he was discussing his ethics problem with RealClearPolitics, and admitted that he was totally flummoxed about what to do, poor dear:

“I have two rules,” Carlson said, “One is you can’t criticize the families of the people who work here, and the other is you can’t go after Fox” because he works there. Sigh. “Yes, it’s a conflict, for sure…but I don’t know what to do about it.” Continue reading

CNN’s Selective Choice Of Targets For Selective Criticism For Selective News Coverage

Or, if you prefer, "CNN's journalism ethics show."

Or, if you prefer, “CNN’s journalism ethics show.”

On the host of CNN”s unreliable media ethics and criticism show, Reliable Sources, slammed Fox News:

STELTER: Boy, has Fox News spent a lot of time over the past two years focused on the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and I mean a lot of time. […] But when a new Benghazi report came out on Friday, there was hardly a peep, and maybe that’s because the report, which was Republican led, it was by the    , debunks many of the myths that have run rampant on Fox News and in conservative media circles. […] So I have to wonder: will Fox will stop aggressively pushing its theories about Benghazi? Probably not. With its audience largely in the dark about the latest findings, the myths may, and perhaps will, live on.

Wheels within wheels, deceit within deceit, hypocrisy within hypocrisy. The criticism was correct and deserved, as Fox News’ own media critic (and the former unreliable host of Reliable Sources) noted as well. It also was notable for what it left out:

  • Despite being routinely ridiculed as a witch-hunting political mob, the Republicans on the Committee fought for the investigation. That it exonerated the Administration is pure moral luck: apparently CNN has forgotten Hillary’s famous shouted “what difference does it make?” The fact that there was, in the end, nothing sinister to cover up doesn’t excuse the administration for obfuscating, dragging its feet and sending Susan Rice out to lie on talk shows to avoid scrutiny, and it was that conduct that convinced many that something was rotten in Libya.
  • This result does not excuse CNN’s network for its complicity in assisting the White House’s efforts before the 2012 election to pretend there were no facts to clarify. CNN failed to cover this story sufficiently before the truth was known, and had Fox News and the Republicans not kept the inquiry alive, we would not have a definitive report for Fox to emulate the liberal- biased media by burying. Stelter’s snide comments are the height of hypocrisy.

Continue reading

Remember The Title, “When An Apology Isn’t Enough: Carol Costello’s Ugly Partisan Bias”? An Apology Still Isn’t Enough.

"Dear Carol..."

“Dear Carol…”

As Joe Concha reports on Mediaite, the media drumbeats are growing louder in the news media jungle, calling for Carol Costello to deliver an on-air apology when she returns to the CNN morning broadcast Monday. Various media critics, including the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple (whose judgement is inherently suspect after pronouncing the smug and biased CNN anchorwoman “outstanding”), Fox’s inconsistent Howard Kurtz, and even CNN’s own Brian Stelter, have declared unacceptable Costello’s vicious, personal, plainly partisan glee while introducing a tape of Bristol Palin giving her account of what she claimed as was a physical attack on her by a larger man.  (Then there’s me.) Concha concludes,

“Throw in the growing-in-popularity hashtag (#firecarolcostello) on Twitter, a CNN Should Fire Carol Costello Facebook page, and a boatload of hypocrisy after she called for an ESPN analyst (Stephen A. Smith) to be suspended for insensitive comments he made about women’s abuse during the Ray Rice controversy, and you have an embattled anchor whose only option at this point is to ask for forgiveness on CNN (a mandatory two-week vacation afterward might not be a bad idea, either).”

As I explained at the time, Costello was wrong, and stupidly wrong, about Smith, as indeed she is wrong with remarkable frequency, and annoying even when she isn’t. Hypocrisy is only a small sliver of her problem, and no apology will cure what her gratuitous attack on Palin’s daughter reveals beyond question. She can express contrition to Bristol, but again, it doesn’t matter: her words, and the fact that she was unable to restrain herself sufficiently to avoid saying them on the air prove that she is unacceptably biased for a journalist. So great is her partisan hate that she takes glee in bodily harm being inflicted on the children of a popular conservative figure. So alien to Costello are the values of professionalism, fairness and respect for her viewers that she actually said, on the air, that her favorite part of the tape was the part where Palin said she had been called a cunt.  Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Howard Kurtz…One Way Or The Other

Radner as "Baba Wawa." Walters, oddly, never felt the need to respond...

Radner as “Baba Wawa.” Walters, oddly, never felt the need to respond…

Maybe the ethics component in the title is gilding the lily in this case. Fox’s Kurtz, in attacking what he perceives as the unfairness of Stephen Colbert’s barbs, certainly misunderstands the ethics of Colbert’s craft, but what he primarily proves is that he’s a dunce…what kind of dunce, it’s difficult to tell. Is he the kind of dunce who can’t take a joke? Or is he the kind of  dunce who doesn’t realize he should leave the gags to professionals?

The former media ethics watchdog for the Washington Post, CNN and the Daily Beast, now playing that role for Fox News (all oxymoron jokes gratefully accepted), says that he has finally had his fill of being mocked by Colbert, the Comedy Central satirist whose gimmick is playing a conservative fool in order to ridicule real ones.

“It’s about time someone took on Stephen Colbert,” Kurtz wrote in what is either  serious piece on Fox News Insider, or a criminally inept attempt at ironic humor. “This guy—a fake anchor if ever there was one—has been maligning hard-working journalists for too long. Journalists like me. In an effort to get a few cheap laughs, this Comedy Central clown took my work out of context and, worse, engaged in selective editing. It was nothing less than a deliberate attempt to mislead viewers.”

Uh, Howie? Continue reading

Howard Kurtz And The Critic’s Dilemma

David Niven would understand, Howard.

David Niven would understand, Howard.

The Daily Beast has canned Howard Kurtz, the only current official news media critic in captivity, and now CNN, long the home of Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” panel show that reviews the media’s choice and manner of news coverage during the week, is “reviewing” his status with that show as well. The sudden downturn in Kurtz’s fortunes is, we are told, the result of an accumulation of mistaken stories, missed facts and sloppy reporting of his own. I’ll buy that explanation, but there is more here too.

Kurtz’s departure was overdue. I have followed him for years, and his coverage, as I have pointed out periodically, was unacceptably politically slanted for a quasi-journalism ethicist. A typical performance was when he recently criticized —correctly—Republicans who were (and are) trying to twist the Boston bombing tragedy into an argument against immigration reform. In a reply to a comment on the recent Ethics Alarms post on the same topic, I noted that media commentators who saw nothing wrong with the Democrats using a Newtown massacre that would not have been altered in any way by background checks to push for more gun controls were suddenly applying the correct standards to a similar conservative manipulation of the Boston Marathon attack: Continue reading

Unethical Trio: An Ambush, An Incompetent Diagnosis, and Partisan Journalist Hackery

Doctors and Kurtz

There were three notable unethical performances last week from professionals who should know better:

I. Dr. Benjamin Carson, neurosurgeon. Carson was invited to give the keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast (don’t get me started about why there even is a National Prayer Breakfast, and why the President should feel obligated to attend it) last week and turned what is traditionally understood to be a non-partisan, non-political speech into a direct attack, without explicitly designating it as such, on President Obama’s policies. Yes, it was a well-written, well-reasoned and well-delivered speech, but it was an ambush. Many conservatives were pleased to have President Obama  subjected to an articulate complaint that “spoke truth to power,” yet the objectives and specific content of the speech doesn’t matter: that wasn’t what Carson was invited to do, and it wasn’t what he should have done. Dr. Carson has subsequently justified his actions in self-congratulatory terms as an act of courage, but in reality it was an instance of a citizen seizing an opportunity to grab national attention and a prominent soapbox that weren’t his to grab. His actions made the President of the United States a captive audience to his amateur analysis of national affairs. It was disrespectful, and because it was given under false pretenses, dishonest. Continue reading

Paula Broadwell, Dee Dee Myers and The “Spokesperson” Deception

Paula or Dee Dee: Who do you trust?

Paula or Dee Dee: Who do you trust?

Speaking on behalf of Paula Broadwell, the ambitious siren whose pulchritude and sycophancy combined with David Petraeus’ vanity and mid-life crisis to wreck his career and reputation, Dee Dee Myers told the news media that “the Justice Department thoroughly looked at [allegations that Broadwell had threatened Jill Kelley in the e-mails that exposed Broadwell’s affair with the general] and declined to prosecute,” a decision that “makes a pretty bold statement about the content of the emails…People can make their own judgments based on that.”

Well done, Dee Dee! This is masterful deceit, not that I would expect less from a Clinton Administration veteran. There lies the central ethics rot in Myers’ current career as a reputation doctor and PR consultant with the Glover Park group, and particularly with her role of spokesperson, when the client is innately unbelievable and the spokesperson is not. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Howard Kurtz

“Gun owners often say they want the government to leave them alone; why then are some clamoring for Gregory to be prosecuted?”

—-CNN Media ethics watchdog Howard Kurtz, in a column defending “Meet the Press” host David Gregory’s on-air violation of a D.C. gun law

Wait...WHAT???

Wait…WHAT???

This is quite a spectacle, a real time unraveling and self-discrediting of a media ethicist because of biases he either cannot resist or doesn’t detect. Kurtz’s core ethical fallacy in ridiculing calls for Gregory to be held to account for a knowing, intentional, blatant and broadcast breach of a criminal law is so obvious it is stunning that he cannot see it. Kurtz is arguing that the law shouldn’t be enforced against law-breaking journalists “practicing journalism,” because they are special and deserve to be privileged, and because journalism is so important that it trumps the law. This is offensive to fairness, equality and justice, but because Kurtz is himself a journalist, he cannot see how intrinsically unethical his position is. He cannot see the most basic conflict of interest of all, self-interest, in himself. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: Howard Kurtz

“Brinkley’s book will undoubtedly tarnish the Cronkite legacy. But my admiration for the man is only partly diminished. Perhaps it is too easy to judge him by today’s standards, any more than we should condemn Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves. Perhaps he simply reflected his times, when some journalists and politicians quietly collaborated, when conflicts of interest were routinely tolerated, when a powerful media establishment could sweep its embarrassments under the rug. Cronkite thrived as television came of age, always protecting what we would now call his brand. That’s just the way it was.”

—-CNN good journalism watchdog Howard Kurtz, closing his review of the new Douglas Brinkley biography of Walter Cronkite, which shows that the legendary paragon of broadcast journalism was biased, often dishonest, and frequently conflicted.

No, no, no, no.

And that’s the way it wasn’t…

The “things were different then” excuse won’t fly as a defense of Cronkite, and shame on Howard Kurtz, who is supposed to stand for ethical journalism, for trying to rationalize the obvious conclusion demanded by Brinkley’s biography. That conclusion is that there was no Golden Age of TV journalism, and that rampant liberal bias infected the nightly broadcasts then as now, but we were too trusting and unsophisticated to realize it. Kurtz spends an entire book review extracting information Brinkley uncovered that proves Walter Cronkite’s image as an objective, incorruptible truth-teller was a lie, and then attempts to make the case that we shouldn’t judge him harshly.

Why? Because he was one of Kurtz’s heroes? Perry Mason made me want to be a lawyer, and it wasn’t until I became one that I realized that the fictional defense attorney was the sleaziest criminal lawyer this side “The Practice.” Tarnished heroes are part of growing up, Howard. Don’t pretend that journalistic ethics were different then…journalism schools were teaching objectivity, transparency, fairness, honesty and avoidance of conflicts of interest when Walter was saying “And that’s the way it is!” in a high soprano. Yet Brinkley shows that he… Continue reading