A History Lesson for Howard Kurtz: Honest Reporting Died Long Ago

Fox News critic only just discovered the media is 'flat-out' unfair

Republican candidate for President Donald Trump.
Republican candidate for President Donald Trump.

“The horror! The horror!” Joseph Conrad’s fictional trading post agent Mister Kurtz whispered as he died, delirious with jungle fever, in the novel Heart of Darkness. On August 9 FOX (FOXA) News media analyst Howard Kurtz emerged (at least momentarily) from the New York-Washington-Los Angeles media jungle. In a commentary delivered that day, our non-fictional Kurtz revealed a troubling discovery: the big time media journalism he loves and advocates isn’t the journalism he loves and advocates—at least not in the 2016 presidential election.

In his commentary Kurtz laments the loss of the “credo” of fairness by mainstream media “reporters, editors and producers.” It takes a long quote to get a sense of his deep and abiding shock—he discovers his beloved journalists are “flat-out” unfair.

“The media’s legions of Trump-bashers are finally acknowledging the obvious. And trying their best to justify it. But there’s one problem: Tilting against one candidate in a presidential election can’t be justified. This is not a defense of Donald Trump, who has been at war with much of the press since he got in the race. Too many people think if you criticize the way the billionaire is being covered, you are somehow backing Trump. And it’s not about the commentators, on the right as well as the left, who are savaging Trump, since they are paid for their opinions. This is about the mainstream media’s reporters, editors and producers, whose credo is supposed to be fairness. And now some of them are flat-out making the case for unfairness—an unprecedented approach for an unprecedented campaign. Put aside, for the moment, the longstanding complaints about journalists being unfair to Republicans. They never treated Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush or Bob Dole like this. Keep in mind that the media utterly misjudged Trump from the start, covering him as a joke or a sideshow or a streaking comet that would burn itself out. Many of them later confessed how wrong they had been, and that they had missed the magnitude of the anger and frustration that fueled Trump’s unlikely rise.”

Congratulations, Howard, you’re emerging from the media jungle. However, you’ve a chronic case of historical amnesia, one that often accompanies life in the mainstream media’s heart of obliviousness. So what do you say we do a little historical research, sir, to establish an even more lamentable context? Remember the 2008 campaign? In February 2008 The New York Times and Washington Post both ran poorly-sourced but innuendo-laced stories about John McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist.

The Times’ version implied McCain had an affair with the lady. Reporters? Rumor-mongers, Howard, targeting a Republican presidential candidate. The timing of the article damaged McCain’s campaign, so it was a successful political operation. Unfortunately it also maligned the woman’s reputation and she would have none of it. The Wikipedia summary notes a year The Times made a retraction, of sorts, in “an unusual ‘Note to Readers’ stating that The Times had not intended to allege any affair.” Read the quotes from the article and tell me with a straight face The Times didn’t mean to imply McCain was romantically entwined.

Let’s consider 2012. Obama versus Romney. George Stephanopoulos, Howard. Is he a reporter? No. He’s a Clinton operative, and early on in 2012 he inserted the “war on women” meme into the campaign. Remember when he asked Romney an out-of-the-blue theoretical question on contraception?

Wow. George performed a strategic political operation for the Democratic Party. His contraception insertion (so to speak) set the stage for another “war on women” outrage tsunami later in the campaign. Do you recall the media-wide outrage when Romney said his campaign had “binders full of women“—meaning the resumes of women who might serve in his administration?

It’s clear what Romney meant. There was absolutely no deprecation. But biased media had been primed. A sustained outrage tsunami swept forth, across the land and throughout the internet.

Now—a big one. Candy Crowley. Have you forgotten Candy Crowley and the Benghazi question during the Obama-Romney debate she moderated?

Except she didn’t moderate, did she? She favored President Obama.

Romney endured another media-wide ridicule tsunami when he called Russia a major geo-political adversary.

Mitt was ridiculed en masse for stating the truth.

2004. Specifically Dan Rather in 2004, with RatherGate’s fabricated Air National Guard documents that supposedly proved George W. Bush had shirked military duty.

Wasn’t ole Dan a reporter, Howard? Or supposed to be a reporter? And recall Democratic candidate John Kerry was running as Vietnam War hero—even though Kerry made his political bones by claiming to throw away his military medals in an act of sensational disgust.

I could go on, but that’s the real record.

*   *   *

Kurtz deserves credit for acknowledging the existence of what this column calls Media Privilege as currently enjoyed by Democrats in general and Hillary Clinton in particular.

The War On Honesty column published August 3 argued that Media Privilege  “is a central subject in this election. The stark, evident and biased difference in mainstream media conduct wages war on honesty. A substantial plurality of the American people sensed it thirty years ago, now they know it.”

Donald Trump’s running mouth gets the mainstream media tsunami treatment. But Hillary Clinton?  “After her awful deeds, so-called objective media—self-proclaimed media of record, by golly by damn—try their best to ignore her wrongs, or, that tactic failing, attempt to justify them.”

In his commentary Kurtz deplored the so-called objective media’s lack of objectivity. Kurtz had to pull his punch a bit. He described New York Times (the self-proclaimed medium of record) media columnist Jim Rutenberg as a “good reporter” before expressing horror at Rutenberg’s defense of the indefensible. Kurtz quoted at length Rutenberg’s Times’ column of August 7: “If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.”

“Normal standards.” Remember that phrase—recall how I used it earlier in this essay, and gave examples of normal standards.

Well, Jim Rutenberg goes on to say that normal standards don’t apply.

“Let’s face it,” Rutenberg wrote. “Balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy.” Of course Rutenberg contends his oppositional stance is validated because he’s “true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment.”

Howard, you saw through Rutenberg’s self-justifying and self-serving sham, and you called him on it. Good job. That’s a small victory for truth. Rutenberg is behaving like an arrogant, elitist bully. He wants to use media power to silence legitimate political ideas and activities just because he disagrees with them.

But Howard, normal standards? Actually, the normal standard today is deep and embedded left-wing bias, dense and fossilized. Consider the “taint paint” technique.  Your beloved mainstream media routinely slaps “taint paint” on conservatives—it’s standard operating procedure.

As Joseph Morris wrote in The Washington Times:

“Every time a David Duke or some other marginal Klan-connected or neo-Nazi lowlife crawls out from under a rock and gratuitously endorses Donald Trump (or anyone else, particularly a Republican or a conservative), the mainstream media call breathless attention to the news. They further demand that Mr. Trump or the other endorsee renounce the unsolicited and unwanted endorsement.

It’s a brilliant stratagem by the media. There is an inexhaustible supply of otherwise ignored extremists who rise to the bait: Endorsing Donald Trump or a respectable Republican or conservative is the one sure way for a bigot or an extremist to get a minute’s worth of air time and six inches of ink.”

Morris noted the taint trick wasn’t applied to father of the Orlando night club terrorist who showed up at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally. He also endorsed her candidacy. The Communist Party of the United States (“a vestigial branch of one of the greatest tyrannies in human history”) has also endorsed Hillary. Any tsunami over that, Howard?

My August 3 Media Privilege column also employed the term “tsunami” to describe the media-wide slam that hit Trump after he made a fool of himself criticizing grieving father and Democratic National Convention speaker Khizr Khan and his wife. Tsunami is an apt and common term for a sustained wave of big time media criticism.

You’ll see the words “tantrum” and “orgasm.”

However, media tsunamis and tantrums aren’t merely descriptions; they describe a media information operation. Mainstream media-wide tsunamis are standard liberal media operations directed at uppity conservatives in general and Republican presidential candidates in particular. This “piling on” technique has two goals: silencing and destroying the target.

Obama treated Congressional Republicans with a level of vulgar contempt Trump has yet to approach much less exceed.

Recall Sarah Palin, Howard? The reporting on the 2011 Tuscon massacre where Gabby Giffords was wounded. Remember that media-wide reporting travesty?

Palin had nothing to do with with the crime but New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and other Democratic Party operatives with bylines connected her to it anyway. They used a smear tsunami, interweaving Krugman’s smears within supposed unbiased reporting. “Spinning TusconThe Economist called it.  Suddenly Krugman’s toxic rhetoric and hateful innuendo targeting Palin became news—Howard, “news” passed along by reporters. Palin called it a “blood libel.”

Smear tsunamis don’t just happen to individuals. In 2009 and 2010 the Tea Party got the pile on the ridicule treatment.

Oh. It’s unfair that I bring up Susan Roesgen? She was a reporter, Howard. It took CNN three months to fire her—or have her pursue other opportunities. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper made an obscene joke about American citizens who think their taxes are too high.

Pervasive ridicule reflecting bias. Is Cooper a reporter? In 2005 Cooper was reporting on Hurricane Katrina… well, he claimed he was reporting. He was dissing President Bush and getting personally involved with his reporting. Why, The New York Times praised him as a reporter with heart.

Cooper has feelings, and they get involved in his reporting. I’d say that’s a pretext for bias.

*  * *

The “silent treatment” (a form of selective censorship) is another normal standard.

Mainstream media coverage of the Obamacare debate provides an example. Republican health insurance proposals received little attention—and the Republicans had numerous reform proposals. The Obama Administration ignored Republican ideas and so did the mainstream media. Republicans were portrayed as the “party of no,” hard-hearted types opposed to health care for the poor.

Remember that media meme, Kurtz?

Genuine policy debate was stifled. President Obama behaved like an autocrat—a stupid autocrat. Now what’s happening with Obamacare?

This week Aetna, America’s fourth largest health insurance company announced that it couldn’t afford the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare’s legal name). The company sustained $300 million in pre-tax losses. It reduced its Obamacare business by 70 percent.

Obamacare’s failing. Is there a tsunami? No. Faint drip drip drips, reminiscent of the way mainstream media responded to Hillary’s lies about her unauthorized email server.

CNBC is mainstream media and to its credit has noticed the truth: Obamacare’s “death spiral” has arrived. Other major insurers are also limiting their Obamacare exposure.

USA Today is mainstream media. USA Today wants Obamacare repaired, not repealed.

Obamacare was President Obama’s signature domestic legislation. He brooked no advice or disagreement from Republicans who wanted to repair the legislation as it was being formulated. Formulated? Gobbeldygooked. Recall Nancy Pelosi, Howard? “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it…”

Obama shunned Republican ideas. As Daily Signal noted, Congressional Democrats, with the president as their cheerleader, rammed “the bill through the legislative process” using “unprecedented tactical maneuvers.”

Obamacare was showpiece Democrat Party and Obama Administration legislation, baby. Congressional Republicans? Clowns to be ridiculed. Obama treated Congressional Republicans with a level of vulgar contempt that Donald Trump has yet to approach much less exceed. Did his mainstream media hagiographers object? No, they snickered. The Repubs were getting theirs, man.

Now Americans are getting the death spiral. USA Today’s editorial fails to recall Obama’s self-destructive arrogance and jam-it-down-your-throat tactics.  The editorial also fails to mention that Obamacare was passed without a single Republican vote. However, it does decry “the repeal-and-replace rhetoric that Republicans in Congress have spouted for years…”

Yes, it’s an opinion essay, Howard, I grant that, just like my essay and your commentary. But I contend that USA Today in fact reflects mainstream media’s insistently biased and partisan pro-Democrat reporting throughout the entire Obamacare policy disaster, from jammed and rammed legislative malpractice to death spiral. In the midst of a heated presidential campaign and Obamacare’s economic disaster, USA Today’s convenient mix of selective censorship and historical amnesia serves to deflect criticism from Obamacare’s sole architects, President Obama and the Democratic Party. And that wages War on Honesty.


Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.

Austin Bay is a contributing editor at StrategyPage.com and adjunct professor at the University of Texas in Austin. His most recent book is a biography of Kemal Ataturk (Macmillan 2011). Bay is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel and Iraq veteran. He has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Columbia University.

A History Lesson for Howard Kurtz: Honest Reporting Died Long Ago