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Friday, September 12, 2008


On Howard Kurtz Coming Unhinged: We Are The Gatekeepers ...

No Left Turns wonders what made a fairly reasonable Liberal journalist snap and appear to go batshit crazy like the anchorman Howard Beale in “Network.” Watching somebody go unhinged in public is both fascinating and repellent. It makes you realize the beneath that urbane exterior there was a boiling cauldron of repressed fury that colored every word uttered or written. It strips Howard Kurtz naked and to see the naked Kurtz is not a pretty sight. Gone is the pretense of objectivity; gone is the pretense of seeing all sides, gone in a single essay is any pretense of impartiality. Kurtz could not have shown his allegiance to the Obama camp any more clearly if he had hoisted the Jolly Roger emblazoned with a stylized O.

So what made Kurtz snap?
Glen Reynolds suggests a source for the anger: "I think it’s because they don’t matter as much as they once did."

He’s probably onto something, but there’s more to it. In my experience, the leader of the U.S. media is the New York Times. Other newspapers and TV news organizations read the Times and follow suit. Indeed, TV reporters sometimes learn their agenda for the day by reading the Times. That model worked for quite some time, but it is breaking down. It is now becoming obvious that the "Mainstream media" (MSM) is no such thing. Moreover, thanks to the internet (and talk radio before that, but the internet, by providing more access to independent reporting has helped talk radio make news, rather than simply comment on it), it is getting harder and harder for a reporter to know what’s going on by following only the major newspapers and magazines.

In short, the gate-keeper role of the Times (and in politics The Washington Post) in particular, and of the old media establishment, is dying. Note Kurtz’s comment, "The lipstick imbroglio is evidence that the Drudge/Fox/New York Post axis can drive just about any story into mainstream land." (Mickey Kaus had a very intelligent discussion of this change about a week ago).

But there is one more, and, as far as I can tell, little discussed, element to the story: and that is the human dynamic. Put yourself in the shoes of a reporter for the New York Times or The Washington Post. He or she has worked hard for many years to reach the top of a particular hill. And just when he gets there, he finds that the hill is a much less important one than it was before.

Moreover, he suddenly finds that rogues and upstarts of whom he has never heard, and who have not put the years in, in the blogosphere, are getting more attention, and are more important than he. Combine that with the sad state of the news business, and there’s a real prolem. Each week, he hears of old friends and colleagues losing their jobs because the newspapers and perhaps networks too, can’t afford to pay them. If you’re 45 or so, and have just made it, and perhaps have a couple of kids who want to go to college, it’s going to cause grey hairs and ulcers.

Perhaps that’s partly behind Kurtz’s anger. His own status, as the most important media critic in the U.S., is much less than it was when he got to the top of the heap a the Post.

Peggy lee made the Song “Is that all there is” famous and perhaps it explains Kurtz’ anger. He fought and worked his way to the top of the heap and found that people in crummy fedoras and twerps who wear pajamas have occupied his throne.

He’s arrived at his destination and finds it over-run with undesirables who really don’t give a rat’s ass about his opinions. So perhaps he decided that there was one market that the Olbermans, the NY Times and CNN had found that was still interested in his ideas, but he would have to shed his cloak of objectivity. So he decided to join the haters and the assassins. Still, I don’t think it was a good career decision. That particular niche worships abortion and that is a demographic dead end.

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"I was taught when I was a young reporter that it's news when we say it is. I think that's still true -- it's news when 'we' say it is. It's just who 'we' is has changed"
David Carr (b. 1956), US Journalist. CNN "Reliable Sources", Sunday, August 10, 2008.
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