Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly online chat where he handled such topics as media semantics, Walter Cronkite’s retrospective on CBS, and former President Jimmy Carter’s recent comments about President Bush. Some excerpts:
- Woodbridge, Va.: Hi Howard – What is it gonna take for the media to stop using the word “czar” (war, drug, Katrina, education, etc). It has become even more annoying than refering to a scandal as “-gate”. Besides the fact that czar refers to a Russian dictator, the czar positions are always coordinators that are powerless, and therefore the total opposite of a dictator.
Howard Kurtz: The NYT had a piece on czar life yesterday, if I’m not mistaken. Which I take as important, since it’s the home of language czar William Safire. Look, it’s a little silly, but on the other hand, headline-writers are grateful for any title that is four letters.
Washingtn, re: Walter Cronkite retrospective: I thought the Walter Cronkite retrospective was embarrassing puffery and wondered if you agree. Was this really produced by a news department and not by the CBS publicity folks? It looked like a campaign commercial! First, there wasn’t a single mention that I heard of any behind-the-scenes editorial bravery or conflict, not even on coverage of the Vietnam war, Watergate or the civil rights movement; it was all sweet reminiscences. I would’ve found the piece a lot more (ahem) journalistic and also worthwhile if it’d explored what Cronkite contributed besides emotions, a trustworthy visage and an ability to socialize with George Clooney and the Grateful Dead.
Second, Dan Rather was virtually airbrushed out of the picture except for two paltry soundbites, while Katie Couric was called on constantly for comment, as though she and not Rather had reigned for two decades as Cronkite’s succeessor and worked with him for years before that. Why is CBS still so reluctant to acknowledge that Rather was a major figure at the network? Is someone afraid they’ll lose favor with the White House?
Howard Kurtz: The man is 90 years old and had a legendary career. I didn’t have any great problem with the broadcast. I was glad that Rather was included (he certainly appeared more than twice), given the unhappy parting between him and CBS, since he worked with Cronkite for all those years. Besides, all the current network anchors were featured on the program, not just Katie Couric.
Washington: How is it that Jimmy Carter makes these ridiculous comments and remains angelic in media coverage? Reporting live from Habitat for Humanity this morning? Come on. Carter was one of our worst presidents in history, so I guess you can say “it takes one to know one.” His comments on Bush may have been right on — but they were inappropriate from a former president and would have carried greater weight from a far greater president (a la Bill Clinton). And his comments on Tony Blair? Don’t even get me started.
Howard Kurtz: I think the media consensus is that Carter’s presidency was unsuccessful but that he has done admirable work, particularly with Habitat for Humanity, in his post-presidential years. However, I don’t think he gets a pass for his controversial pronouncements on politics (witness the furor over what he said about the Middle East in his last book). In fact, I think the reason his slam at Bush got so much coverage in the last 24 hours is precisely because it is so unusual for a former president to slam one of his successors with such harsh language.