Earlier today, Howard Kurtz returned for his first chat of the new year and tackled such topics as the Benazir Bhutto feature in Parade Magazine, ABC’s debate format, and Fox News’ decision to leave Ron Paul out of its recent presidential forum. Some excerpts:
- Arlington, Va.: Hi. How can Parade Magazine publish and the Washington Post distribute (Sunday, Jan. 6) a cover story about Benizar Butto’s prospects in Packistan, despite the fact that she’s dead? I mean, shouldn’t The Post know that lionizing a dead political fiture two weeks after her assasination is a little less than “on the ball”? Did The Post’s editors even look at the insert cover, or do they distribute everything that comes over the transom (as long as the check clears)? Is anyone at The Post or Parade apologizing? Shoddy!
Howard Kurtz: It’s hard for me to understand why Parade didn’t pull the magazine, but an editor there said he felt it was important for readers to see one of Bhutto’s last interviews. The Post dealt with it with a front-page note explaining that the magazine had gone to press before the assassination.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I was disappointed in how ABC handled the debate format Saturday. I am tired of Candidate A saying how bad Candidate B is, and the format and questioning only reinforced it. Charles Gibson should not have asked a candidate what he or she thought of another candidate’s policies, but what the candidate themself believed or planned. I think this is also true for the media in general. For example, Mike Huckabee had a press conference to say he wasn’t going to use a negative ad, showed what he wasn’t going to use, and then got all of the media to use it. Huh? Where’s the news? Nancy Reagan had it right: Just say no!
Howard Kurtz: Well, I have the opposite view. We’ve had one debate after another that was essentially the candidates vs. the moderator. This was the first debate where the candidates got to engage each other without strict time limits or much intervention by the moderator. Charlie had told me last week he was going to take a largely hands-off approach, and while its success is certainly debatable, I thought it yielded two enlightening faceoffs, especially on the Republican side.
Austin, Texas: I recall that you were critical about the Democrats refusing to debate on Fox News. Myself, I thought they were right not to legitimate a network that is the unofficial GOP network — but I could understand that it is in the financial interest of pundits to pretend that isn’t a fact in order to make money from Fox by appearing on it. I’m wondering what you think of Fox now censoring who gets to appear on its GOP debates? Should the network be fined for this? After all, I believe keeping Ron Paul off the debate even after the New Hampshire GOP withdrew from it for that very reason must violate the compact that networks make to rent the public airwaves.
Howard Kurtz: Fined by who? The government doesn’t regulate editorial decisions by news organizations.
Each network has set up its own criteria for who is included in its debates. ABC, for instance, excluded Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, among others. Fox excluded Paul. This makes their fans unhappy, obviously, but the rationale is that it makes more sense to limit the debates, at this stage, to the people who have a plausible chance of becoming president.