Kurtz: War Newsworthy Regardless Of Arbitrary Milestones

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such topics as Barack Obama’s speech last week, the shrinking coverage of Iraq, and the coverage of John McCain now that he has the Republican nomination locked up. Some excerpts:

Seattle: Thanks for taking our questions. I’m not willing to say Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech on Tuesday is as good as “I Have a Dream,” but I’m a little bit curious as to how Dr. King’s speech was received by the press at the time, and about how long it took before it was firmly in the “great” category? Conversely, do you remember a speech in the past 25-plus years of cable news that was this well-received by the pundits, but which turned out to go into the Dustbin of History?

Howard Kurtz: This is fascinating. On Aug. 29, 1963, The Washington Post carried this lead: “President Kennedy said yesterday that the great March on Washington had advanced the cause of America’s 20 million Negroes and made a contribution to all mankind.” King was not mentioned until the 11th paragraph, as having met with Kennedy, and nothing from his speech was quoted. Plus, the story ran on page 21. I’d say the paper blew it.

The New York Times lead: “More than 200,000 Americans, most of them black but many of them white, demonstrated here today for a full and speedy program of civil rights and equal job opportunities.” King’s speech was buried in the middle of the article but the Times did quote some of the “I have a dream” passages. And a sidebar by James Reston was headlined “‘I Have a Dream…’ Peroration by Dr. King Sums Up A Day the Capital Will Remember.”

San Francisco: Will you have an opportunity to review various media outlets’ coverage — or lack of same — of yesterday’s grim new milestone of 4,000 American deaths in Iraq? Or are there preachers and campaign consultant pie-throwing more deserving of your attention as a media critic?

Howard Kurtz: Over the last five years I have written and talked repeatedly about Iraq coverage. I’ve recently made the point that there’s been an incredible shrinkage in the war coverage that is in my view hard to justify, even with the reduced levels of violence, because Americans are still fighting and dying there (along with Iraqis). We did a segment on this very question on my show last weekend. It shouldn’t take an arbitrary marker (fifth anniversary, 4000th death) to spur coverage of this war. It was newsworthy when 3,999 Americans had died and will be just as newsworthy when the 4,001st life is lost.

Minneapolis: If McCain is gaffe-prone or playing loose with the facts on Iran and al-Qaeda, who’s calling him on it? Where’s the saturation coverage of this that we would see if Clinton or Obama made such a statement? Where’s Howard Kurtz leading his columns with it for multiple days?

Howard Kurtz: I have read numerous articles about McCain’s mistake (The Post dealt with it again yesterday in a review of his trip abroad) and seen it debated on television as well. One reason it’s not getting “saturation” coverage is that so much media attention is focused on the Clinton-Obama race that McCain, with the nomination in his pocket, has receded. This helps him a bit when he screws up, as he did in this case, but probably hurts him more in that he’s not much in the news while the Democrats dominate the coverage.