…that is the question.
MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman disagrees with Mickey Kaus and says that Howard’s seeming conflict of interest between representing both the Washington Post and CNN (and having to critique each) doesn’t show up in his reporting.
Well, sure, it’s possible that Kurtz COULD someday stumble. But he hasn’t done so yet – not by a long shot. In fact, he is one of the giants of media criticism precisely because he has maintained such high standards of ethics and excellence…
But give the guy his props. He’s earned his success by being really good at his work and very ethical.
Not so fast, says Kaus:
1) Every reporter who’s paid has a conflict with whatever institution pays him. That’s unavoidable. Kurtz’s problem is that he has a second, gratuitous conflict with the giant conglomerate the Post pays him to cover.
2) Kurtz’s second conflict is especially huge. If the Post fired him, after all, he could get a job with another paper within an hour. The Post doesn’t have much leverage (as their see-no-evil treatment of Kurtz suggests). But if CNN cancelled Kurtz’s show, the other TV networks wouldn’t exactly be falling over themselves to snap him up. Not even MSNBC! (Though Kurtz does have a career interest in keeping MSNBC’s Rick Kaplan happy, too, just in case. That makes it worse.) CNN has leverage.
3) Hypocrisy Angle #1: I don’t think all writers have to be free of all conflicts. Everybody has conflicts. Life creates conflicts. Conflicts can be good–they tend to come with inside info and perspective. As long as a conflict is disclosed, readers can usually make up their minds. But WaPo, like most MSM organizations, does pretend to prohibit conflicts in order to achieve neutrality and “objectivity.” WaPo editor Len Downie famously doesn’t even vote. After ostentatiously purging such petty conflicts it’s hypocritical to then ignore Kurtz’s elephantine conflict….
4) Hypocrisy Angle #2: Kurtz himself, as WaPo’s media reporter, has made it his business to ding other journalists for conflicts far less significant than his own.