It’s been a rough year for Howard Kurtz, but you wouldn’t know it by today’s launch of “MediaBuzz” on Fox News Channel.
After his sudden departures from CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, Kurtz appears to have made a seamless transition to Fox News. “MediaBuzz” projected authority, energy and pace.
Clearly, Kurtz was in his comfort zone. Most of his guests were familiar faces from his 15-year run at “Reliable Sources” – David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, media entrepreneur Lauren Ashburn.
In fact, Ashburn, a Fox News contributor, had so much face time, she served as a de facto co-host. Along with appearing in the opening two segments, she co-hosted “Digital Download,” and was on set with Kurtz for his sign-off.
Kurtz has a complicated history with Ashburn. His involvement in her new venture, Daily Download, a Daily Beast competitor, did not endear him to Brown, who later fired him. Ashburn showed up regularly on “Reliable Sources” and followed Kurtz to Fox News.
I couldn’t help but notice that Ashburn, like so many Fox News females, is blonde.
Ditto for guest Michelle Cottle, Washington reporter for The Daily Beast, and Fox’s Jamie Colby, who anchored a news break during the show. The only non-blonde was the Post’s Henderson, who is African American.
“MediaBuzz” opened with a lively panel discussion on media criticism of President Obama’s handling of Syria. Kurtz used the opportunity to take a shot, albeit a mild one, at his new employer. (Since joining the network in June, Kurtz had been criticized for avoiding negative assessments of Fox.)
After MSNBC contributors Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, both former Obama officials, were lambasted by a panelist for being mouthpieces for the President, Kurtz said it was “fair to question” whether Fox regulars Karl Rove and Rick Santorum were also “pushing an agenda.” At Fox, that passes for napalm.
‘Spin Cycle,’ with Cottle and Chris Stirewalt of FoxNews.com, broke no new ground in a tired conversation about Anthony Weiner and Tuesday’s New York City mayoral primary. Ditto for ‘Media Buzz,’ in which Kurtz focused on Keith Olbermann’s return to ESPN.
In a bit of unintended irony, Kurtz referred to Olbermann’s “messy divorces” from two of his former employers, including ESPN.
Later in the segment, Kurtz issued a correction from the opening discussion, in which a guest had said that the New York Times’ Judith Miller had lost her job because of her reporting on Iraq. Kurtz said that Miller, now on Fox’s payroll, had left the Times two years after her Iraq reportage had come into question. (Miller was a regular on the predecessor to “MediaBuzz,” “Fox News Watch.”)
‘Tight Shot,’ featuring Atlantic Magazine national correspondent James Fallows, focused on the digital surge about Syria; followed by ‘Digital Download,’ with Kurtz and Ashburn debating whether media coverage of new Yahoo! president Marrisa Mayer has been sexist.
Viewers are encouraged to tweet during “MediaBuzz,” and Kurtz read a few of them aloud in a segment dubbed ‘Buzzworthy.’ After a self-serving congratulatory tweet, Kurtz quickly added that critical messages would be read as well. We’ll be watching.
Kurtz concluded with a short commentary about the just-ended feud between Time Warner Cable and CBS.
All in all, a strong premiere. One suggestion: If Ashburn continues to have such a pronounced presence, make her a regular. Otherwise, it smacks of favoritism.
Full disclosure: The writer appeared numerous times on Kurtz’ “Reliable Sources.”