Howie Talks Back

In today’s “Media Backtalk” chat, Howard Kurtz fielded questions on such topics as the Mark Foley scandal, Dan Rather’s new job, the Mark Foley scandal, North Korea, the Mark Foley scandal, the midterm elections, and others…including the Mark Foley scandal.

Selected excerpts:

Falls Church, Va.: Hey Howard,

Do you get the feeling that the media has latched on a bit too breathlessly to the potential storyline of Democrats retaking the House? I constantly read stories and see analyses about how much trouble the Republicans are in, but I find it maddeningly impossible to get a straight answer to the question, if the election was held today, how many seats would the Democrats gain. Yes, many races are tied right now according to the polls, but still, assuming everything on election day is the same as it is today, where are the estimates of exactly how many seats Democrats will gain? I’m afraid the media is trying to set up a story along the lines of Howard Dean’s march to victory, when actual voters had something else in mind.

Howard Kurtz: I had thought, before the Foley scandal, that the media might be going a little heavy on the prospect of the Democrats winning back the House. Now I just don’t know. The truth is, it’s impossible to predict what voters in 435 elections driven by local issues and personalities will do, even in a climate that is obviously unfavorable for the Republicans. The press has relied heavily on polls — which, as we’ve all seen, are hardly infallible — but I’ve always been distrustful of generic poll questions about which party the respondent favors for Congress. When it comes down to it, people vote for or against Incumbent X or Challenger Y regardless of their overall opinion of Congress.

McLean, Va.: Were you surprised that both news magazines went so strong on Foley this week? The covers seem to throw sharp elbows at the GOP.

Howard Kurtz: Not in the slightest. Not only has Foleygate mushroomed into a huge issue, but there are a host of fascinating angles, it could affect the midterm elections, and Time and Newsweek are in the business of selling magazines.