Kurtz: O.J. Coverage Not Yet Out Of Hand

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such topics as the coverage of O.J. Simpson’s recent arrest, Sally Field’s Emmy acceptance speech, and the media’s portrayal of Gen. David Petraeus. Some excerpts:

    Avon Park, Fla.: I know that O.J. Simpson’s arrest is a big news story, but does that justify wall-to-wall coverage of it? Fox News preempted their repeat of Fox News Sunday to have on legal experts just speculating on this case. Isn’t General Petraeus’s remarks on Iraq more important than Simpson? After all, Mr. Simpson isn’t a head of state. This story has no national implications that can affect people.

    Howard Kurtz: There’s huge public interest in the O.J. case for obvious reasons. I’m not yet ready to declare this a ridiculous, over-the-top, out-of-control media frenzy (but check back with me in 24 hours). O.J. was a very famous football player who became probably the most famous murder defendant in a generation, acquitted in a racially charged trial whose verdict many Americans don’t accept. And the Las Vegas case is so incredibly weird, complete with audio now being played on TV. Since Simpson was arrested late yesterday, I think it’s a no-brainer to preempt a taped show to cover it.

    Woonsocket, R.I.: Any comment on FOX’s censorship of the Emmy awards (specifically, Sally Fields’ anti-war comment)? I was surprised that it didn’t even deserve a mention in your column.

    Howard Kurtz: It was covered by my colleague Tom Shales. I don’t have any problem with Fox bleeping the expletive, given the FCC’s penchant for big fines. I have a big problem with Fox not letting Sally Fields complete her thought — that she was making a statement against the war. Award shows may or may not be the appropriate venue for political statements, but she said it at a live news event, so in a way Fox was censoring the news.

    Rochester, N.Y.: I have a question I’d really like you to address. Why does the media get so caught up in building up the character qualities of people like David Petraeus? This happened to a lesser extent with George Bush himself, who they told us was a good man, time and time again. When the elite media — I’m thinking the Cokie Roberts and David Broders and Gergens of the world — tell us that someone is a great guy and that we should ignore the issues and just focus on what a great guy he is, isn’t that pretty much begging for groups on the other side to attack the guy’s character as with MoveOn? It seems ridiculous to me: these pundits set the whole thing in motion by making Petraeus sound like Eisenhower and Mother Teresa all wrapped into one, then they act shocked when MoveON.org criticizes him personally. Couldn’t this all be avoided if the pundits just stuck to the facts and left moral characters judgments alone?

    Howard Kurtz: I don’t think the media have been portraying the general so much as a nice guy but perhaps as the most scholarly man to run a war in modern history, the officer who literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency. I also think that Petraeus has been accessible to journalists over the years (and did 11 interviews last week, including sitdowns with the network anchors) and has benefitted from that. The coverage of his testimony was more mixed, in my view, and certainly critics in the media have questioned whether he is now playing a political role in putting the best face on a bad situation for the administration.