Kurtz: Reporters Shouldn’t Have Monopoly On Debate Questions

Yesterday, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such topics as media hiring practices, the CNN Republican Debate, and media coverage of the presidential election. Some excerpts:

    Baltimore: Howard, I was struck nearly speechless by this item from your column today: “CBS News is looking for an environmental reporter for its Web site. Here’s the ad on JournalismJobs.com: ‘You are wicked smart, funny, irreverent and hip, oozing enthusiasm and creative energy … Knowledge of the enviro beat is a big plus, but not a requirement.’ “

    Jeez, I know that Web reporting is supposed to follow a “new paradigm,” or whatever, but you would think that the online inheritor of the work of Ed Murrow, Erik Sevareid, Walter Cronkite, et al would want a reporter who is familiar with the beat he/she will cover and is not just “smart and funny.” This is why Web reporting can’t yet be trusted. Too many people think it’s all about the medium, and that the message is, well, secondary.

    Howard Kurtz: I’m all for hiring smart and funny people. But wouldn’t it be nice if an environmental reporter knew something about the environment? Or is my thinking on that hopelessly Old Media?

    St. Paul, Minn.: Howard, last week’s CNN debate problems seemed predictable to me. No matter which network is doing it, inviting people to submit via the Internet and its various offshoots opens the door to partisans who can sneak in because they do a good job hiding their real feelings. I understand this is the 21st century, and technology is, well, grand — but aren’t we better served by having debate questions offered by responsible media? Or have the debates just become another form of evening entertainment?

    Howard Kurtz: Look, there’s an element of showbiz in the YouTube format, but it also allows ordinary people a voice in the process. The alternative is having journalists ask all the questions, and while I like journalists very much, I don’t think they should have an absolute monopoly.

    There’s no law against partisans being able to ask questions at a Republican or Democratic debate, but they should be identified as such so viewers at home have the information to make their own judgments. That’s why CNN failure to find out about the Hillary adviser was an important omission. The guy had served in the military for 43 years; his question about why gays couldn’t serve openly was a good one. We just needed to know that he had lent his name to a Democratic candidate (ironically, the one whose husband passed the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.)

    Boston: Howie, last week in a discussion with Jonathan Weisman, there was conversation regarding your piece on Hillary access by the press. Basically, responding to a question about why anyone should care that politicians don’t want to (and usually don’t) respond to questions about the “politics” of politicking (polls, winning in Iowa, etc) instead of policy questions, Weisman basically responded: What do you expect, these are political reporters. If that’s true, then who’s responsible for reporting on the policy stances of these politicians?!

    Howard Kurtz: Reporters don’t ONLY ask horse-race questions. They also ask about substantive differences between the candidates, though perhaps not often enough. And we have plenty of people writing about the issues. But if a candidate doesn’t talk to the press for days at a time, he or she is refusing to deal with all kinds of questions.

    Interesting to me that Hillary held a news conference yesterday because she had a message she wanted to get out — attacking Obama and questioning his character. That was the message of the day.