May 6, 2013

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“I screwed up,” Howard Kurtz said on his CNN show “Reliable Sources” Sunday. The prominent media reporter used half the show to address an extraordinary week in which he bungled a critique of Jason Collins’ coming-out story in Sports Illustrated and left Newsweek/The Daily Beast — events he maintained during the show were unconnected.

NPR’s David Folkenflik and Politico’s Dylan Byers — who broke the news Kurtz was leaving The Daily Beast — questioned him in the segment. Byers brought up previous Kurtz errors, asking him “Why so many mistakes?”

“I’d like to think that I built up a big store of credibility” Kurtz said at one point. Folkenflik pressed him on his role at the website Daily Download, saying “I was told by two separate people in the last 48 hours that from your mouth, you had said that you were a founder in this venture in trying to help Lauren attract grants and trying to help Lauren [Ashburn] establish this as a go-to site in a way that, you know, has been trying to do.”

Kurtz maintained he’s an adviser and contributor only: “It’s a new site and I was trying to help promote it. But I don’t have any role in the management of it.”

In Variety, Brian Lowry writes that the metacorrection was notable for the venue in which it occurred:

It’s equally true that news outlets — especially television — are bad about publicly correcting errors, which is why devoting time to Kurtz’s own shortcomings felt so bracing, although I’m sure to much of the world, it probably looked like an unnecessary level of navel-gazing.

But Kurtz’s friend Sharon Waxman was unimpressed by the sincerity of this round of belly-button-regard. “That’s it?” she writes. “Merely repeating an apology and stressing one’s sincerity is not a ticket back to play on the journalism field.”

Journalism isn’t some kind of game where our errors skid past while we get to hold the rest of the world to account.

Erik Wemple says Kurtz’s apology is representative of other members of his profession:

The reason that Kurtz didn’t apologize right away is that he’s stubborn, arrogant and desperate — precisely most journalists in the same situation. The behavior here is as inexcusable as it is common: Journalists don’t like to be accountabilitized; once they’ve written something, they don’t want to un-write it; they’ll commit atrocities of logic to defend their work; they’ll grovel to downgrade a retraction to a correction to a clarification to nothing; and they’ll do it all with righteous conviction. That’s why they need editors.

Eric Deggans — who appears regularly on Kurtz’s show — hits Kurtz on similar points. “Still, I can’t recall the last time a major journalism figure faced up to his mistakes in such a straightforward fashion,” he writes, comparing Kurtz’s mea culpa to the New York Post’s mealy nonapology for fingering two men wrongly as suspects in the Boston bombings.

“[S]uch directness,” Deggans writes, “just might make the difference in gaining and maintaining the public’s trust for the future.”

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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