Phony Pose, "Oh, We Disclose," Hurts Kaiser, Kurtz Adviser!

Political commentary and more.
June 18 2000 7:38 PM

Phony Pose, "Oh, We Disclose," Hurts Kaiser, Kurtz Adviser!

(Continued from Page 1)

  • On Oct. 18, 1999, Kurtz wrote about Turner's attempts to lure a Wall Street Journal editor to CNNfn to replace Lou Dobbs. Nope.

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That's just what I found within the past year. I didn't even check what Kurtz might have written about all the other parts of Time Warner, which owns CNN. I did notice that when the Time Warner empire merged with AOL early this year, Kurtz wrote an item affectionately tweaking Time magazine for being very tough on its corporate parent in its coverage. There was no disclosure that Kurtz also works for Time Warner.

It's true that when Kurtz has written a really big piece focusing on Time Warner or CNN, the Post has typically included a tag line saying, "Howard Kurtz appears on CNN's weekly media program." If Robert Kaiser wants to believe that this adequately alerts readers to Kurtz's myriad conflicts, fine. But he's deceiving either himself or his audience when he says Kurtz "always" discloses.

P.S.: I'm not arguing that Kurtz is soft on CNN or Time Warner. I think he's an honest reporter and generally he's been quite critical of both organizations. But the Post doesn't let its other, equally honest, reporters cover institutions that employ them. If Charles Kaiser's General Motors example doesn't grab you, consider whether the Post would let a paid staffer for the Bush campaign cover Bush (or Gore, for that matter). Disclosure wouldn't be deemed sufficient to cure the conflict-of-interest problem. Maybe it should--I'd argue newspapers would be livelier and more informative if they let more people with blatant-but-disclosed conflicts write about the institutions they know about. Until then, I suggest that the following boilerplate disclosure be appended to all Kurtz's media reporting:

Howard Kurtz works for a variety of press institutions, including CNN, which is part of the Time Warner/AOL empire, which is either an employer or competitor of just about everyone he might write about. We have suspended our traditional conflict-of-interest rules in his case because ... well, we pretty much trust him, and he's a star.

P.P.S.: My own disclosure. In his (wildly hypocritical) capacity as conflict-of-interest scold, Kurtz recently zinged kausfiles.com for providing a link to Amazon for a book kausfiles favorablyreviewed--a link, similar to those provided by Slateand other Web sites, that paid me Amazon's standard 5 percent commission, in this case $1.92 [one dollar and ninety-two cents], and which Kurtz knew about only because in a misguided fit of ethical zeal I fully disclosed it all at the time in a run-on paragraph not unlike this one. Kurtz got a key fact ($1.92) wrong, then printed a correction that he also screwed up, then wrote me an e-mail saying "You're entitled to be pissed off." Am I pissed off? Yes! Being pissed off, in this case, serves to neutralize the natural reporter's impulse to go easy on Kurtz because he's a genial guy, and because he's powerful and may write about any one of us someday.