Charles Kaiser, in a letter to the New Republic, makes a point that TNR's Franklin Foer left out of his recent attack on Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. (In case you missed it, Foer's cover story blasted Kurtz for being an "East German figure skating judge, docking reporters for technicalities," especially minor conflicts of interest.)
Charles Kaiser's point? Kurtz himself has large, non-technical conflicts of interest, since he free-lances and takes money "from the people he writes about, from Time Warner to Conde Nast and even Brill's Content." The most obvious conflict is that Kurtz co-hosts CNN's Reliable Sources, a gig that rewards him with not only money but national renown. Kaiser writes: "It is inconceivable that The Washington Post would allow this kind of conflict of interest for anyone covering any other beat. Can you imagine the Detroit correspondent becoming a consultant for General Motors?"
Kaiser's brother, Robert--associate editor of the Post--had a letter defending Kurtz in the same TNR issue. The dueling-Kaiser angle proved irresistible to the New York Times, which ran an item on the two letters. This gave Robert Kaiser a chance to defend Kurtz in the Times against the conflict-of interest charge--which he did as follows:
I know that Charles and others have those qualms about Howie's multiple employers. ... Howie always discloses his relationships when he writes about any of them. The Post has accepted that arrangement. I think it's O.K. [Emphasis added.]
That sounds reasonable. But there's at least one problem with it--it's not true. Kurtz doesn't "always disclose his relationships" when he writes about any of his "multiple employers."
A quick search of a popular electronic database--never lie to a man with NEXIS!--turned up the following, just within the past year :
- On Dec. 20, 1999, Kurtz wrote about networks, in particular CNN, that lock up "exclusive national rights" to debates between presidential candidates and then shut out competing reporters. Frank Sesno, CNN's Washington bureau chief, was quoted defending the practice. There was no disclosure of Kurtz's CNN connection.
- On Nov. 18, 1999, Kurtz wrote about an alliance between one of his employers, the Washington Post, and MSNBC, one of CNN's competitors. Kurtz noted that MSNBC "has been struggling," its ratings having "dropped 20 percent." Kurtz also noted, "By comparison, CNN's ratings dropped 33 percent." (So why wasn't CNN "struggling" too?) No mention of Kurtz's CNN connection.
- On Oct. 11. 1999, Kurtz wrote an item about CNN rejecting a commercial from Salon.com. No disclosure.
- On Sept. 7, 1999, Kurtz wrote a profile of Rupert Murdoch that touched on the feud between Murdoch and CNN founder Ted Turner, a man who could presumably end Kurtz's CNN career with one well-placed phone call. No disclosure.