The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Howard Kurtz to Fox News: Five observations

Longtime CNN media-show anchor Howard Kurtz is headed to Fox News, where he will do … well, a bunch of things. According to a Fox press release, he will “anchor a version of what is now called Fox News Watch, which focuses on the media, with a new format during the weekends.” He’ll also do what Kurtz does: writing and commentating and tweeting and so on.

Five observations:

1) Kurtz has long had a rapport with Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Here’s one he wrote for the Daily Beast in 2010, titled “Roger Ailes Lets Rip.” The backdrop for the interview was a barrage of criticism on the Fox News airwaves directed at the Obama White House. Ailes, via Kurtz:

Sipping coffee from a “Fair & Balanced” mug, Ailes insists that his channel lives up to the logo in its treatment of the administration. “We are not interested in savaging them. We are interested in the truth. We’re interested in two points of view; most networks aren’t.” Fox has beaten the drums on some stories that the mainstream media have wound up following, such as allegations that led to the resignation of environmental aide Van Jones, and others—such as a voter-intimidation case involving two New Black Panther Party members—that are widely viewed as overblown.

Here’s another one, this time against the backdrop of the early stages of the 2012 presidential campaign. A highlight:

[A]s President Obama’s popularity has plummeted and the country has grown increasingly sick of partisan sniping, something unexpected happened. Roger Ailes pulled back a bit on the throttle.
He calls it a “course correction,” quietly adopted at Fox over the last year. Glenn Beck’s inflammatory rhetoric—his ranting about Obama being a racist—“became a bit of a branding issue for us” before the hot-button host left in July, Ailes says. So too did Sarah Palin’s being widely promoted as the GOP’s potential savior—in large measure through her lucrative platform at Fox. Privately, Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama’s election, but, as the Tea Party’s popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream.

Other folks in the media have been able to interview Ailes, who is among the most prized interviews in today’s media world. But Kurtz has clearly been among the leaders in securing a line to his soon-to-be boss. Consider that Ailes is a guy who figures that the rest of the world — including the mainstream media — has something against him. That he’d place so much trust in mainstream media representative Howard Kurtz adds context to Kurtz’s move.

2) This is a marvelous move for Fox News. Fox News exec Michael Clemente may have been taking a liberty or two when he stated: “Howie is the most accomplished media reporter in the country. He’s also a master of social media trends, information good and bad, and a veteran political reporter.”

But he is dead-on with this: “Altogether, he will add even greater depth to a very accomplished team of reporters and anchors.”

Follow Erik Wemple's opinionsFollow

The addition of Kurtz will add instant cred to Fox News and help drag it an inch or two toward delivering on its institutional promise to be “fair and balanced.”

As critics on Twitter and elsewhere will tell you, Kurtz may not be the most imaginative character, he’s had his low points, and his interviews don’t have the greatest record of virality. But let this be said as well: Kurtz has developed his own personal doctrine of absolute centrism over decades in the business. He’s highly resistant to ideological corruption. For decades the guy has been scrupulous in criticizing media outlets and political figures of all persuasions.

His open-mindedness will undergo quite a test as he launches into segments on Fox News, whose employment contracts have the magical effect of moving signatories a notch or ten to the right on the political ratchet. The Erik Wemple Blog, along with thousands of non-Erik Wemple Blogs, will be watching Kurtz’s behavior closely on Fox News. Pouncing will take place if we all witness the slightest coloration in Kurtz’s views.

3) This is a marvelous move for CNN. Following Kurtz’s departure from the Daily Beast after making a horrible mistake in writing about pro basketball player Jason Collins, he endured a public grilling on his own show, courtesy of media reporters Dylan Byers and David Folkenflik. That whole arrangement was apparently the idea of CNN management, not of Kurtz. It’s unclear whether that episode helped launch his departure from CNN, but it couldn’t have helped.

Say this for Kurtz’s CNN show, “Reliable Sources”: It has been competent and comprehensive week-in and week-out. Kurtz chooses all the big topics of the day and dissects them responsibly and carefully. Whenever there has been a parallel to be drawn between a contemporary media dustup and something that happened years ago, Kurtz has reliably filled in that box. (Disclosure: I have appeared several times on the program.)

That same evaluation doubles as criticism of the program. It has tended to look backward, at the past week’s big stories, instead of ahead. And it never had a quirky side. After 15 years under Kurtz’s leadership, the show could stand a change. A statement from CNN signals that “Reliable Sources” will live on, under a “variety” of hosts in the coming months.

4) This is a marvelous move for Howard Kurtz. As a conservative news outlet constantly tilting at the world of mainstream media, Fox News always starves for media criticism. Every time, for instance, there’s a verifiable scandal in the Obama White House, for instance, Fox News will break down the particulars of the story — what happened, who’s culpable, how this affects America, and WHEN WILL HEADS ROLL? After that’s all done, however, the Fox News preference is to examine how the media has (failed to) cover the matter.

It’s here where Kurtz will find himself in ample demand. Expect him to clash frequently with other voices at Fox News, from Bill O’Reilly to Jon Scott to Megyn Kelly and beyond. We’ll be seeing a more combative, engaged and exposed Howard Kurtz.

5) Will Kurtz be able to get Daily Download founder Lauren Ashburn on Fox’s air? Just wondering.

Everybody wins.