Howard Kurtz Misses the Forest for the Trees on Media's Horrid Election Coverage
On CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday, Howard Kurtz did a segment focusing on whether the pundits out there in the media who were telling everyone it would be a Romney blowout, should pay a price for being continually wrong with their predictions. I think Kurtz misses the forest for the trees with his criticism, primarily because any real analysis about just how bad most of the corporate media's election coverage was, would require him taking a look at his own network and not just Fox News.
First and foremost, if we're ever going to do anything about getting the money out of politics, we're not going to get much help, if any, out of the industries primarily profiting from it, which is all of the television stations and radio stations across the country. You're not going to see the pundits out there saying much about all of those advertising dollars when their companies and everyone they work with is thriving because of it.
And then there's the issue of Rove and his ilk on Fox, who was not just that he was misleading viewers with overly optimistic predictions about the election results, but also running a PAC. Fox continually failed to disclose Rove's involvement in the election. They also made a regular habit of bringing on Romney campaign advisers as pundits and failing to disclose their roles as well..
If Kurtz wants to give an honest assessment of the coverage of this presidential election, there's a lot more wrong with it than just pundits getting predictions wrong. And what I noted here is just the tip of the iceberg. Endless focus on polls and the horse race, rather than substance, the issue of media consolidation, fake balance where there is none and a host of other issues are a lot bigger problem than talking heads being rewarded for failure.
Full transcript of Kurtz and his panel's remarks below the fold.
KURTZ: In any other profession, if you are wrong, repeatedly wrong, you pay a price. Maybe even lose your job. But what if you're a professional pundit and you blow the big one like these folks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: We're going to win by a landslide. It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history.
HANNITY: I got this Romney three points.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm picking Romney to narrowly win.
LARRY KUDLOW, NBC NEWS: This just further evidence why I believe he will sweep the Midwest and win this election going away. And I'm now predicting a 330 electoral vote landslide. Yes, that's right, 330 electoral votes.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: All of my thinking says Romney big.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Romney big, Romney landslide. Jane Hall, should pundits pay any price for being spectacularly wrong?
HALL: No, I think it should run under there. I mean, Karl Rove, to me, is the best and worst example of a man who raised $300 million. I'm sure those millionaires are trying to find out what happened and why didn't any of their people win.
KURTZ: That's his political role?
HALL: His political arm, which is his pundit arm. And he's writing op-eds for "The Wall Street Journal". Dick Morris is still there. There's no penalty for being wildly wrong.
And, in fact, they continue to be asked to punditize again.
KURTZ: Except for the fact that we have the videotape as we just played, Amy. It seems like it's just kind of disappears into the ether. Next week, they come back and say, yes, I miscalculate. I didn't do the right weighing on the polling or whatever.
ARGETSINGER: Yes, but here's the thing. I don't want to blame the media being part of the media, but let's face it. There's going to be a lot more interest if someone says unlike what's been said before, if someone says something risky or daring or counterintuitive. You know, why should we care what any of these guys have to say in the first place? Let alone --
KURTZ: Well, because presumably they're smart students of politics who understand the electoral trends and polling, and then they have more insight than the average person. I mean, or they look good on TV or cute. I don't know.
ARGETSINGER: Because they have something interesting to say and that's why they're getting booked.
HALL: It's new to have political operatives -- it's relatively new to have political operatives be pundits.
KURTZ: I want to come back to that point. But let me ask about, Bob Cusack.
We have to point out that people we all just played there, they are conservative commentators who at the same that they were predicting were rooting for a Romney victory. And I'm not saying this to beat up on the right. If Barack Obama had lost this election and there were a lot of liberals out there saying the president is going to win a landslide, I would ask the same question, does that undermine their credibility?
CUSACK: I think it does. You know, Dick Morris is columnist for "The Hill" and he wrote a mea culpa saying why he was wrong. And I think the punishment is that tape. I mean, that looks pretty bad, when I make those predictions.
And obviously, I think both on the left and the right, they can't separate their rooting interest sometimes. They get -- think, OK. Romney can -- they look at -- cherry pick certain data to say, well, he's going win and clearly there were some major mistakes.
Now, I think four years from now, we're going to remember that. You're going to play those predictions --
KURTZ: Nobody's going to remember this four years from now. They're going to come out with fancy new sets and say here's why I think Marco Rubio is going to win or Jeb Bush, or -- you name it.
But this does get to the core questions -- you know, obviously, Karl Rove took a lot of heat from it on election night saying Romney wasn't out of it in Ohio when in fact, FOX News and everybody else said he was. Were these honest miscalculations because everybody in the business makes mistakes especially when they put and try to read the crystal ball, or were they just being partisan cheerleaders?:
HALL: Well, I don't really know. Watching FOX last night, when I saw long faces, I knew that the Romney campaign had told FOX they thought they were going to lose, way before this happened, if you really read the tea leaves.
I don't know. I don't know whether Karl Rove generally didn't believe it. But the interesting thing is if you were a viewer to FOX, including Romney, you apparently had trouble believing what reality was because you had been so told -- snowed I think is the word we used to use. And I think that is a problem for news organizations --
KURTZ: You don't think FOX viewers went into election night thinking this would be a close election?
HALL: I don't really know. But all I know is they clicked off right at after it was declared.
KURTZ: Well, there was all that push back about the polling, and so those Unskewed Polls site, in other words, the polling was wrong and, you know, some number of Republicans I talked to, Republican analysts said, you know, there use going to be so much more enthusiasm on the GOP side to get Obama out of the White House that you have to weigh these polls differently.
Well, it turned out the polls are right.
ARGETSINGER: Well, this is what happens. I mean, if you cover a campaign, you even been in that position where you see everyone's in the bubble. You're surrounded by people who are voting your way, and wherever you go, there are big crowds and it becomes very hard to look at any hard data that counteracts the feeling you have around you.
KURTZ: How did we get into this whole sort of culture of prediction? I mean, the media have always kind of given you a wink, a nod, a lean this way or that way. Here's what's likely to happen.
Now you come out there and say, Mitt Romney's going to win in a landslide and you hope you're right. CUSACK: I mean, it's more blatant than it used to be, because I mean, obviously, all campaign coverage is geared toward who's going to win.
KURTZ: Right. It's one thing to be an NLF analyst and say, you know, the Jets are going to win big on Sunday. You're wrong, it's sports. This is the democracy at stake.
So, is it -- is it that the rewards are such that you've got be out there but stick your neck out and read the tea leaves?
CUSACK: I think so. I think -- as you were saying, it's provocative and it gets headlines and that's what cable news is about.
KURTZ: About getting ratings, about getting clicks online and it's about -- you know, if you just say, well, on the one hand, on the other hand, it's not clear to me. But the data would seem to indicate you don't get invited back.
HALL: And you don't get picked up online for which you say either.
KURTZ: And online culture is driving a lot of this.
Amy Argetsinger, Jane Hall, and Bob Cusack -- thanks very much for joining us.
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