You have to believe things are really getting foul out there in cable land when Howard Kurtz -- whose willingness to look the other way when it comes to all kinds of vile and kooky wingnuttery is the stuff of legend -- finally reaches his threshold, as he apparently did Sunday on his 'Reliable Sources' program:
It's getting ugly out there. And by out there, I mean the great cable echo chamber. Six months after Barack Obama took office, the vitriol that often marked the Bush years when Iraq and terror were the driving issues is now being directed at his successor. And apparently, you can say just about anything about the president of the United States and still stay on the air. The national outrage meter doesn't even seem to move very much, so accustomed have we become about incendiary. My personal needle has hit the maximum.
What really pushed Kurtz over the line -- in addition to the Lou Dobbs 'Birther' controversy -- was Glenn Beck's charge that President Obama is a 'racist':
KURTZ: So, is some of this cable commentary getting out of control? Should there be a line you can't cross without getting fired? And why are we still debating the Skip Gates arrest?
Joining us now, Michel Martin, host of "Tell Me More" on National Public Radio; Amanda Carpenter, reporter and columnist for "The Washington Times"; and Michelle Cottle, senior editor of "The New Republic." Michel Martin, is calling the president a racist, not saying that he made a racist statement, but that he hates White people, is that simply out of bounds?
KURTZ: And yet, there doesn't seem to be any great uproar about it.
MARTIN: I don't know. That's the part that surprises me a little. But there's a lot -- I guess it would be funny if it weren't so -- and here's a word that we've heard a lot of lately -- stupid.
I mean, here is a man who has a white mother, here is a man who was raised by two white grandparents who obviously adored him and who he adores. Here's a man who's better at so-called "white culture" than Glenn Beck is, and yet we have to hear this kind of commentary. It's quite remarkable.
Kurtz goes on to wonder how Beck and the rest of the inflammatory right-wing pundit class gets away this:
KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, I've interviewed Glenn Beck back when he worked for CNN's Headline News, and you ask him about his inflammatory statement, and he says, "You know, I'm just a rodeo clown." He kind of portrays himself as an entertainer.
So, my question is, how does he get away with this? He doesn't seem to be paying any price. If anything, he's getting more attention.
COTTLE: Two words: crazy sells. I mean, if you're talking about political punditry, it does not serve you well to go out there and talk nuance and whatever, or at least it doesn't get you the big audience. And more than that, the committed audience.
I mean, normal people have lots to do with their time. What you have with Glenn Beck is, the crazier he gets, the more obsessive he draws. And these people sit and watch every word and buy every book and go to every speech, and it's great for him and it's great for Fox, so they're not going to do a thing about it.
KURTZ: So, playing to the base, so to speak?
COTTLE: Yes. 'Base' in both terms of the word.
MARTIN: And the fact is, big numbers in the cable world is a relative term; is it not?
MARTIN: I mean, the big stars in cable would not draw a needle in the broader network universe. But it's great for selling books.
KURTZ: Right. You get two or three million viewers in cable and you are a superstar. And you worry -- you basically -- you can make a very nice living catering to those people, even if everyone else says, racist? How can you call the president a racist? Especially a president, ironically enough, who usually tries to avoid or neutralize racial issues, except in this case.
Actually, the main reason they get away with this is that people like Howard Kurtz have a history of excusing it. But we wouldn't expect Kurtz to tackle that problem.