He Was Against Exploiting It for Ratings Before He Was for It
Washington Post and CNN media critic Howard Kurtz dedicated an entire segment of this past Sunday's Reliable Sources to a gratuitous pie fight between two players involved in Nadya "Octomom" Suleman's never-ending nationally televised freak show. But a little over a month ago, Kurtz decried the media's exploitation of the octuplet mother for ratings and for doing so under the false pretense that concern for her babies' well-being drove their 24/7 coverage.
What a difference a few weeks make.
In a February 15 edition of Reliable Sources, Kurtz asked Headline News host Jane Velez-Mitchell, "Jane Velez-Mitchell, you've been talking about this constantly on cable for more than a week. All right. Let's be blunt here. Aren't the media feasting on this terrible situation?"
Addressing the former editorial director of Star magazine, Bonnie Fuller, in the same segment, Kurtz asked, "Now, surely, Bonnie, you're not suggesting that we, in the media, are doing this purely out of our own good-hearted concern for these little babies and that ratings and grabbing attention has nothing to do with it?"
Other key quotes from this February 15 Reliable Sources segment:
KURTZ: Jane Velez-Mitchell, here's what drives me crazy. We've kind of touched on it here. I wonder if we've reached a point with these cable melodramas where at some -- we cross some sort of invisible threshold, where it's no longer about Nadya Suleman. It's no longer about the 14 kids. It's about continuing an argument that we can package and sell. You know, "Coming up, should the kids be taken away?" And it just takes on a momentum of its own, whether there's any new developments or not. [...]
KURTZ: All right. Well, I'm glad to have you admit that right up front.
Then, in a CNN article published prior to and promoting Sunday's segment, Kurtz began by reiterating his prior issue with the media capitalizing off the octuplet saga.
He even cited Velez-Mitchell's quote from the February 15 segment.
But then came this curiously self-serving and timely twist:
But I lost my last remaining traces of sympathy when Suleman turned down free care from a group of volunteers, which had been arranged by Phil McGraw, the syndicated talk show host. Maybe Dr. Phil was grabbing the limelight, too, but at least the overwhelmed mother got something out of it.
The volunteer nurses came from the group Angels in Waiting, and [Gloria] Allred, their lawyer, went to Suleman's California home to check on how things were going. It was there that she got into a shouting match with Suleman's lawyer, Jeff Czech.
It was a media mob scene, with a horde of cameras, wires and microphones while the Angels tried to care for the first two premature babies to be brought home from the hospital. Allred and Czech blamed each other, as they recounted in a clash this week on Dr. Phil's program. [...]
Needless to say, I've got plenty to ask Allred on CNN Sunday morning, including why one of the nannies called the police to have her thrown out of the home.
So Kurtz initially calls out the media for extreme bottom-feeding and for defending their actions with disingenuous claims of altruism. Then he announces his plans to troll the same cesspool, justifying his actions by borrowing the same bogus defense.
What's more, Kurtz then manages to end this article with a mind-boggling lack of self-awareness, returning to his original criticism.
Everyone involved claims to be primarily concerned about the babies. But media outlets also seem to be feasting on the tragedy as it drags on through yet another ratings period.
With his latest Reliable Sources Octomom segment this past Sunday -- a Crossfire-like vapid shouting match between Angels in Waiting lawyer Allred and Ray Richmond, television writer for The Hollywood Reporter -- Kurtz purports to examine questionable media coverage in which he, the media critic, jumps into the shallow end of the cesspool to also feast "on the tragedy as it drags on through yet another ratings period."
Kurtz confirmed his concern for the children and the media circus surrounding the Suleman story in a Twitter message he posted on Sunday at 9:21 a.m. after his article became the "Most Popular on CNN." Less than an hour before the Allred/Richmond spectacle aired on Reliable Sources, Kurtz wrote:
My Octomom story on CNN.com got 550,000 hits in one day. Wowza. Now I know what people are *really* interested in.
Kurtz seems to signal that he's in on the joke. So, you know, it's okay. The problem is, he's not just in on the joke, he's part of the joke of which he's supposed to be critiquing.
How might Kurtz have better spent a segment critiquing the media?
Sure, it's no Octomom. It's merely the kind of story that, consciously or not, affects every single American when millions of them are deprived of its coverage.
It's "wowza" that really matters.
UPDATE: Two related must-reads on Kurtz today: Eric Boehlert's "Howard Kurtz plays dumb about...Howard Kurtz" over at Media Matters and David Ehrenstein's "How to Succeed in Journalism Without Really Trying," which ends with this hilariously apt film clip: