By now, you've probably heard that the Daily Beast dropped veteran media critic Howard Kurtz after he made an error regarding NBA player Jason Collins, who recently announced that he is gay. (Kurtz dinged Collins for failing to disclose his past engagement to a woman, when, in fact, Collins had written about that engagement in the very Sports Illustrated article in which he came out.)
There are suggestions that Kurtz was dedicating too much time to other projects, but the timing — and the internet outrage spawned by the Collins column — all seem to indicate it was Kurtz's Collins blunder that precipitated the end of his tenure at the Beast.
I have a few thoughts on this, with the caveat that we see through the glass darkly here.
1. It occurs to me that two of the three primary reasons I would regularly read at the Daily Beast (Andrew Sullivan and now Kurtz) are gone. At least we have Justin Green. (Note: I'm speaking here of the bloggers. Of course, there are plenty of other good columnists there, too...)
2. As Breitbart's John Nolte tweeted:
Kurtz's sin was making this error with a sacred cow. Had he made EXACT same error with a Palin or Bachmann, media & Beast woulda shrugged.
— John Nolte(@NolteNC) May 2, 2013
3. We all make mistakes, and Kurtz's sin (aside from the sacred cow thing) seems to be that he busts his ass to get scoops and (understanding how the new media works), to get clicks. This is a competitive business. Mistakes are inevitable, and it seems to me that new media outlets might regret sending a message that says honest mistakes — which are made because someone was too fast or aggressive — are career enders.
4. It's not like the guy doesn't have a long track record of success. As Commentary's John Podhoretz tweeted:
My guess is that, in terms of sheer word output over decades, Howie Kurtz has made far fewer errors than almost anyone else in journalism.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) May 2, 2013
5. The thing I really don't get is why so many reporters and journalists on Twitter were gleeful at Kurtz's error. Now I know it's hard to criticize people for criticizing someone like Kurtz who is himself a media critic. He's a ripe target. Still, Kurtz sort of had to do media criticism. Up until a few hours ago, it was his job. You may not like it if he goes on TV and talks about you, or writes a column about you, but that's a lot better than having hundreds of your colleagues mock you on Twitter. I'd much rather have someone write a blog post or column debunking one of my ideas than have them troll me and bully me on Twitter. And we journalists are not doing wonders for our reputation by piling on the schadenfreude in the wake of Kurtz's dismissal.
If anyone should be sympathetic to his plight, it should be journalists who will make errors of their own someday, too.
People who walk a high wire for a living shouldn't be so overjoyed to see someone fall.
(I must confess there is a personal angle here for me, too. A year or so ago, Kurtz and I tangled on his CNN show. It got a little contentious, and we both wrote about it afterwards. Having done a lot of TV in the past, I can assure you that guests are blackballed all the time — for much lesser offenses. And whether I was right or wrong, most hosts would have probably never invited me back. But Kurtz continued having me on. He may be more forgiving than his former boss at the Beast.)