Why The Daily Beast and Howard Kurtz are breaking up

The host of Reliable Sources really stepped in it with a factually incorrect column chiding a gay NBA player

Howard Kurtz
(Image credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

This afternoon, The Daily Beast announced it was parting ways with media critic Howard Kurtz. The announcement came within hours of the site retracting a column Kurtz wrote that erroneously chided NBA player Jason Collins — who this week became the first active male athlete in a major American team sport to come out as gay — for not being completely honest about his past.

In a short statement, Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown did not cite a specific reason for Kurtz's termination, though many observers were quick to read between the lines.

The Daily Beast and Howard Kurtz have parted company. Under the direction of our newly named political director John Avlon we have added new momentum and authority to our Washington bureau with columnists such as Jon Favreau, Joshua Dubois and Stuart Stevens joining our outstanding DC team of Eleanor Clift, Daniel Klaidman, Michael Tomasky, Eli Lake, David Frum and Michelle Cottle — giving us one of the best politics teams in the business which was instrumental in this week's Webby win for Best News site. [Tina Brown, via Politico]

What was left unsaid is that in Kurtz's recent article titled "Jason Collins' Other Secret," the media critic wrote that while it was great that Collins had come out, the NBA player had failed to mention that he was once engaged to a woman.

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"I'm sure it wasn't easy becoming the first male athlete in a major sports league to come out as gay," Kurtz wrote. "But I have to assess a foul for the incomplete nature of the disclosure. Did Collins think his longtime squeeze was just going to stay silent?"

Here's the problem: Collins did mention his ex-fiancee in the big Sports Illustrated profile revealing his sexual orientation — and quite plainly, too.

"When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged," Collins wrote.

That disconnect set off a torrent of mockery directed at Kurtz, with some wondering if he'd even bothered to read the original story. Salon's Alex Pareene said Kurtz's article "seems like the natural result of a lazy hack thoughtlessly weighing in on the news without actually thinking (or reading the article he was weighing in on)." Pareene also knocked Kurtz for seeming too distracted by a side project, the Daily Download, a site unaffiliated with the Beast, or with Kurtz's weekly CNN show Reliable Sources. (The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone has also questioned Kurtz's Daily Download commitment.) Here's Pareene:

His crimes in the past have been primarily boringness and acting as a friendly mouthpiece for self-serving powerful interests. This is different. The Jason Collins screw-up may not have been malicious in intent (though the smug mocking in the Daily Download video is certainly uncharitable), but it indicates that Kurtz is stretching himself too thin. If Kurtz wants to do his dumb web videos for the dumb website he presumably has some secret monetary interest in, fine, let him do that. If Newsweek and CNN are going to continue paying his salaries, though, they should really demand better work from him." [Salon]

Kurtz initially defended the article, then tweaked the wording to say Collins had "downplayed" the engagement rather than omitted it completely.

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Yet as many pointed out, of course Collins' ex only recently found out he was gay — the big story was that he'd just come out, after all. So less than 24 hours after the post went up, the Daily Beast issued a full retraction.

"The piece contained several errors, resulting in a misleading characterization of NBA player Collins and the story he co-wrote in Sports Illustrated in which he came out as gay," the site said in a statement. "The Daily Beast sincerely regrets Kurtz's error — and any implication that Collins attempted to hide or obscure the engagement."

It's not the first time Kurtz has caught flak for a major factual inaccuracy. In 2011, he issued a months-late correction to a post that incorrectly misattributed quotes from his own interview with Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) spokesperson to the congressman himself.

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.