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Howard Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” Show Hits a Segment Nadir

–Richard E. Vatz

Reliable Sources is a generally excellent — sometimes exceptionally excellent — CNN media criticism and public affairs show which regular readers of my blogs know to be one I respect and use in my classes.

The show analyzes issues in media criticism that include choices of what is covered, how they’re covered and general fairness in coverage, particularly political fairness. There are other matters examined, including new media and treatment and safety of reporters, etc.

The show usually has a combination of knowledgeable media participants and both sides of the liberal-conservative divide represented, although most often there are more liberal-left players. Moderator Kurtz will usually play the conservative devil’s advocate in such situations.

I watch this program literally every Sunday, and the show of July 3, 2011 was generally strong, but it had the worst segment I have yet seen on Reliable Sources. Moreover, when the incongruous excesses manifested themselves, Mr. Kurtz would not step in to fix them.

The guests were liberal John Aravosis, the founder of Americablog.com, and conservative Dennis Prager, a commentator and talk show host.

The topic was New York’s becoming the 6th and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage. I was most interested to hear a discussion of these issues because, although conservative, I find myself conflicted on the question of gay marriage, its consequences and religious aspects, and how these considerations are reported by the media.

Instead of incisive and comprehensive commentary, the discussion was a childish fight between Mr. Aravosis and Mr. Prager, with irrelevant and distracting personal animosities initiated at every turn, mostly by the former.

He consistently interrupted, not just a few times but virtually every time Mr. Prager spoke. He (Aravosis) effected throughout two segments over-the-top, nonverbal, taunting incredulity and exasperation in the place of substantive responses. His contemptuous facial reactions were then followed by disingenuous variations of “What are you talking about,” implying not disagreement but that Mr. Prager was making unintelligible points.

Mr. Prager said “There is a war against the notion of gender identity.”

Mr. Aravosis responded, “That’s just bizarre; that’s just bizarre.”

Mr. Prager said adoption agencies would view preferences and presumptions for traditional marriages as “the equivalent of racism.”

Mr. Aravosis responded that “Now Dennis is saying I’m trying to turn him into a woman.”

There was more, but it was depressingly consistent: Mr. Aravosis in near-apoplexy over the allegedly impossible-to-understand gibberish of Dennis Prager and no addressing of the latter’s points, all of which were in fact perfectly clear, if not beyond criticism. But Mr. Aravosis was not interested in an exchange of views, just a childish talking over his interlocutor’s points.

Too bad; I am still looking for a good exchange on this complicated matter. Mr. Kurtz should have only guests who elucidate, not obfuscate.

It’s almost always such a valuable, substantive, sophisticated and nearly-fair analytical discussion on Reliable Sources, but the moderator should never allow a sub-par segment as inferior as this one to transpire without his correcting it.

Dr. Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University






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