“Reliable Sources” Watch: Too Much Home Cooking

–Richard E. Vatz

Readers of my Red Maryland blogs as well as students of mine know how much I enjoy, respect and admire Howard Kurtz and his Reliable Sources media criticism show. It is literally the best show on media criticism. It is wise in its choices of topics, generally excellent, but not always, in its choices of guests, and unfailing in its articulation of opposing political points of view, despite not always having as many conservative journalists on as liberals.

Today’s show — specifically the second half, and that is somewhat of a compensating fact — included two segments advertising financial expert Erin Burnett’s debut as anchor at CNN tomorrow. Most of the rare bald product insertion on this show has been the inclusion of a disproportionate number of journalists from Mr. Kurtz’s blogging home base, The Beast.

The inclusion of the double segment of Ms. Burnett seemed to have no justification other than her imminent anchoring the “Out Front” show on CNN.

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Let me stipulate that Ms. Burnett is quite competent (and perhaps uniquely comely) for an anchor, but there appears to be no issue justifying this exorbitant coverage of her CNN “coming.”

The questions from Howard Kurtz seem to validate this conclusion: is the big picture lost when CNBC, Burnett’s former network, was “so breathless” in its coverage of business gyrations; is the unemployment jobs story underplayed; is there sufficient analysis of how presidential policy may not transform the economy; was it difficult to leave CNBC, and is it hard to make the transition from marketing expert to anchor; is Ms. Burnett going to be opinionated like other anchors, and does she feel pressured to get ratings her predecessors have failed to achieve; and “how does it feel to be the star of this forthcoming hour?”

Perhaps this untoward expenditure of one quarter of a critically important and generally excellent show of media analysis is, in one of Kurtz’s favorite words, an “outlier.”

The danger is that while there is usually little to criticize in Kurtz’s overseeing and handling of this show, there are few scribes who will strongly criticize such a powerful source whose evaluation of media is so well respected.

As a media critic who has nothing to gain or lose from praising or knocking “Reliable Sources” or its host Howard Kurtz, let me say that today’s installment does not reflect this sophisticated and generally evenhanded show’s finest hour.

Not by a long shot.

Professor Vatz teaches an upper-level course in Media Criticism at Towson University

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