No Comment — November 1, 2007, 12:08 am

Rachel Sklar Responds

A little more than two weeks ago, I wrote a post, When Critics Are Really Pumpkins commenting on the Huffington Post’s Rachel Sklar and her transfigured critical attitude towards Howard Kurtz. Rachel responds:

Hi Scott, I just discovered your Oct. 13th blog post raising questions about
the nature of my relationship with/objectivity about Howard Kurtz. It might
have behooved you to contact me or perhaps read my work a little more
thoroughly, but in the absence of that I thought I’d respond in person and
give you a little more context. I would have commented on the blog but there
doesn’t seem to be a mechanism for that. I do think that after the way in
which you impugn my integrity in the column, it might also behoove you to
update and/or clarify it.

You said that you were looking for blog posts about Kurtz following his
Daily Show interview – my guess is that you found mine because it’s linked
on Kurtz’s blog, as part of the early coverage, as my post was, based on
early excerpts before the book was even available and specifically
represented as such (and now that I am reading the book, I can back myself
up – I said “it looks to be a thoroughly engrossing, engaging and more than
occasionally juicy read” – and it is. I read it on the V-train end to end
the other night and was thoroughly engrossed). Maybe that’s just because it’s
my beat, or maybe it might be interesting to a layperson – but even so, I’m
trying to figure out exactly where I misrepresented anything here. I
provided excerpts, linked to the big WaPo story, and backed up the claim to
“juicy” by relating some of the previously unpublished news in the book
(like Kurtz’s account of what actually happened with Elizabeth Vargas at
ABC). If you had bothered to do a cursory search of my coverage you would
have seen that. You also would have seen that I covered a controversy with
respect to the book (re: the Dave Blum scoop about Dan Rather, published two
years ago but touted by Kurtz as breaking) (” News You Can (Re)Use: Kurtz
Scoop First Broken By Blum”), plus critiqued Kurtz’s use of his own airtime
to push his book on “Reliable Sources.”

As a media critic, I take in Kurtz’s columns, blog posts and show regularly
– it’s part of my job. Also part of my job is occasionally offering my
opinion on those shows when asked (I think a whopping three times so far,
maybe four). Since my last appearance on “Reliable Sources” I have written
about this book, which falls squarely within my beat, and also nailed Kurtz
on running a segment criticizing Fox for running bodacious B-roll of young
women in a segment where that very same B-roll was running. As for the
“before” you mention in your piece – you are entirely correct that I was
very critical of Kurtz for pushing the “media negative on Iraq” meme last
year and I wrote several strongly-worded blog posts to that effect, and have
also referred back to that in blog posts since then. It’s a little
simplistic to describe that as my having ” ferociously trashed Howard Kurtz
and the key ideas in his book” – I hadn’t even heard of his book, I was
ferociously trashing his spin that the media were only reporting the bad
news in Iraq and/or about the administration. His book makes the contention
that network news contributed significantly to turning public opinion
against the war with a shift in the tone of coverage, which makes sense
(though there is a chicken/egg argument there about which came first,
really). Those two things are very different – that network news exercised
influence and adopted a critical tone in reporting, vs. that the media was
deliberately skewing negative to make the war look bad. The way I see it,
reporting bad news about the war was reporting the news – which makes it
easy to see the validity of the first statement, and impossible to agree
with the second.

“Sometime between last June and the first week of October, “is this dude on
drugs” turned into “exciting,” “juicy” and “wonderful.” Now that’s a
remarkable odyssey.” Yes – you’d think you might have made the slightest
effort to trace it. I’ve written about Howard Kurtz scores of times since
then, as I have about war coverage, TV news, anchors, ratings, and Jon
Stewart (and for the record have been on the Jon-Stewart-is-real-news train
since I started looking at media, back when I was at FishbowlNY). So to
imply a road-to-Damascus conversion that just happened to coincide with
Kurtz giving me facetime is a pretty serious allegation that you might have
invested some effort in actually backing up.

Finally, you misinterpreted my kicker from the initial blog post (“There’s
more—and apparently it’s already available at your bookstore! So go buy it,
or don’t and wait for the juicy bits to leak out on your favorite blog”).
Obviously the book is available at bookstores – I mean, duh. The implication
here was, “you don’t have to buy it because, just as I have published juicy
bits today, so too shall I publish juicy bits going forward.” It’s a
new-media-eats-old-media reference. It is meant less as an earnest
exhortation to line Howie Kurtz’s pockets than an arch observation of the
double-edged sword of coverage, particularly in this brave new world of
blogs.

“Is it cynical to be suspicious of the dealings that produced a love-fest
between Rachel Sklar and Howard Kurtz?” Not at all, based on what you
presented – it’s just seriously amateur hour for a media critic with your
credentials to leave it at that without even bothering to look deeper. One
might even call it “a little sleazy and dishonest.” Either way, I would have
expected more from Harper’s.

There you go! Criticism of your blog post from “a critic who is actually
critical.” What do you think of my case? I and evil-twin Rachel Sklar await
your response.

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