A criticism of media critics:
Brian Stelter, formerly of the New York Times, has taken over the host role of CNN’s Reliable Sources. Former host Howard Kurtz has moved to Fox where he hosts MediaBuzz (ironically competing against his old CNN show – both airing Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. CST).
First, Brian Stelter is doing an adequate job so far (he has only been doing this for a month or so) but he really needs to toughen up with guests.
When interviewing Slate reporter Aisha Harris, he failed to ask some hard basic questions. Harris wrote a piece about Santa stating that he did not have to be white. Fox anchor Megyn Kelly then stirred up the controversy by suggesting Santa is, in fact, white.
Harris appeared with Stelter to discuss the controversy. At one point, Stelter asked Harris why she had not appeared on Fox. She replied she had been given only a couple of hours notice, which did not seem like a very good response. He did not press. When he did ask if she might appear in the future to offer her personal perspective, she said she wasn’t sure. At this point, Stelter was too agreeable and dropped the subject. A good media critic at that level needs to press her. Why didn’t she want to have her say? Was she afraid Fox would mistreat her? This was a true missed opportunity.
In another incident, he introduced a guest to talk about the Duck Dynasty controversy, in which cable network A&E suspended the program’s star, Phil Robertson, for homophobic comments. The introduction was set up with a list of more important news stories of the week. So Stelter asked his guest why, given all the “real news” of the week, the Duck Dynasty controversy garnered so much attention. His guest immediately replied that it was a light week for news. Despite the introduction, Stelter immediately agreed with the guest’s assertion.
Simply put, Stelter has to be tougher on guests who may previously have been his colleagues if he is to be effective in his role as objective media critic.
Which brings us to Howard Kurtz. Kurtz was thorough and tough on CNN’s Reliable Sources, inviting a wide range of guests with varying viewpoints.
But his move to Fox has hurt him. The biggest problem is that too many guests are made up of “Fox Contributors.” Although he still has some outsiders, the balance has shifted. It seems as if he is losing his independence.
And a weak link every week is Lauren Ashburn, who is Fox’s Twitter blogger. She is overly reliant on notes and doesn’t add much to the show. Yet she is always on the first panel and then appears later in her own segment with Kurtz. Fox should let Howard Kurtz be Howard Kurtz and let him do his job.
How much attention do reporters doing live reports pay to their introductions? Sometimes, not much.
Take the case of Channel 5’s Elizabeth Matthews reporting on Dec. 30, 2013 about the new “no-refusal” zone law in St. Louis. It requires people to take a breathalyzer test if stopped for potentially driving while intoxicated in the city. If the person refuses, the officers can and will quickly get a warrant for a blood test.
This is the transcript from 5 p.m.:
Anchor: Newschannel 5’s Elizabeth Matthews joins us now live from the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office. And Elizabeth, I’m guessing this is probably timed to go right along with New Year’s Ever.
Matthews: It is. And that is just kind of a coincidence.”
Huh? It is either intentional or not.
And it wasn’t much better at 6 p.m. when she more or less ignored the similar introduction altogether.
Anchor: Elizabeth Matthews joins us live from the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office in downtown St. Louis. (What about) the timing of this, Elizabeth, on New Year’s Eve?
Matthews: Kelly, they say that this has been in the works for a while…
Maybe so-but was it timed to occur New Year’s Eve or not? Watching Channel 5, we may never know.
Finally, it can be hard doing a live shot. Sometimes reporters doing live reports simply say things with just too many words. Take the Minneapolis reporter, Jamie Yuccas, reporting on CBS News about cold temperatures in Minnesota. She said, “Temperatures reached negative 30 to negative 40 degrees below zero.”
That is like the phrase totally destroyed. Redundant. It is either destroyed or damaged but not both. Temperatures are either negative or below zero but not both.
And Channel 5’s Ryan Dean, covering MODOT’s street clearing efforts, said, “Now they are focusing their focus on the side roads.”
Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece by media critic Tripp Frohlichstein.