Whoops! Howard Kurtz Neglects to Mention CBS Hawking DVD of Steve Kroft's Softballs With Obama

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz performed one of his periodic "beat sweeteners," playing up the network TV stars and pleasing network publicity departments. The sugar cube on Monday was handed out to CBS reporter Steve Kroft, now acknowledged as the top on-air dog of 60 Minutes. But Kurtz left something out about Kroft’s series of interviews with Obama: CBS News sells them on a DVD for Obama-lovers called Road to the White House. It’s still advertised on the 60 Minutes home page.

When asked during a Monday chat session at washingtonpost.com, Kurtz said that was news to him: "I was unaware of that, but you know what? Several networks have done that, and all the major newspapers and newsmagazines (including The Post) have been peddling special commemorative issues about Obama's victory. I'm not defending that, but clearly these companies see a marketing opportunity and are trying to make a few bucks."

But doesn’t that suggest that newspapers and television networks are making products that match the love affair of the Obama campaign and its supporters instead of challenging the official narrative?

Here’s the promotional lingo that CBS News uses to advertise these softball interviews: "See the candidate making sandwiches for his young daughters, the rising political superstar on the campaign trail, the confident candidate poised for victory, and the president-elect with his future first lady reflecting publicly for the first time on the fact that they will be the first African-American couple to occupy the White House."

Kurtz spent most of his column inches praising Kroft's journalistic professionalism and doggedness, with CBS-boosting passages like this:

The CBS program continues to feature such standout correspondents as Lesley Stahl, Scott Pelley and Bob Simon, with Safer and Katie Couric in part-time roles. But Kroft's ascendancy reflects a faster, newsier edge -- including last week's sit-down with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke -- that is propelling "60 Minutes" to a banner year.The program is averaging about 15 million viewers this season, up from 12.9 million last season, and has risen to become the 13th most popular show on television. [Executive Producer Jeff] Fager, who took over five years ago, has all but banished celebrity fluff; "60" hasn't profiled a single movie star this season.

Kurtz doesn't seem to match that "banishing celebrity fluff" with this sentence near the article's end: "But occasionally he lightens up, such as in a feature last month on Coldplay." Rock stars aren't celebrity fluff? 

Kurtz did mention criticism from the left and the right, citing a Kyle Drennen article from NewsBusters:  

At times, Kroft's interviews have drawn flak from the left and right. When he sat down with Obama's top campaign deputies on election night -- calling them "talented, laid-back and idealistic" -- the conservative Media Research Center said that "Steve Kroft abandoned hard-hitting journalism and instead offered a glowing profile."

In 2007, when Kroft profiled Clarence Thomas -- and said that the perception of him as a "sullen, intellectual lightweight" was "unfair and untrue" -- New York Times columnist Frank Rich accused him of giving the Supreme Court justice a "free pass." Kroft pressed Thomas, who was publishing his memoirs, about the explosive 1991 confirmation hearings involving Anita Hill, but Thomas repeatedly deflected the questions, and much of the segment was devoted to his life story.

"I thought people were more interested in who this guy was, or is, than they were in what happened with Anita Hill," Kroft says. Instead, he says, "they wanted me to sit there and beat him up about Anita Hill. . . . I didn't have to ask him tough questions for the audience to see the bitterness."

Kroft even took on The O'Reilly Factor in February to promote the 60 Minutes Obama DVD. See that here.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis