Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz treaded on dangerous ground Monday, covering a CNN personality (when Kurtz is also a CNN personality.) His profile of Roland Martin acknowledges that Martin was brought on CNN routinely as a liberal Obama supporter during the last campaign, which makes it a little silly for him to be the fill-in host of a show called "No Bias, No Bull." But then we learn that Martin "balks at being pigeonholed." On an inside page, the headline was "In-Your-Face Pundit Who Won’t Be Pigeonholed."
Kurtz also played up Martin’s phone call to his minister friend. The front-page headline was "Piety and Ambition Drive New CNN Host." (The online headline is "A Host Looks to Heaven.") Kurtz quotes "Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Chicago's Salem Baptist Church," to say Martin is dedicated to evangelical Christianity. "As self-confident as he is, he relies on a source from within: God," Meeks says. Kurtz doesn’t explain Meeks is a Democrat state senator, Obama spiritual advisor, and a source of controversial N-word remarks.
CNN allowed Martin to host prime-time programming on the weekends in 2008, and they’re planning the same kind of schedule once Campbell Brown returns. CNN is responding in part to complaints by black activists that the cable networks don’t have a black host in prime time. But why does it have to be someone with as pro-Obama a record as Martin? Kurtz reported:
Martin first met Obama at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner in 2003 and they have stayed in touch. He was part of a group of liberal commentators granted an audience with the president-elect days before the inauguration. In television, says Martin, "you cannot have the same people talking to folks in a changed America."
In other words, Barack Obama’s ascension to power should be matched by Roland Martin’s ascension to a prime-time hosting seat.
After his relentless huckstering for Barack and Michelle Obama, Martin now wants to present himself as somehow who can host a "No Bias" show without a laugh track. CNN's president is the first spin controller to insist it's plausible:
CNN President Jon Klein says Martin "had a quality about him that made you stop and listen to what he had to say. I think it's because he's a professional journalist wrapped in a bundle of energy...He lets you know how much he cares."
Still, the 40-year-old Houston native might seem an odd choice to host Brown's "No Bias, No Bull." During the campaign, CNN used him as a liberal commentator who backed Barack Obama, regularly pairing him with a conservative. But Martin balks at being pigeonholed.
"When you create these boxes, frankly, people only look at the boxes," he says. "We have to open up our boxes and realize there are actually people out there who refuse to be driven by ideology or party labels."
Martin says he isn't a party-line liberal. He is opposed to abortion and backs the death penalty. He criticized the Obama administration for opposing school vouchers for poor students. He cast his first presidential vote for George H.W. Bush.
Klein says Martin's left-leaning stance is not a problem because "now we're asking him not to express his point of view but to host interesting conversations among a range of people."
Kurtz tried to back up Klein on the point-of-view argument:
Martin roamed the set last week, rarely sitting down, taking calls from viewers and challenging his guests. He moderated a debate over Notre Dame protests against a planned appearance by Obama based on the president's support for abortion rights -- but never divulged his own opinion.
Let's hope Kurtz is not talking about the segment Matthew Balan hammered last week, where Martin kept insisting that Barack Obama was an acceptable speaker at a Catholic university because he claimed (wrongly) that the church opposes the death penalty with the same intensity as it opposes abortion. As usual, Martin was lining up with Obama.
Just last month in the Houston Chronicle, Martin was claiming that being an opinionated activist was just fine:
“It’s a unique position,” he says. “CNN understands it. Essence understands it. I believe in taking a position and advocating what I believe. We are in a different world in media, with traditional shows and personality-driven shows. It’s like newspapers. Newspapers have always had columnists. And now, on television, you have people who offer their opinions on the issues of the day.”
UPDATE: On his Essence magazine blog, Roland Martin attacked both me and MRC's Matthew Balan for calling him out as a pro-lifer-bashing, Obama-cheerleading liberal. He concluded by accusing us of cowardice:
Lastly, if someone wants to reach me directly, they can go to my website and email me directly. If you want to email Tim Graham, Matthew Balan, and the other folks at this site who write with only their right eye open, you can't. They are hiding behind a catch all email. When you aren't afraid to hear from the people, you put yourself out there.
Where I come from, we call that being a man and standing up.
Roland, here are your instructions. Click on Bio" under my name. Then click on "write private message." I'm not hiding from you.
Perhaps you can explain to me how you nail others for "hypocrisy" and then tell reporters you're "opposed to abortion" but have garishly boosted a candidate and president with an extremely pro-abortion voting record, down to supporting the killing of born-alive abortion surviors.