Howard Kurtz On Whether Olbermann Is Biased: 'I'm Agnostic'

A follow-up on Howard Kurtz's profile of Keith Olbermann: in his weekly "Media Notes" online chat at washingtonpost.com, Kurtz tries to declare that he has no opinion on the question of Olbermann's ideological bias:

Washington, D.C. : Can you tell me what is the upside in Keith Olbermann denying he has an agenda? I mean, you didn't buy that line. Who would?

Howard Kurtz: I'm agnostic. It is true that he was on every night in 1998 dealing with the Clinton scandal. And even most opinionated anchors don't want to be seen as aligned with one party or another (although Sean Hannity talks openly about raising money for Republican candidates). The true test will come the next time there's a Democratic president.

This only underlines the classic media-bias debate over 1998: the liberals want to claim the media wasn't liberal because they covered the Lewinsky story every night (and clearly, the Clinton White House didn't want that). But it completely avoids the question: And was the coverage of Clinton fair? Were they fair to Ken Starr? You can't simply argue that by quantity, but by quality. Just a few queries earlier, in response to a liberal questioner from Nashville, Kurtz acknowledges that Olbermann stands out in his Bush rage:

My point was to say that Keith's show is starting to get much more attention and somewhat better ratings, and that it stands out in a cable universe that has no liberal shows but a number of prominent conservative ones. Olbermann also happens to be a talented broadcaster and a very witty writer, but there's no other daily cable show that I know of where the anchor gives Bush such a hard time night after night.

But he's "agnostic" on whether that constitutes an agenda? Kurtz was also defensive when a liberal said he must be a right-winger:

Richmond, Va.: Re: Olberman and giving Bush a hard time. Is that a bad thing? Some blogs label you conservative-leaning (I agree). Your comments about hos Olberman talks about Bush seems to confirm that.

Howard Kurtz: I'm sorry, but that's utterly ridiculous. The people quoted in today's column are mainly Olbermann, the president of MSNBC, and the president of NBC News. Where do I hint, imply or otherwise suggest that Olbermann's constant criticism of Bush is a bad thing? It is unusual for television, and that made it newsworthy. I apply the same standard when I write about Olbermann as I do when I write about Shepard Smith or Brit Hume. I ask questions, present their view of the world and include what supporters and detractors are saying.

UPDATE by Matthew Sheffield. This is classic Kurtz. He knows full well that Olbermann is a liberal but is too afraid to admit the truth because Olbermann will cease talking to him if he does.

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