Gaffing Howie Kurtz

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz embodies the worst of the worst of his profession so far as I’m concerned. I don’t regularly read him, I briefly tried to watch his CNN Reliable Sources show but couldn’t take it for long, but I’ve seen lots of him by accumulation over the years.

But I happened to notice that he was doing one of the Post‘s “Live Discussion” segments today, just a little before it began, so I went and submitted a question.

Imagine my surprisae when the first question of the day turned out to be from here in Portland, Oregon! It just wasn’t my question. Kurtz was asked why the pundits asked to weigh in on the Rev. Wright/Obama “controversy” have been overwhelmingly white. Kurtz brought up the fact that he had two African-Americans on his panel Sunday. Although he also had Michael Medved, and that may have been like having a whole fist on the scales.

A short question from Massachussetts got to the topic I asked about, which was John McCain saying Iran was arming al Qaeda and the media treating it as a trivial error. Kurtz dismissed it with two brief sentences with absolutely no insight into the media’s role in downplaying the “error.” Much shorter than any of this other responses.

A Minneapolis questioner a little bit further down asked who was calling McCain on his “mistake,” and wondering why it wasn’t getting the saturation coverage it would have if Clinton or Obama had said the same thing. Howie said the media is obsessed with the Democratic horserace and McCain’s just not much in the news.

Then it was my turn. My original question didn’t get picked, but I had written a response to his first answer:

Portland, Ore.: If John McCain “believes Iran is actually training al-Qaeda operatives or is not being very careful about sticking to established facts,” then why does he have a reputation as someone who knows what he’s talking about, or as a “straight talker”? What, exactly, is his “bank” of foreign policy experience based on? And is simply having opinions on foreign policy — even if they’re blatantly incorrect — a reasonable bar for the media to claim that someone has “foreign policy experience”?

Howard Kurtz: You’re welcome to criticize McCain’s foreign policy views, but I think to say he doesn’t have experience in this area is simply not true. He has more than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined when they were presidential candidates. He led a Navy squadron during the Vietnam War. He’s been in the forefront of national security debates for two decades. He just completed his eighth visit to Iraq. He was a major proponent of the surge. Now experience isn’t everything, as Obama frequently points out, citing the very experienced Cheney and Rumsfeld and how they botched the war. But McCain is not a newcomer to these matters.

Like his other answers on the topic, that really didn’t deal with the question. Simply showing up for class and getting your attendence record checked off doesn’t count. You’ve got to know the subject and understand what you’re talking about to truly claim experience.

This was my original (unanswered) question:

John McCain made the same statements about a connection between Iran and al Qaeda as long ago as last August. His multiple “gaffes” this past week on the same subject would seem to indicate that he’s either willfully sticking to that false statement — unless corrected in public by someone like Joe Lieberman — or that he’s truly confused about the situation in the Middle East, even after nearly seven years of war against al Qaeda.

How can journalists pass off multiple instances of false statements about the people we’re supposedly fighting — made over several months — as momentary lapses? How does a guy who supported the idea of going into Iraq for non-existent WMD continue to have a reputation with the media as an expert in military and foreign affairs? How many Americans have to die before you people will stop swallowing that line?

And one I sent in after the session began:

Why is most discussion of the Iraq war still dominated by pundits who have been wrong about every aspect of the war since before it began: from the claims of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs to the cost of the war to the length of the war? Why does the media still give them more credibility than the people who predicted that there were no WMD and that the war would turn in to a long, brutal, and expensive quagmire?