Before going to Fox News, Kurtz hosted CNN’s media criticism program Reliable Sources. Prior to this, he was The Washington Post’s media reporter.
Watching Kurtz on MediaBuzz, it is difficult to work out his views, except to say he is in the mainstream of American politics and, as such, capable of voting for Democrats, Republicans or independents on different occasions.
What’s more, Kurtz does not present MediaBuzz as a secular preacher holding forth from a television pulpit. Last Sunday, for example, MediaBuzz contained a discussion on the media and politics involving the right-of-centre Alexandra Wilkes and the left-of-centre Jessica Tarlov. Kurtz contributed to, but did not attempt to dominate, the discussion. It was pluralism in operation.
Compare and contrast Paul Barry’s Media Watch on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster last Monday. There was only one voice laying down the (media) law – that of the presenter. Barry’s program has about 10 staff and airs once a week for 15 minutes about 45 times a year. In view of this, it would be reasonable to expect that Media Watch deals with important national and international matters. Not so this week.
The second item on Monday made the point that News Corp’s The Daily Telegraph and Sky News had been hypocritical in criticising the ABC for discussing polygamy when The Daily Telegraph has done so itself. How important is that?
The third item focused on what Barry called “our trash mags and their obsession with getting stars pregnant”. It turned out that Who magazine had falsely declared on various occasions that an actor was pregnant. Opined Barry: “Margot Robbie wasn’t pregnant then and you can bet the house she isn’t pregnant now.” And so it came to pass that the Media Watch team had slaved away for a week and come to the conclusion that magazines such as Who just make things up. Quelle surprise!
Now, there is no particular reason why media matters about (alleged) hypocrisy or (alleged) pregnancy require a plurality of views. National and international politics is different.
Media Watch’s first item on Monday was titled “The unofficial election campaign kicks off – are the media buying the PM’s images and slogans?” Here Barry switched from media analysis to essentially political commentary. Early on, the presenter declared that Scott Morrison “had a nightmare trip to the G7 in Rome where French President Emmanuel Macron branded him a liar”.
In fact, as pointed out in this column last week, Macron did not use the words “liar” or “lie”. Moreover, it is far from clear that, come the next election, Australian voters will care all that much what a French president thinks about an Australian prime minister.
From then on, Barry continued his familiar green/left position on Australian politics. He appears to be one of those journalists at the ABC, Nine, the Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper and so on who are happy enough with a Liberal Party led by a Malcolm Turnbull. But not one led by a John Howard, a Tony Abbott or a Scott Morrison.
Barry sneered that the Prime Minister did “messaging” in Melbourne last week between “getting his hair cut and rolling gnocchi”. And he quoted at length from the criticism of Morrison made by Sean Kelly, a former Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard staffer.
Kelly’s recently published book The Game: Portrait of Scott Morrison (Black Inc) has been enthusiastically endorsed by such vehement Morrison critics as Barrie Cassidy, Niki Savva and comedian Tom Ballard.
The Media Watch presenter went on to state that “commentators’ disillusionment was one big reason the Coalition is trailing Labor in today’s Newspoll by six points”. Well, maybe it is. But the election is probably six months away. The fact is that most elections are close. Moreover, if the attitude of commentators was so influential in determining election outcomes, then Labor’s Bill Shorten would be prime minister today.
Fox News’s MediaBuzz involves reasoned debate and discussion about the media. On the other hand, the ABC’s Media Watch is an opinion show. Barry said so himself on November 1 when, having bagged Victoria Liberal Party senator David Van for criticising the ABC, he declared: “We’re allowed to have an opinion because we (Media Watch) are an opinion show.”
And herein lies a problem for the ABC. Media Watch commenced in May 1989. In more than three decades, it has only had left-wing, left-of-centre or “progressive” presenters – namely, Stuart Littlemore, Richard Ackland, David Marr, the late Liz Jackson, Monica Attard, Jonathan Holmes and Paul Barry (on a couple of occasions).
As ABC management should be aware, there are opinions beyond the left-of-centre. You would never know this from watching Media Watch. But you would from following MediaBuzz.
The lack of balance and pluralism on Media Watch is not just evident in Barry’s various sermons in praise of various green/left causes, it also involves what Media Watch does not cover.
For example, Barry has not presented material contrary to his assertion on May 4 last year that Sharri Markson’s research indicating that the Covid-19 virus could have escaped from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan was a “conspiracy theory”. It was anything but – currently President Joe Biden’s administration has an open mind about the origin of the virus.
Likewise, Media Watch has not covered the recent information out of the US which further discredits the assertion that Donald Trump conspired with Russian President Vladimir Putin to win the 2016 presidential election. Some of the claims – which were central to ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson’s three-part Four Corners report in June 2018 – have been withdrawn by The Washington Post.
As Kurtz commented on Sunday, the newspaper has owned up to a “major mistake”. A big story indeed. However, this has not been mentioned on Media Watch – where priority has been given to false pregnancy rumours.