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On Marty Peretz and punditry

I've been criticized a few million times for things I have written and said. That's fair game.

Now I'm being slammed for something I didn't write or say.

I am, according to Columbia Journalism Review, remaining "silent." (Don't I have that Fifth Amendment right, like you see in the movies?)

My sin is that I have not denounced Marty Peretz. More on that in a moment.

The reason I have not weighed in is--boredom alert--I have been swamped. I cling to the old-fashioned belief that I ought to know what I'm talking about before I pop off. I put a lot of research, and thought, into what I write and say.

In recent weeks I've been swamped with launching and maintaining this real-time blog, including such mundane tasks as learning how to post video. I've also been traveling quite a bit. So I did not believe the world was breathlessly waiting to hear what I had to say about Peretz.

What the owner of the New Republic wrote, in a blog post, was this: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims." And he questioned whether "these people" were worthy of First Amendment protection. I find those to be outrageous and unacceptable statements. You can say that about some Muslim terrorists, and you can criticize some Muslims for failing to speak out against violence, but how do you libel everyone who follows Islam?

I became aware of this when Nick Kristof of the New York Times denounced Peretz for bigotry. Then I saw that Peretz had apologized. I linked to the apology on this blog; Kristol had repudiated the comments more eloquently than I could have. I also noticed that the former Harvard professor had been disinvited from a speaking engagement at the university. It's a perfectly legitimate story. But I've been focused on the midterms and some newspaper profiles and did not find time to reflect on it.

Yes, I was highly critical of Helen Thomas saying that Israelis should go back to places like Germany and Poland, but I was reporting that story for the paper. I called Thomas and got her comments. Then she quit her job, and the story got bigger.

The Guardian e-mailed me for comment on the Peretz business and I said I was sorry but hadn't focused on it. Then the CJR guy sent me a note but it got lost in the hundreds of e-mails I get each day. But I still believe I shouldn't weigh in on every controversy that comes down the pike without a bit of reflection.

The journalism review went on to say that I've been remiss in not criticizing Peretz's history of bigoted statements. But I would have to study what he said, and the surrounding context, to know whether that's true.

I guess we live in a culture where everyone, including media critics, is supposed to have an instant response to everything that happens. But I'm going to resist that urge.

Hey, didja see that John Boehner said he'd never been in a tanning bed? You know what I think about that? Uh, I'll get back to you.

By Howard Kurtz  | September 23, 2010; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories  | Tags:  Harvard, Marty Peretz, New Republic  
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as a long time reader of yours, Howard, I'd like to go on record to support your right to actually research and think before you post a column.

maybe the journalism review should also have paused and thought before writing.

Posted by: lookersmom | September 23, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

as a long time reader of yours, Howard, I'd like to go on record to support your right to actually research and think before you post a column.

maybe the journalism review should also have paused and thought before writing.

Posted by: lookersmom | September 23, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes I think the people at CJR have waaay too much time on their hands. They look desperately for the slightest journalistic infractions -- and even some like this that aren't infractions -- so that they can pound their chests and impress their friends at the next Manhattan cocktail party. Of course, there are certain journalists who have the right politics who are off limits to criticism.

Posted by: dakotadoug83 | September 23, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Peretz is a New York-Harvard dispute, and has nothing to do with Washington, so you were quite right to put this aside. Why do we have to follow what the New York papers decide is a controversy? Besides, I think Peretz is a publisher and sometimes columnist (not very good, IMO) in his own publication, and definitely not a bread-and-butter columnist. Since these guys own their own publication, they can say what they want and the market will decide. It's the same with Zuckerman and Forbes as far as I am concerned. So don't be beaten down by the New York-centric CJR.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | September 23, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

"I put a lot of research, and thought, into what I write and say." Really? sometimes? All the time? If you really do the research, the results ought to be better. Perhaps the real issue with the Peretz story is your relationship with him. But that's all Inside the Beltway stuff.

Posted by: jprof | September 24, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Here's the link to the CJR piece--

(Kurtz says he wasn't able to focus on the Peretz thing because he was too busy learning about how to blog. Clearly his education hasn't reached the point of learning the rule that you should link to an item that you are commenting on, even if you don't agree with it.)

Kurtz--ostensibly a media expert--found time to write and tweet about countless lesser (often non-media) stories during this time. It's one thing not to take a stand on the issue before being fully informed (which I applaud), it's another to ignore this major media story entirely.

There are numerous times where Kurtz will report about this or that flap in the media world without taking a stand. He will often do so with little more than one link to "he said" and the other link to "she said." You can question what value Kurtz adds to the equation when he does that, but at least doing so serves to acknowledge the issue. When a guy this ubiquitous goes totally silent on a major issue on the media beat, particularly in light of his previous front-and-center position on Helen Thomas, I think it's fair game for CJR to call him out.

Posted by: Kanebane | September 25, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

"My sin is that I have not denounced Marty Peretz."

Nice couching the topic in religious and victimization terms, Howie. You and Mr. Peretz traditionally have shown a marvelous ability to ignore the obvious and paint yourselves as eternally attacked by outside forces.

You failed your professional responsibility as a journalist to report this story. You have no responsibility to offer an opinion. One would prefer you stayed out of the opinion business.

But basic journalism, the who, what, where, when, and, most importantly, the why, of a story, now, Howie, that's supposed to be your game.

Prior to offering this "Woe Is Me, I Am Overworked" excuse, you saw fit on this very blog to discuss:

Jon Stewart's latest appearance on Bill O'Reilly's nightly Fox News fest. (Stewart jabs O'Reilly on Fox, 10:30 PM ET, 09/22/2010) Mr. Stewart has been on Mr. O'Reilly's show before. Mr. Stewart said nothing on this latest appearance any different from his prior outings.

Mr. Stewart's piece questioning the president. (Stewart finds Obama's Kryptonite, September 22, 2010; 8:06 AM ET). Hey, I like Mr. Stewart. But Mr. Stewart has questioned President Obama before. Lots of times. On his show and elsewhere in print.

Former President Bill Clinton's suggestions to Mr. Obama about the U.S. economy. (Clinton advises Obama on economy, September 21, 2010; 9:49 AM ET). No new ground here. Mr. Clinton has publicly offered Mr. Obama ideas on how to spark the economy before.

A rather odd entry about candidates with extremist views, such as nixing unemployment benefits and questioning the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Wack job journalism, September 20, 2010; 10:00 PM ET). You attributed these positions to no specific candidate. The first is held by Nevada Conservative U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle. The second is held by Kentucky Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul. Both have been widely known for months.

A rather odd postulate that President Obama should attack Alaska's former governor and Fox News personality Sarah Palin to boost the Democrats' Congressional bids this fall. (Should Obama look to Alaska?, September 19, 2010; 8:24 PM ET) Again, old news. Obama v. Palin has been out there since, well, September 2008. Obama v. Palin as a mid-term election strategy has been out there since November 2009. Although it should be noted that you used the comments of The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder in both this piece and the Wack job journalism effort. Lots of pundits in D.C. and elsewhere and you went to the same well twice, Howie.

In closing, you may claim self-victimized overwork as the reason for not reporting - ditch the opine - on Mr. Peretz. Others may see only an intent on your part to ignore the story for personal or professional reasons. The D.C. pundit class rarely holds its own accountable.

But there was no viable, reasonable excuse for you not to report on this story - none except your own willingness NOT to do so.

And please ditch the self-pity.

Posted by: MarkinJC | September 26, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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