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Kurtz: Senators’ Spat Makes For Good T.V.

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such issues as Tim Russert’s referee skills, salaries in the journalism industry, and Fox News debates. Some excerpts:

    St. Paul: HI Howard — Thanks for taking my question. Just wondered if you caught Sens. Webb and Graham yesterday on MTP talking about Iraq. Russert basically sat there and let them go at it — first they were talking at the same time, then they were trying to talk over another, and as a result the whole thing seemed pointless and useless with neither one coming off very well, at least in my mind. I wondered why Russert didn’t try to restore some order, make them go one at a time, or something. What did you think?

    Howard Kurtz: Russert let them go at it because the two senators were engaged in a heated debate over Iraq and it was enlightening, not to mention good television, to watch them go at it. However, when they repeatedly started talking over each other, I thought Tim should have jumped in a few times to say “Let him finish” or “One at a time” — not to start asking more questions, but to let viewers hear the answers.

    Washington, D.C.: Your column today concerns issues those working for the media don’t want to talk about. I’d like to ask about another matter about which Washington-based media seem particularly tight-lipped: their own compensation. Recently Robert Novak made the disclosure in an interview with C-SPAN that CNN paid him $625,000 during his final year there. While I find it fascinating that one can make over $500,000 a year for shouting nonsense and delivering half-baked “reporting” on TV, I would not know this if I had to rely on the newspaper. Why is there so little disclosure/curiosity about the compensation of D.C.-based pundits, particularly compared to the reams of ink spilled about the compensation of athletes, movie stars, and Katie Couric?

    Howard Kurtz: It’s pretty simple: Like most people in the private sector, journalists don’t like to talk about what they make. Sometimes, as in Couric’s case, a ballpark figure leaks out, but I have no idea what most TV people make, and I still wouldn’t know about Novak had he not chosen to go public (regarding a company that no longer employs him). Is that really so unusual? People on the public payroll, and corporate executives at a certain level, are required to disclose their salaries. But do you know many lawyers, accountants, doctors or hedge-fund managers that walk around blabbing about how much they’re taking in?

    Floris, Va.: Fox News and its allies are making a big deal about leading Democrats refusing to participate in a forum/debate this fall because of the unspoken belief that Fox is an arm or the Republican party. But I’ve seen little or no mention in the press of the debate/forum hosted by the NAACP last week in which all the Dems showed but only one Republican (Tom Tancredo). Also all Democrats have agreed the debate on the gay cable channel Logo this fall, but not a single Republican. I think that sort of neuters the Fox argument. What do you think.

    Howard Kurtz: I think it should be pointed out, but there’s a difference between politicians refusing to show up at a debate sponsored by an organization with political views (such as the NAACP) and a network. I would think that Democrats, whatever their complaints about Fox’s coverage, would want to reach Fox viewers, just as Republicans have taken the opportunity to reach CNN and MSNBC viewers.

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