Marvin Kalb reviews Howard Kurtz’s “Reality Wars”:
Howard Kurtz, I am now certain, has a secret. Either he no longer sleeps, or he has found a way to expand the 24-hour day. How else can one explain his exceptional output?
For the past 17 years, Kurtz has been the media reporter for The Washington Post, writing a column every Monday and covering breaking news many other days. Enough? Not for Kurtz. He also writes a long, sometimes numbingly long, media blog for the paper’s Web site, a basket for every item that doesn’t make his column. On weekends, he anchors CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” the longest-running weekly media criticism show on television. On radio, he is heard regularly offering his opinions on the media and politics. And in his “spare time,” he has written five books, including the 1998 bestseller Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine. In the Soviet Union, he’d have been praised as a “Stakhanovite” journalist, fulfilling and then overfulfilling his quota.
His newest book, Reality Show, takes you inside the minds and the newsrooms of the three major evening news anchors — a 464-page, sound-bite-by-sound-bite report on ABC’s Charles Gibson, CBS’s Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams during a time of political crisis at home and war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a period of “daunting transition,” Kurtz writes, not only because these anchors replaced the Tom-Peter-and-Dan troika that dominated the airwaves for a quarter of a century but also because they are battling technological and economic challenges that are transforming the industry. It is a fascinating, richly detailed story — little of it new, however, if you have read Kurtz’s newspaper reports. But if you haven’t read them, I suspect you will benefit greatly from this tale of three remarkable reporters, who have the capacity every evening to influence 25 million viewers who still watch their presentation of the news. Granted, a few decades ago as many as 40 to 50 million watched the evening newscasts, but 25 million still represents the single biggest town hall in America, certainly worthy of a book.
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