Deconstructing Howie Kurtz's deconstruction of Scott Brown

Yesterday on CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howie Kurtz and his panelists sized up the media's inattentiveness--until very late in the game--to the possibility of a Scott Brown win in that US Senate that belongs to the people, but was filled by Ted Kennedy for a really long time.

There's plenty of interesting stuff to ponder in the transcript of Kurtz's show, include WTKK-FM host Margery Eagan's theory that, with the Patriots out of the playoffs, Brown was the beneficiary of energy usually devoted to the team. But two points in particular caught my eye.

The first is Eagan's comparison of the Herald's coverage of the race to the Globe's. Here's Eagan's take:

Well, I would say my paper was pretty much cheerleading for Scott Brown. We're the conservative paper in town, and The Globe, I think, was -- they were evenhanded somewhat, but I think that they were definitely cheerleading for Martha Coakley, absolutely. They're the liberal paper in town. That's the way it always is.

As I read it, Eagan's dodging the question here, simultaneously asserting that A) the Globe and Herald did things differently ("they were evenhanded somewhat," which the Herald wasn't) and B) that they did things exactly the same ("my paper was pretty much cheerleading for Scott Brown.... [T]hey were definitely cheerleading for Martha Coakley").

The notion that the Herald and the Globe were mirror images of each other on this race is ridiculous. Yes, the Globe's editorial side struck a strong pro-Coakley note, particularly in the race's latter stages. But the news coverage was, to borrow a phrase, fair and balanced. (If you disagree, please cite specific examples.)

With the Herald, of course, there's no comparable news/editorial divide. Yes, there are columnists and reporters, news stories and editorials. But the paper's conservative bent permeates the entire paper in a way that it doesn't at the Globe. Hence, in the days prior to the election, you got Herald covers like this, and this, and this, and this. And after the election, you got this.

I know, I know--the Herald's a tabloid, and they frame news differently. That's precisely why suggesting that the Herald was simply the conservative yin to the Globe's liberal yang is nonsensical.

Also, Kurtz's panel takes some jabs at Keith Olbermann's recent over-the-top denunciation of Brown. I'm no Olbermann fan, and I agree with Kurtz's panelists (and John Stewart) that his anti-Brown screed was a bit absurd. Where, for example, is the evidence to support Olbermann's description of Brown as "racist"?

When Olbermann called Brown "homophobic," though, he touched on a legitimate point of debate. From a Globe piece on Brown's special-election bid for MA Senate in 2004:

Two years ago, state Representative Scott P. Brown let slip what he thought of Senator Cheryl Jacques, who is openly gay, and her pregnant partner.

"It's unusual for two woman having a baby," the Wrentham Republican said then. "It's just not normal, in terms of what's normal in today's society."

Now, Brown is running for the Senate seat Jacques vacated earlier this year, in a race that has become an early test of the political wattage of gay marriage in Massachusetts. Brown opposes gay marriage. His Democratic opponent, Angus McQuilken, supports it....

The Coalition for Marriage, which has championed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that Brown voted for earlier this month, will begin mobilizing supporters for him next week through churches in the district southwest of Boston. Campaign finance regulations prohibit the coalition from openly supporting a candidate, so the group will distribute literature telling voters where each candidate stands on the gay marriage issue.

"Obviously, Scott Brown has voted in the way we would like concerning the marriage amendment, and for him to be in the Senate would be a plus," said Ronald A. Crews, spokesman for the coalition. "What we've got is a candidate who is more in tune with our position on a variety of issues. Whereas Angus, from the statements I've seen him make so far, would not be with us on any issue that I know of."

Brown later apologized for his "It's unusual" comment." And whether opposition to gay marriage is tantamount to homophobia is up for debate. Many gay-marriage supporters (myself included) believe it is; many opponents say it isn't. But bringing up Brown's past comments on the issue--and criticizing them--is completely fair.

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