Howard Kurtz says I lied: My response

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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You might have seen the video where CNN host and Daily Beast Washington bureau chief Howard Kurtz and I sparred over Neil Munro’s attempted question during President Obama’s immigration announcement on Friday. Our segment, which aired on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this past Father’s Day, garnered a bit of attention.

And now, Kurtz is out with a blog post, in which he makes the following assertion:

[W]hen the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis was in the studio on Sunday, I don’t think he really believed what he was saying. He was giving me talking points—absurd talking points—to defend his conservative website.

I’ve generally found Kurtz to be a fair and very good reporter. And I’ve enjoyed going on his show. But this is, perhaps, the most dismissive comment a host could make about a guest.

It’s one thing to disagree with me — that’s fine — but to imply I don’t actually believe what I said is beyond the pale.

(LIE 5. to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive.)

… So nobody can have an honest disagreement with you on this topic, Howard?

The transcript is below. Despite being (ironically?) interrupted almost immediately after being asked for my response (in fairness, unexpected coverage of Rodney King’s death created a time crunch and additional stress), I think my points were quite legitimate:

KURTZ: All right. Matt, he’s your colleague at The Daily Caller. But a lot of conservatives have criticized what he did. He claimed — Neil Munro says he believed the president was closing his remarks. He had no intention of interrupting him. But he kept on talking while the president was trying to speak.

LEWIS: Well, first of all — a little about Neil Munro. He’s actually an Irish immigrant himself. He was with the National Journal for a decade. So, he’s a seasoned reporter. I think, if you put it in context, President Obama, first of all, the policy bypasses Congress —

KURTZ: No, no, no, I’ve only got a few seconds.

LEWIS: The speech —

KURTZ: Would you have done what he did? Was he wrong?

LEWIS: Cenk [Uygur] just said that we should be aggressive when asking questions. There was going to be no question and answer. This was the only chance he had to ask a question.

KURTZ: Happens all the time. He had no business interrupting the president.

LEWIS: The press corps should be a little less deferential to authority.

KURTZ: This is not a question of being differential. Ask all the questions you want, you can shout question —

LEWIS: Where in the Constitution does it say you can’t ask questions? This is protocol and it’s etiquette. But it’s not constitutional. He did the right thing.

KURTZ: I understand. I understand that you have to defend your guy –

LEWIS: It’s not defending my guy. It’s defending the right for reporters to ask questions.

It was quite clear that Kurtz had already made up his mind about this before asking me for my response. As such — to him, at least — my response must have seemed trite and perfunctory.

The question was strictly pro forma. And since it didn’t really matter what I had to say, anyway, there was no reason to spend much time on it. My response was simply an annoyance — something standing between him and commercials (and coverage of other pressing topics — like the 40-year anniversary of Watergate.)

The sad thing is that I think there are serious points to be made here — points which would be perfect for a show that focuses on … media. These arguments were dismissed as “talking points” by Kurtz — but I still think they deserved a sincere hearing on his show.

First, as I attempted to say, President Obama had just issued a statement which, by its very nature, bypassed Congress (the separation of powers) — and now, he was issuing a “statement” about it — but would take no questions from the press (bypassing the Fourth Estate.)

Should the press allow President Obama to use them as props?

I don’t know, but this seems like the perfect thing to debate on a media show.

My guess is that some of the problems our nation has faced in recent years might have been averted if the press corps was a little less deferential to presidential power, and a little more gutsy. New media outlets like the Daily Caller serve the public’s interest, partly because we haven’t been co-opted by the White House. We all know that the White House wisely rewards and punishes reporters (with access).

Do journalists serve the public’s interest when they acquiesce? Or are they more worried about their media outlet and their own career prospects? Did Munro have a point about being aggressive, but just jump the gun on the timing of his question??

This would be a good debate for, you know, a media show.

Much has been made of my comments regarding protocol. As I stated, nothing in the constitution prohibits a reporter from, you know, asking questions. This was easy to mock — there was no time to elaborate — so I will now. My point is that the rules which govern asking a president questions were not handed down from on high. There is nothing sacred about this. Past presidents of both parties have worked hard to find ways to neuter, co-opt, and cajole the press corps. Some of what we accept as normal has become archaic.

Perhaps it is time for us to rethink the paradigm?

Again, this all seems like the kind of thing that would be perfect to discuss on a media show. If only I had the chance…

Matt K. Lewis