Coming out from under a cloud, Howard Kurtz debuts his new show, as host-hunt continues for his old one

Kurtz, empaneling. ()
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Howard Kurtz debuted his new 11 a.m. Sunday show, "Media Buzz," on Fox News today, marking the veteran media critic's first big moment back in the spotlight following his ignominious exit from Tina Brown's Daily Beast in May and his subsequent departure from CNN's weekly media program and timeslot rival, "Reliable Sources."

With guests including former "Reliable Sources" regulars like Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik, Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and Daily Download founder Lauren Ashburn, the formula felt familiar, despite the new venue, to those who've tuned into Kurtz's segments during his 15 years at CNN.

"All in all, a strong premiere," wrote Gail Shister on the industry blog TV Newser, while Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple said "Media Buzz" has started "with a roar."

"We're going to hold the media accountable in a fair, aggressive and unbiased way," Kurtz said during his opening remarks at the top of the hour. "We won't be shy about calling people out for mistakes, conflicts, sensationalism, or acknowledging our own errors when they happen."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

There were segments on the media's drubbing of President Obama over Syria, the Anthony Weiner "spin cycle" and press coverage of Yahoo C.E.O. Marissa Mayer.

"Whenever four people sit around a TV set nerding out on media stuff, boredom threatens to storm the set," wrote Wemple. "Didn’t happen here."

Only time will tell whether Kurtz can keep the positive momentum going: The latter days of his "Reliable Sources" career were marred by criticisms of his own reporting, and the early days of his Fox News tenure will be remembered for a salacious and controversial web item about the daughter-in-law of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

There are also questions about the extent to which Kurtz will be able to cover his new employer, which is famously lion-like about protecting its brand. Last week, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters claimed that Kurtz has so far been "ignoring controversies related to [Fox News] that have been widely covered elsewhere."

MEANWHILE, THE SEARCH FOR KURTZ'S SUCCESSOR AT CNN is moving along. The network has been filling "Reliable Sources" with a rotating cast of guest hosts since Kurtz's exit earlier this summer, a strategy that's also served as a way to audition potential replacements.

This week, Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and a former CNN correspondent, was back for his second trial run with segments on "Obama's Syria struggle," campaigning in the age of Twitter, the Washington Post's Jeff Bezos era and "The rebirth of longform journalism."

"Sesno makes sense," a CNN insider who wasn't authorized to speak publicly told Capital. "Works at a press think tank and has been on TV before and knows how decisions get made."

But the frontrunner in the court of public opinion would appear to be Brian Stelter, the New York Times media reporter who's built up an outsized reputation on the TV-news beat over the past several years. The 28-year-old's two guest-hosting appearances have generated the most buzz and earned him rave reviews.

Stelter, who has said he "would not leave the Times for a television job," declined to comment on the state of his discussions with CNN. Likewise, a CNN spokeswoman would not discuss the state of the host hunt.

"CNN will continue to have a rotating schedule of guest hosts until we're ready to announce the replacement," she said.

A CNN source said there was no timeline for naming a permanent replacement and that the network has been "trying out lots of people." Others have included NPR's David Folkenflik, Politico's Patrick Gavin, The Daily Beast's John Avlon and former Conde Nast Portfolio editor-in-chief Joanne Lipman.

A person with some insight into the process was not aware of any shortlist of finalists, but said it was possible that CNN was also considering some more experienced TV news personalities who haven't been subjected to the on-air workshopping.

"It's interesting to see them, as an experiment, say, 'We're trying stuff out, and we're not ashamed of that,'" he said.