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Reality Show Hardcover – October 9, 2007
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About the Author
Howard Kurtz is the media reporter for The Washington Post, and also writes a weekly column for the newspaper and a daily blog for its website. He is also host of CNN's Reliable Sources, the longest-running media criticism show on television. His previous books include New York Times bestselling Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine (1998) and The Fortune Tellers: Inside Wall Street's Game of Money, Media, and Manipulation (2000). His book Hot Air: All Talk All the Time (1996) was named by Business Week as one of the ten best business books of the year and Media Circus: The Trouble with America's Newspapers (1993) was chosen as the best recent book about the news media by American Journalism Review. Kurtz joined The Washington Post in 1981, and his work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Newsweek, New York, and other national magazines. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
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Top customer reviews
Some of the stories in the book are interesting--or at least they would be if they were shortened to make them readable. Instead the reader ends up glossing over parts in order to make it through the 435 pages.
He rarely cites sources and has very poor footnotes--most of his information can't be first-hand knowledge, so where did he get some of this? He tells "insider" stories as if he was in the room during a secret meeting, but he never states where he got the details of how reliable the sources are (an irony since his CNN show is "Reliable Sources").
He name-drops to make sure the reader understands that Kurtz has talked with the major network executives and anchors. Then he bends over backwards to praise the looks of most of them--he calls Tom Brokaw "too cute," Brian Williams "perfectly coiffed and impeccably dressed" and Les Moonves "a former actor with leading-man looks."
There are some fascinating scenes where network newspeople are caught lying (aren't they supposed to be the upholders of truth?) and the on-camera reporters/anchors are more interested in their contracts than their news credibility. If the book proves one thing it's that network news divisions are filled with vain, self-centered control freaks who worry about their public image while stepping on anyone in their way behind the scenes (Dan Rather being the perfect example).
Kurtz seems to want to go overboard to praise the anchors and network executives (he wants to keep using them as sources, so he needs to keep them on his good side!). The anchors are never blamed for their show's failures. Brokaw was a "pretty boy" who wasn't taken seriously by the corporate big-wigs and wanted to push for more serious news. Rather was "battered by unrelenting criticism" from Republicans and a flag-waving patriot who shouldn't be blamed for the great CBS News fiasco, even though he single-handedly pushed to air the false information. Jennings was "dashing" (of course) and a man who "cared deeply" about the news.
His greatest support comes for the female anchors, such as Katie Couric, Elizabeth Vargas and Diane Sawyer. They are all painted as brilliant, beautiful journalists that continue to struggle against the sexist environment of network TV news. Kurtz probably seems most enthralled with Couric and he lacks any objectivity about her minimal journalistic skills (he doesn't understand that interviewing a newsmaker on a morning show doesn't qualify you as the type of journalist who reports on an evening news show). The reality here is that Kurtz is sexist in painting all female network anchorwomen as qualified and unfairly criticized--the reason Couric and Vargas failed is that they just weren't good. Katie Couric, in particular, is in the wrong job and Kurtz uses the book to defend her instead of digging deep to figure out why she should never have taken the CBS job. He claims her failure is due to sexism and the "limitations of the evening news." No, Howard, she failed because she was the wrong person for the job and didn't have the qualifications or ability to anchor an evening newscast.
He does however slam one person--Charles Gibson. Kurtz never actually says who talked to him for the book, but it appears that he doesn't have a lot of first-hand information from Gibson, so maybe he is slamming the ABC anchor because Gibson wouldn't cooperate more (on the other hand, the big-wigs that did talk secretly with Kurtz get treated with kid gloves). Gibson, whose on-air image is probably the most positive of all the major anchors, comes across as a terrible co-worker prone to outbursts and backstabbing. It seems to be an unfair portrait.
Kurtz kisses up to most of his subjects in Larry King-style, while slamming TV news in general (he's a newspaper man so he has to look down on TV news), objecting to the bean counters at the network and even condemning the audience for shifting toward entertainment and away from news. His biased view never truly blames the powerful for the problems. Kurtz seems to want to criticize the medium without criticizing those in charge of making the decisions in the medium.
His conclusion is that "this trio of anchors is as good as any in the past." Huh? Is he serious? That shows how warped his view is of the network newscasts. Kurtz seems totally out of touch with what makes good TV and what middle Americans want to watch.
The author tries to be contemporary and uses all the hip phrases regarding the new technology--but he can't get past his own outdated inner-voice writing style that makes him sound like the smart-aleck adult who thinks he can get away with dressing in teenage clothing styles.
Worst is the title of the book--it's totally misleading. If someone wants a book on the recent TV news wars, they're not going to look for something called "reality show." This is a major flop from a man who thinks he is a major success in providing insight into the TV news process.
For example, while I perhaps should have known (given that each network broadcasts' first feed is live), it came as a surprise, frankly, that one broadcast might actually change its "script" and scheduled coverage--while on the air--to cover a story that one of the other shows decided to highlight. Each newscasts monitors each and every word and picture mentioned and shown on the other broadcasts.
Kurtz is especially descriptive in profiling each of the three broadcast networks' evening news anchors--Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. Brian is described as someone who wanted to be an anchor since he was in high school, Charlie as someone who didn't know that he wanted it until he thought it might go by default to Diane Sawyer and Katie, well Katie didn't know she wanted it until Dan Rather crashed and burned and started to get bored with "Today." No detail is too small here. While Brian seems to have substantial respect for Charlie, he is painted as someone who sees Katie as an interloper. (P.S. to Brian: You'll probably prefer competing against her than Anderson Cooper or Scott Pelley).
Parts of this book give the impression that the three broadcast networks are re-living the modern equivalent of the "Front Page" newspaper era. But sadly, that's the rub: The three evening newscasts are not modern equivalents of anything because as Kurtz points out, technology seems to be on the verge of making these shows relics. The average viewer is nearing 60 and that is the same problem that today's leading newspapers have. So the fight goes on and Howie Kurtz does an admirable job telling us how we got here and where we may go.
Moreever it is a really badly-written book with jumbled characters and no sense of chronology/ continuity - I was surprised given that I have liked Kurtz' columns in the Post, but maybe he is at home only in a shorter format.
Worth the read only if you really need to know that both Brian Williams and Bush use the f-word around Howard Kurtz, and other such behind-the-scenes details...
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