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Reality Show Hardcover – October 9, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
There's lots of juicy gossip, but this book lacks the brilliant analysis of the last truly great book on TV news, Ken Auletta's masterful but now outdated, Three Blind Mice, Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way published in 1992. It also isn't nearly as good as Kurtz's previous book, Spin Cycle: How the White House and the Media Manipulate the News
The most interesting information in Reality Show is about how the networks choose to package and angle coverage of the Iraq war. Are they covering the war or determining how the war is perceived? Kurtz's reportage in this book will definitely add fuel to that debate.
Out of all the major players, I think Brian Williams comes off the best in this book. He seems to be a diligent, thoughtful reporter and a basically good guy. On the other hand, while I had felt a little sorry for Katie Couric, it now seems clear she has only herself to blame for her flameout at CBS. Speaking of self-made flameouts at CBS News, Reality Show contains some juicy background on the Dan Rather memogate fiasco.
As others have mentioned, the editing of this book is subpar making it hard to follow. It's also too skimpy on insight and analysis for me, but it is informative and worth reading if you're interested in the workings of TV news.
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...
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.
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