Howard Kurtz (Evan Agostini/AP )
Howard Kurtz, a prominent news-
media critic, became news himself on Thursday.
The CNN host and former Washington Post reporter parted ways with the Daily Beast and Newsweek, his primary employer, a day after stirring controversy with a flawed commentary about Jason Collins, the NBA player who recently disclosed that he is gay.
The reasons for the departure are in dispute, however.
People familiar with both sides — media people ironically speaking anonymously about other media people — agree that there was mutual antagonism and tension for several months.
Those close to the publication say Kurtz was “fired.” They say the Daily Beast and its prominent editor, Tina Brown, have been concerned that Kurtz was “overextended” with outside work and that this has led to a string of mistakes since he became Washington bureau chief in late 2010.
Kurtz, however, appears to have been on the verge of leaving of his own accord; a meeting between him and Brown to discuss terms of his departure had been scheduled for Thursday before the Collins controversy erupted.
Kurtz has expressed dissatisfaction with deep cutbacks in his bureau, and the site’s increased emphasis on liberal commentary, including the addition of Jon Favreau, President Obama’s former speechwriter, as a columnist.
Nevertheless, the Collins column appears to have been the final act in a long-running drama between Kurtz and his employer. In it, Kurtz mistakenly accused Collins of not mentioning that he had once been engaged to a woman in a Sports Illustrated essay disclosing his sexual orientation.
In a brief interview on Thursday, Kurtz said, “I worked my heart out for Newsweek and the Daily Beast and enjoyed my time there. The editors were constantly telling me they were grateful for my productivity. But as we began to move in different directions it became clear that both sides felt it was best to part company. This decision was not related to my mistake on the Jason Collins story, which was a dumb error for which I apologize, and it was clearly insensitive on my part. It was already apparent that the time had come for me to move on to other opportunities.”
He declined to comment further.
The Collins mistake “was quite embarrassing for us and Howie,” but it wasn’t the only issue in the Daily Beast’s decision to dismiss Kurtz, said a Daily Beast source: “There were several situations like this. He was distracted by other projects that interfered with the quality of his work.”
In addition to his Daily Beast writing and editing, Kurtz has appeared frequently on the Daily Download, a video critique of the news media hosted by Lauren Ashburn, a regular commentator on the media on Kurtz’s Sunday-morning CNN program, “Reliable Sources.”
The Daily Beast was aware of Kurtz’s outside activities and approved of them. But Kurtz, a legendary workaholic, may have “spread himself too thin,” the Daily Beast source said.
Among other instances, Kurtz took six weeks in late 2010 to correct a Daily Beast story that had mistakenly attributed quotations to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.); in October 2011, Newsweek retracted a quote that Kurtz had erroneously attributed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
In his commentary posted on Wednesday, Kurtz mistakenly accused Collins of leaving out “one detail” in Collins’ disclosure about his sexuality in his Sports Illustrated essay. The detail, Kurtz said, was that Collins “was engaged. To be married. To a woman.”
In fact, Collins had included that information prominently in his essay and in a subsequent interview with ABC News.
Kurtz reiterated the mistake on the Daily Download. In discussing Collins with Ashburn, Kurtz said, “If you leave out the fact that you dated this woman for eight years, and you were engaged to be married, then you have not told the whole story. I think this really muddies the plot line here.”
Kurtz initially amended his Daily Beast story, saying Collins “downplayed” the engagement and “didn’t dwell on it.” But the Daily Beast retracted the story entirely after the mistake and subsequent amendments drew heavy criticism from several Web sites.
The criticism carried a hint of payback, given that Kurtz has become prominent for pointing out the mistakes and shoddy practices of other journalists.
Kurtz left The Post in 2010 to join the online Daily Beast, which merged with Newsweek magazine. He has hosted “Reliable Sources,” which reviews the media, since 1998; his status as the program’s host has not changed.