Howard Kurtz and the Daily Beast
May 2nd, 2013

I have no special affection for Howard Kurtz nor antipathy toward the Daily Beast—I like them both fine. But the news that Kurtz was fired for making a mistake about Saint Jason Collins struck me as really, really weird. Because for a long while the Beast frequently ran pieces from Scott Horton that turned out to be riddled through and through with errors much more serious that Kurtz’s (absolutely bone-headed) mistake. Horton first came to my attention in 2008 when he was writing about Sarah Palin. Here’s part of what I wrote at the time:

Horton begins with this telling story:

“In June 2007, a cruise liner sponsored by the political journal The Weekly Standard set anchor in Juneau, Alaska. Editors and guests of the publication were then treated to a reception with Governor Sarah Palin. It was a moment of discovery to equal Hernando Cortez’s landing at Veracruz. A writer for London’s Daily Telegraphinterviewed one of the participants in the Juneau junket about the meeting with Palin:

“She’s bright and she’s a blank page. She’s going places and it’s worth going there with her.” Asked if he sees her as a “project,” the former official said: “Your word, not mine, but I wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment.”

“A key organizer and participant in the Palin meeting was Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who can fairly lay claim to having “discovered” Palin for Washington political circles. Palin’s name appeared in fifty-seven Weekly Standard articles since the Juneau meeting–starting with a paean entitled “The Most Popular Governor” that ran right after the reception.”

While not wanting in any way to diminish the storied influence of my boss, a fact-check is in order here. I was on that fateful Alaska cruise. And it didn’t happen that way. At the most pedantic level, THE WEEKLY STANDARD didn’t “sponsor” a cruise liner. Like many magazines (and other subcultures, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to NASCAR devotees to country music fans), The Weekly Standard hosts an annual cruise. During the trip to Alaska, fewer than 20 percent of the people on the ship were there as cruisers attending the magazine’s seminars.

In any event, shortly before the 2007 cruise to Alaska, Gov. Palin’s office got word that the cruise ship with our editors and guests aboard would be docking in Juneau for a few hours. So they invited Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes, and their wives to meet the governor during the brief stop in the capital. The Kristols and Barneses had lunch with the governor and a few members of her staff. There was no “reception.” Neither guests of the magazine nor other members of the magazine staff were present. I should know–I was jealous I wasn’t able to tag along.

As for whether or not the reality of this meeting still counts as “a moment of discovery to equal Hernando Cortez’s landing at Veracruz,” William Boot might have put it that way, so it seems fair to let Horton have some literary license.

Horton, however, quotes a person he claims was present at the “reception” in Juneau, attributing this to a story from the London Telegraph that says no such thing. He can’t have been reading the Telegraph very carefully. The paper mentions THE STANDARD cruise, but quotes no guest from the cruise. The quotes Horton reproduces, the Telegraph attributed to an anonymous staffer from the American Enterprise Institute who is simply talking about Palin. Horton has conflated these two bits to turn the quote into something said by someone who was present at the creation. Another moment Boot would be proud of.

As for THE STANDARD’s supposedly endless pumping of Palin–you bet! But, alas, there have so far been only 41 stories in our pages mentioning Palin, not 57, as Horton says. And the vast majority of them (32 to be precise) ran after Palin was named as McCain’s running mate. Between the “moment of discovery” in Juneau and Palin’s addition to the McCain ticket, the magazine published five items mentioning her. Of those, only one was principally about Palin. It was the story “The Most Popular Governor,” which was written by Fred Barnes.

The Beast eventually ran a correction so thorough that it was tantamount to a retraction. And Horton kept writing for them. Which is fine–that’s their business.

But as always, it’s different rules for different people. Or at least, for different subjects.

  1. Ed Driscoll » Dispatches from the Department of That Which Cannot Be Said At Any Tme May 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    […] Update: Jonathan Last notes that other Beast writers have made major errors before and retained their gigs, since they were in error about the “right” people. […]

  2. REPLY
  3. Nedward May 3, 2013 at 5:00 am

    Isn’t the whole Cortez gag a bit histrionic? Not even Hitchens or Molly Ivins at their snidest would reach for that. Know your role, Horton… Try harder not to sound so juiceboxey (*confusing precocious ax-grinding w/ sophisticated n’ lively First-Draft-History)