Howard Kurtz's new book on Trump White House offers scathing critique of the media

The media's negative coverage of President Trump is actually helping the White House, Fox News anchor Howard Kurtz ar...

Posted: Jan 24, 2018 8:37 AM
Updated: Jan 24, 2018 8:37 AM

The media's negative coverage of President Trump is actually helping the White House, Fox News anchor Howard Kurtz argues in his new book, "Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth."

The book will not be formally released until next week, but CNN reviewed the sections that were briefly available on Google Books before they were taken down on Tuesday afternoon.

Kurtz, who anchors Fox's weekly media analysis show, details what he says is the media's blatant bias against President Trump, which he says has seeped into even routine coverage.

Though Kurtz isn't as critical of the White House as Michael Wolff was in his book "Fire and Fury," he is very critical of the media, saying the press is "falling into the president's trap" as Trump stakes his presidency on "destroying the credibility of the news media" and that the media have become "their own worst enemies."

Like Wolff, who has faced backlash over sourcing and accuracy in his wildly successful book, Kurtz is facing criticism over at least one anecdote involving New York Times political reporter, Jonathan Martin.

According to Kurtz, an RNC staff member called Martin during the campaign and Martin allegedly yelled at the staffer for being a "racist and a fascist."

"Donald Trump is racist and a fascist, we all know it, and you are complicit," Martin is quoted as saying. "By supporting him you're all culpable."

The staffer called Martin again months later, which according to Kurtz, prompted another tirade from Martin. This time, the exchange led to angry phone call from then Republican National Committee Communications Director, Sean Spicer, to a Times editor to complain.

But Martin pushed back on the anecdote in an email on Monday, denying he made such comments.

"Of course I didn't yell 'you're a racist and a fascist' or 'you are complicit' or 'you're all culpable' at anybody," Martin said. "Does that sound like me? More to that point, do those sound like real life lines any human being in the news business would use?"

A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment on the Martin anecdote.

But Kurtz and the book's publisher, Regnery, are standing by the story. A spokeswoman for Regnery said that the Martin passage is "based on sources with direct knowledge of the conversations." Kurtz, Regnery said, gave Martin "multiple opportunities to respond and he declined to comment."

In a follow up email, Martin said that Kurtz "paraphrased a vague, preposterous-sounding quote that I told him sounded ridiculous and not the kind of thing I'd say." Martin said Kurtz could not say to whom Martin purportedly made the comments, but that he would "see what he could get" and get back to Martin with more.

"I never heard another word from him after that," Martin said. "And I still have no idea what he or Sean Spicer are talking about." Spicer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kurtz, via his publisher, said they did reach out again. But Martin and Kurtz disagree over whether Martin was given a proper opportunity to respond to the passage. The book does not note a response from Martin.

Kurtz plays up the ongoing tension between the Trump administration and the media through several anecdotes that include some of the White House's most powerful figures.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway is portrayed as a loyal foot soldier defending Trump, somewhat hurt from being "badly burned" by all her old friends in the media, many of whom she's known for decades. The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

In one scene, Kurtz describes a visit that then-NBC News president Deborah Turness paid to Conway and now-White House Communications Director Hope Hicks after Conway's infamous "alternative facts" interview with Chuck Todd. The purpose of Turness' visit, Kurtz wrote, was to help smooth things over in a bid to gain access to the president so NBC News could trail him for a day with a camera crew. After Conway and Hicks complained about NBC, MSNBC and "Saturday Night Live," Kurtz reports Turness "delivered an overall apology." But the NBC News boss did not get what she came for.

An NBC spokesperson did not immediately comment on the issue.

Another compelling scene describes the confusion over a summit at the New York Times that took place shortly after the election. The summit was briefly canceled, with Trump at the time saying the Times had changed the ground rules of the meeting. (The Times denied ever changing the rules.) The paper reported that it was then-Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus who had tried to cancel the meeting by erroneously telling Trump the paper had changed the ground rules, because he did not want Trump to go in the first place.

"They're never going to treat you fairly," Priebus reportedly said to the president. "They'll twist what you say."

In the book, Kurtz reports that Trump was the one who initially wanted to set up the meeting, but nearly forgot about it until the day of the event. Trump had changed his mind, Kurtz reports, calling the summit "ridiculous," and agreed with Priebus that they needed to find a pretext to cancel the meeting. But Conway got the meeting back.

"Kellyanne Conway not only got the meeting back on the calendar, she made sure her boss wasn't blamed," Kurtz wrote, as he quoted how the New York Times reported that it was Priebus who "erroneously" told Trump that the paper had shifted its terms.

One media figure who did not appear to get much play in the book is Fox News CEO, Rupert Murdoch, who has a close relationship with Trump that's been widely reported.

Though Kurtz has an insider's view of Fox News -- and theoretically Murdoch -- he doesn't dwell too much on the intricate relationship between the media mogul and the president, only mentioning Murdoch less than a dozen times, according to a Google Books keyword search.

"Media Madness" will be released on January 29.

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