On CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday morning, host Howard Kurtz gave Politico reporter Jonathan Martin a grilling worthy of Bobby Flay over whether the online paper had enough to publish its story on sexual harassment allegations against GOP frontrunner Herman Cain. The answer to that question was obvious, and gave short shrift to several more interesting questions that Kurtz touched on, but that didn’t quite connect.RELATED: Herman Cain Blames Journalists for Sexual Harassment Hoopla
Kurtz began by asking Jonathan Martin to discuss Politico’s story, and “what it didn’t contain in details.”
He ticked off some of the language from Politico‘s story, which contained somewhat general (but not vague) descriptions of the allegations, then asked, “Why publish the story then when you couldn’t answer the central question, what precisely is herman cain alleged to have done with these women?”
Martin’s response was to point out that their story was well-sourced (“half a dozen sources”), and has been corroborated by other news organizations, as well as the Cain campaign. As to the story’s newsworthiness, Martin didn’t get a single taker when he asked what journalist would not have printed such a story.
Kurtz pressed the issue of whether the report should have been published at all, questioning the “go or no-go decision,” and suggesting that “in a lot of news organizations, an editor would have said, ‘you have done some terrific reporting, you have great leads here, but you don’t have it.’”
Martin countered by pointing out that there was a level of specificity to the allegations they printed (“an explicit sexual overture”) that, while falling short of chapter and verse, certainly met the bar for newsworthiness.
There’s nothing wrong with Kurtz questioning Politico’s reporting, of course (that’s his job), but this appears to be a missed opportunity for him to bring his own expertise as a journalist to bear. Kurtz also questioned Politico’s decision not to print the names of the accusers, when he well knows that such a move would have been inherently unfair, given the legal gag that bound them, and the fact that the women (who are, presumably, not public figures) were not sources in the story. It’s also customary for journalists to exercise additional restraint regarding the identities of victims in sexual offenses.