Has Howard Kurtz been Caught in a Big Fat Lie?

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Fox News Media critic Howard Kurtz maybe killing CNN and Brian Stelter in the ratings, Gawker is calling out Kurtz for lying about his role in a website venture.

Kurtz who has had ethics problems in the past, claimed that his role with Fox News contributor Lauren Ashburn and her Daily Download website was a “limited venture.”

Not so says Gawker, they write Kurtz and Ashburn’s relationship centered on The Daily Download, a puzzling tech website owned by Ashburn (and funded by The Knight Foundation) that culminated, in May 2013, with a video of Kurtz and Ashburn smearing NBA player Jason Collins for coming out as gay. Kurtz was later fired from The Daily Beast and abruptly departed CNN after denying any substantial involvement with the Daily Download.

Yet in a grant proposal submitted by Maryland Public Television to the Knight Foundation on December 10, 2010, Kurtz is listed, along with Ashburn, as a salaried “co-host” of the Daily Download’s 60-second “digital reviews,” which aired on public television, and a “daily blogger” at the Download’s website. One year after that submission, Knight awarded Maryland Public Television $230,000, the majority of which went to Ashburn’s own media company, which helped pay for Kurtz’s extracurricular position.

Kurtz’s precise salary is difficult to pin down, but the proposal and other documents indicate he received a substantial income that certainly appears to be classified as a salary.

The initial proposal’s budget allocated $100,000 each for two Daily Download “hosts,” who in an accompanying “budget narrative” are specifically identified as Kurtz and Ashburn. The same section indicates the pair planned to donate an unspecified portion of their salaries back to Maryland Public Television. (Earlier in the proposal, Kurtz’s donation is described as an in-kind contribution worth $50,000; Ashburn’s donation is not detailed.)

However, a revised budget submitted by Ashburn on November 16, 2011—a year later, and one week after Knight accepted the proposal—indicates that one “host/executive editor” would receive $160,000, and that the other “host” would receive $135,000—a significant increase in each case. (How or whether Kurtz’s “donation” still factored into his compensation is left unspecified.)

Last May, Kurtz told Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post that “I’m a contributor at Daily Download and receive some freelance compensation,” and that his seat on the site’s “advisory board” was “an unpaid honorary position with no oversight.” Days later, he repeated these lines on his old CNN show, Reliable Sources.

In the segment, NPR's David Folkenflik, who had been tasked with grilling Kurtz over his Collins error, immediately pushed back. “Has that always been the case?” he asked Kurtz. “Have you never had any financial involvement with [The Daily Download], or any stake whatsoever in it?”

Shaking his head, Kurtz responded: “I’ve never had any other financial involvement or stake in it whatsoever, I am a freelancer.” He later added, “I’ve only tried to promote the site.”

But as the documents discussed above make plain, Kurtz was financially involved in at least two ways, as a salaried host and as a significant donor.

Of course, there’s some small chance that the Daily Download’s actual budget wildly differed from the official spreadsheets prepared by Maryland Public Television and Ashburn herself. Ashburn, who oversaw the project’s funding, wouldn’t tell us. But it’s manifestly obvious that Kurtz filled an integral role—the opposite of what he’s been saying all along.

There is no apparent explanation for why Kurtz, once one of the most powerful media critics in the United States, would conceal these details, especially during a segment intended to demonstrate his transparency on the matter.

Looks like Howie played a little more than loose with the truth. 

Will Kurtz come clean (again) and have another big apology show like he did after the Jason Collins fiasco? Or will he just sweep it under the rug?

At least Brian Stelter appears to be honest. Maybe Howie could learn something from him. 

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