New York magazine's headline was "Howard Kurtz Wrote the World's Worst Column on Jason Collins." The Huffington Post's was "Howard Kurtz Indignantly Accuses Jason Collins Of Not Disclosing Thing He Actually Totally Disclosed". The Atlantic Wire's was "Howard Kurtz Is Too Bad at His Job to Effectively Shame Jason Collins." And BuzzFeed's was "The Video Howard Kurtz Doesn't Want You To See Discussing What Is Arguably His Worst Column Ever".
They were all referring to Howard Kurtz's Daily Beast column "Jason Collins' Other Secret," in which Kurtz thought he had busted Jason Collins on not disclosing he'd had a female fiancée, who has emerged after Collins came out in Sports Illustrated this week. Except Collins had mentioned that he'd dated women, and had been engaged. Once that was pointed out to Kurtz, he had to write through the column to erase the — pretty fatal — mistake he'd made, and append the correction, "An earlier version of this story erroneously said that Collins had not mentioned his engagement in his Sports Illustrated essay." The mistake rendered the column odd and ungenerous at best, offensive at worst.
Even worse, perhaps, was the video on the same fiancée topic that Kurtz made with Lauren Ashburn on their Daily Download site, the tone of which was fairly mocking of Collins. The video was taken down — presumably by Kurtz — but BuzzFeed's Dorsey Shaw grabbed it, so it's embedded below.
Kurtz seems to run into some problems when it comes to reporting on the lives of gay people. He and I had a public argument over outing in January after Jodie Foster came out at the Golden Globes.
In the wake of this Collins conflagration, I emailed Kurtz asking him a slew of questions about whether he was violating his own personal standards about reporting on gay people — you can get the general gist of what those standards are in the back-and-forth he and I had post-Golden Globes. (Kurtz and I worked together at The Daily Beast, by the way, but have never met.)
I've pasted my email of questions from today below. But first, here is Kurtz's response:
"I regret the mistake I made in writing about Jason Collins' essay, and I hope I wasn't insensitive in discussing it. He did a courageous thing by taking this step, but once he put it out for public discussion, it seems fair to raise questions about the account of his former fiancee, who granted several interviews. Obviously Collins or any other gay person can come out in any way they choose, or not come out at all. I don't think my analysis was out of bounds, but that's for others to judge. I did think the comments of ESPN's Chris Broussard criticizing Collins' 'heterosexual lifestyle' were offensive, and I said so."
As you will see from my email to him, what I think is so wrong with what Kurtz (and Ashburn) did is: Why write about the closet and sexuality if you have such a limited understanding of it that you end up being insensitive? Why did Kurtz and Ashburn make fun of Jason Collins in the video? Does Kurtz think that because Collins was engaged and dated women that he's not gay? (That last question is astounding, but it seems to be Kurtz's entire pose here.)
My email to Kurtz
Hi there. I'm sure you've noticed by now that people are pretty shocked by your post on Jason Collins. And not only because you somehow missed the bit in SI when he said he'd been engaged. But because your post seems to reveal a deep ignorance about what it's like to be closeted — yes, sometimes it's complicated!
When we had our skirmish a few months back over outing, you told me that you considered writing about gay people as gay before they'd come out was "gossip." You went on to write in your email to me: "I was simply offering the same view on closeted public figures that I have publicly proclaimed for a long, long time. I also don't like dragging the personal lives of straight people into the spotlight unless there's a legitimate reason."
Here's the whole link if you need reminding; it certainly got complicated:
Here are my questions:
— Are you violating your own standards here?
— You seem in your video with Lauren Ashburn that you're making fun of Jason Collins: "playing both sides of the court," etc. I'm a little concerned you don't understand being closeted, and how painful it can be. Or the Kinsey Scale! Are the waters really so muddy here — is there a reason not to believe Jason Collins when he says he's gay?
— Since you've said you won't acknowledge that someone is gay unless they do, I'm concerned that even when they do say they're gay, you... you seem to have a very strict definition. Must someone have only dated people of the same sex for you, Howie Kurtz, to consider them gay?
— Do you really feel that the first male professional athlete to come out of the closet should somehow "dwell" on his engagement and dating women? Like, they must do that for some reason?
— Why is what you wrote not "gossip"?
— In your lede, you wrote this: "One of the reasons that Jason Collins' coming out packed such an emotional punch is that he appeared to be telling all. Except that he downplayed one detail." Obviously, you had to change that when you learned of your mistake. But do you regret the wording there? What do you feel he didn't tell all about that he owes us?
— You wrote: "I'm sure it wasn't easy becoming the first male athlete in a major sports league to come out as gay. But I have to assess a foul for the incomplete nature of the disclosure. Did Collins think his longtime squeeze was just going to stay silent?" Why should anyone care, exactly? Was this not a historic week in your estimation?
— You wrote: "Perhaps in his next interview, as he tries to get another basketball team to pick him up, Collins can tell us the rest of the story." What do you imagine the rest of the story is?
— In a nutshell, it seems you have a double standard, Howie. These are pretty unreasonable demands to make of a celebrity revealing personal life to help what's THE civil rights issue of our time. Am I wrong in thinking that? (Maybe you just wouldn't have written any of the post if you'd noticed that he mentioned the fiancee and dating women, though? That's how it reads.)
Let me know you received this email, please. Thanks!