Howard Kurtz scored a coup on his CNN show “Reliable Sources” two Sundays ago when White House communications director Anita Dunn came on to knuckle-rap Fox News, saying that the network

often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party….That’s fine, but let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.

Those remarks quickly ricocheted around the blogosphere, talk radio, and cable news.

Her claims would have seemed a perfect subject for one of Kurtz’s Washington Post columns. Were they accurate? Two days later, Kurtz did take up Dunn’s remarks, but not to assess their accuracy. Instead, he focused on the political angle:

Leaving aside the distinction between Fox reporters and the likes of O’Reilly, Hannity and Beck—Dunn admitted that Major Garrett is a fair journalist—does this sort of frontal attack make political sense? Could Obama score points with Fox’s audience by engaging, as he did by going on the “Factor” during the campaign? Or does the cable channel provide useful foil for a Democratic administration?

Plus, if you look at MSNBC’s lineup after 6 p.m., Fox isn’t the only network that goes heavy on opinionated hosts.

Kurtz went on to offer a grab-bag of comments on the issue from publications like The Nation and the Baltimore Sun. And that was it. This is increasingly what Kurtz does in his “Media Notes” columns, offering a roundup of media quotes spliced together with his own clever comments, with virtually no reporting or sustained analysis of his own.

In a column the previous week, in fact, Kurtz breezily dismissed the idea of analyzing the claims made by people like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh:

My view is that they control no votes, no factions, no military units, but they do have powerful microphones. Whatever influence wielded by Beck and Hannity or Limbaugh (or by commentators on the other side) stems from their ideas and their talents as infotainers. If they peddle misinformation and exaggerations, that can be neutralized by others in the media marketplace. Nearly everyone dismissed Beck’s charge that the president is a racist, but the ACORN videos he and Hannity trumpeted on Fox proved to be a legitimate story.

Gee, Howard, I would have thought that the main job of a media reporter would be to expose the misinformation and exaggerations peddled by news organizations. Why cede the job to the “media marketplace” (whatever that is)? I would expect The Washington Post to be one place we could look to for a thoughtful, well-researched analysis of the performance of a network like Fox.

It’s true that Fox can break legitimate stories, as it did with ACORN. Yet, for every such story, it seems to push many that are not legitimate—that in fact seem lunatic. During last year’s presidential campaign last year, for instance, Sean Hannity ran an hour-long special, “Obama & Friends: History of Radicalism,” that offered a series of allegations and half-truths about Obama’s supposed ties to Louis Farrakhan, Muslim fundamentalists, black-power advocates, and Bill Ayers. In one especially egregious segment, a writer with a history of making anti-Semitic sentiments claimed that Obama, in deciding to work as a community organizer in Chicago after college, had probably been recruited for the job by Ayers, who was seeking to test his suitability for joining his radical political movement to bring about a “socialist revolution” in America. Since Obama has taken office, Hannity (having dispensed with the services of Alan Colmes, his long-time fig-leaf liberal sidekick) devotes virtually every minute of every show to bitter criticism of Obama and the Democrats. Glenn Beck has been even more unhinged, claiming that:

* Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people”;
* the White House’s support for “net neutrality” is an effort by Obama to control the Internet;
* the president’s back-to-school speech to students in September urging them to succeed and persist in their studies was an exercise in Mao-like indoctrination;
* Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein, Obama’s nominee to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs—widely regarded as a centrist—is an anti-gun, anti-hunting, pro-animal-rights extremist;
* Obama’s use of “czars” is part of a determined effort to trample the American system of government;
* “Socialism is being shoved down our throats”;
* “We are really truly stepping beyond socialism and we’re starting to look at fascism.”

Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.