Ken Kurson Appears on Peter Kafka’s Podcast on Recode Media

Ken Kurson with Peter Kafka at the recording of a podcast for Recode, November 25, 2016.

Here’s a podcast I did with Peter Kafka in early 2017.

I had known Peter Kafka since about 1999. He was a writer and reporter at Forbes magazine, when I was assigned the gig of a lifetime for a financial journalist—the cover story for the Forbes 400 issue. Peter became the reporter/factchecker on that issue, and he was brutal and careful and so smart it was obvious I was working with a future superstar.

We didn’t really stay in touch, but we had enough mutual friends in Manhattan media that our paths would cross from time to time. One of those friends was David Carr. David was one of my best friends, as well as my neighbor, so when he had one of his famous Super Duper Cooper Avenue parties at his house, Peter and his wife Cindy were there. Becky and I hung out with them a good bit.

David was always trying to get me to leave politics and come back to media. He told me I was way too good a writer and reporter to “waste my life in politics.” A little known fact that I’m reporting here for the first time is that before Jared Kushner hired me for the Observer job, he emailed David to get his opinion, saying “I’m thinking of hiring Kurson to run the whole damn thing.” When Carr wrote back with full support and over-the-top glee, Jared, who I had already known for a decade by that point and worked with closely on many projects, made me a great offer.

Here’s the cover story Ken Kurson wrote for the 1999 Forbes 400 issue. Peter Kafka was the reporter on that story.

Meanwhile, one of Carr’s ideas to get me back into media, since he knew I had drifted to politics as much to make money as any other reason, was to set up a lunch in Tribeca with him, Kafka and me. Peter had somehow worked out a deal with the company that became Recode where he was both a journalist but also somehow owned a percentage of the company or made money from its conferences or something like that. I don’t remember the details. And Peter is 1000% above board, so it’s nothing nefarious, but the point is that he was making more money than all the ordinary journalists he and I had known when we both left our straight reporting gigs.

Flash forward a few years, Peter’s podcast on Recode had become a hit. And it deserves to be.

In June 2016, I took my daughter Carrie to see Beyoncé at Citi Field. I was talking to Arianna Huffington and DJ Khaled when Peter showed up and joined us. It was nice to see him.

After Trump’s shocking win, Peter called me up and said we’re supposed to invite people we disagree with to have conversations. He was referring to Dean Bacquet of the New York Times criticizing journalists in Manhattan for never leaving their bubbles. Which not only caused them to fail to see the Trump wave coming, but I argue also made them basically deranged and unable to do their jobs because of moral panic about what a Trump administration would mean for the country.

Jim Rutenberg’s manifesto on this is one of the most dangerous and influential essays in the history of media, in my opinion, because it was widely interpreted as the Times giving all reporters permission not to be “fair” to both sides. Any attempt to depict conservatives as more nuanced than “deplorable” was suddenly the sin of “bothsideism” and equivalent to giving equal time to Holocaust deniers.

Obviously, my views did not find much support in Manhattan.

But to Peter’s credit, he did invite me to his show and on Nov. 25, 2016, he interviewed me in his sort of tough-but-fair style, despite our long but not close friendship.

I remember riding my bike from the Observer up to the studio where he recorded it. I miscalculated how far it was, so I was drenched in sweat by the time I got there.

Tragically, Cindy died in October 2018, and I wonder if she was already ill by the time Peter interviewed me because there was a heaviness to him even back in Jan 2017, which I guess I just attributed to the general fear and shock many were feeling over Trump’s election.

I really don’t know. Like I said, we are not close friends, but I did go to the memorial up in the Bronx and it was heartbreaking. A good guy and a good journalist. Even though I’m sure he thinks I am even more psycho for voting for Trump in 2020 than in 2016.

Incidentally, I have never listened to this podcast. As I’ve said elsewhere, I cannot bear to hear any of my interviews or watch any of my TV appearances. But in finding the link for this webpage, I see that somebody wrote (possibly Peter himself) in the episode description, “Kurson also says some journalists and pollsters who mis-called the election should resign or be fired, and explains why staying off Twitter has been good for his psyche.”

Just as many undoubtedly think that the four years of the Trump Administration validated their opposition, I strongly believe that I was proven right on both of those counts.

Here’s a transcript of the interview. I haven’t read it.

Peter Kafka and Zack O’Malley Greenburg, the entertainment editor of Forbes, speak to DJ Khaled Arianna at a Beyonce concert at Citifield, June 8, 2016. (Photo: Ken Kurson)

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