The 10 Worst Media Moments Of 2008

OK, now that we've celebrated all the good things that media professionals managed to grace our world with this year, let's skip ahead to a listicle of lowlights, which is probably what you all really want anyway, since everyone runs on schadenfreude these days and is filled with impotent rage!

Anyway, as before, many of you will agree and many will disagree, and that's cool! Please do! Especially if you want to comment or send an email about it! But note that I've left off a lot of examples that many of you will no doubt feel are obligatory inclusions. For instance, I can already predict an email complaining that Bill O'Reilly doesn't make this list. It seems to me that some examples of stupidity are far too ubiquitous to be remarkable. Nevertheless, the comments are there for all of you to cherish the moments I missed.


1. The Economy Kills Everyone
Some greet the effects of the down economy on the media with mockery, some with mournfulness, some with a combination of the two I shall call mournckery. Eventually though, a writer you admire gets laid off, or a reporter you've depended on has to take a buyout, or RADAR Magazine folds and their fantastic web operation comes under the rule of a bunch of gibbering twits with birdcrap for brains and it all hits home. And look, everyone knows that the web is going to solve all of the world's problems, but tell me: how does the imminent failure of, say, New Jersey's Star-Ledger grab you? Worried about that at all? Of course not! Everyone knows that the State of New Jersey is filled with affluent laptop/iPhone owners and their politicians are the most honest people in the ever-loving world!

2. ABC's Terrible Debate
Political debates are all alike; every terrible debate is terrible in its own way. And yet the ridiculous attempt by ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson nevertheless ranks as the supreme example of incompetence. It didn't matter that every single one of their gotcha questions, save Gibson's high-toned bitchery over his investment portfolio, had already been asked 4,751 times: George and Charlie were bound and determined to be the 4,752nd to do so! As such, the entire debate played like something ABC News took all of fifteen minutes to prepare for, right down to the tatty production values and asinine, utterly tone-deaf references to the Constitution. The resulting debate wasn't fair to either candidate and was an insult to every viewer who tuned in. "The crowd's turning on me," Gibson quipped, after it was over. Would they had done so earlier!

Oh, and did Stephanopoulos hypocritically engage in the sort of behavior that he once decried as a political operative? OF COURSE HE DID.

On the bright side, this happened.

3. The Day of Lipstick On A Pig
I don't think a single event managed to sum up the media's inability to distinguish activity from achievement, their willingness to delve deeply into irrelevant minutiae, or their tendency to obsess themselves with transparently stupid meta-narratives any better than they day we all woke up to discover that the commonly used phrase "lipstick on a pig" had become transformed into some sort of sexist insult. It was a sickening and foul display - media professionals on all networks and platforms hurling this loafer of high-toned nonsense at our heads. Naturally, the very premise of their argument was unremittingly false, and the resulting blockstop coverage and commentary was nothing more than widespread platform abuse. Then, as soon as this zombie contagion struck the media, it was gone, and no one ever talked about it again. NEVER FORGET THAT ADULTS - ACTUAL GROWN-UPS! - PERPETRATED THIS NONSENSE.

4. NYT's Vicki Iseman story
Speaking of platform abuse, how is it that we all know that the New York Times knew full well that their John McCain-Vicki Iseman story was a stinkfest on arrival? For me, it was the way the shuffled it out online during evening rush-hour, as if they wanted viewers to be moving in the opposite direction of their journalistic turd when it fell to earth. The story may have had some viability, but whatever truth there was in McCain's interactions with Washington lobbyists came sandwiched between sensationalistic and salacious intimations of sexual infidelities between John McCain and a lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. You had to love the way the Times worked their drizzle of sizzle up into the lede and then spent three pages avoiding the matter before veering back to it. The Iseman part of the saga is supported by precisely one on-the-record source, former McCain confidant and adviser John Weaver. In my opinion, Weaver's quotes are, uhm...woven to make it look like he is confirming the Iseman-McCain relationship. Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt faulted the paper as well, saying, "The newspaper found itself in the uncomfortable position of being the story as much as publishing the story, in large part because, although it raised one of the most toxic subjects in politics -- sex -- it offered readers no proof that McCain and Iseman had a romance."

5. Endless Talk of the "Gender Card"
Everyone talked about how sexist the media was this year, and everyone had their own idea as to where this sexism was most glaringly revealed. I'll tell you what set my teeth on edge: every time someone made mention of Hillary Clinton playing the "gender card."

Let me get this straight. It's okay for Barack Obama to put his racial background to advantageous use. It's okay for John McCain to put his war-hero past to advantageous use. It's okay for John Edwards to put his Son-of-a-mill-worker-hood to advantageous use. It's okay for Rudy Guiliani to put his proximity to the September 11th attacks to advantageous use. But if Hillary Clinton attempts to leverage her femininity to her advantage, suddenly everyone has to debate the relative fairness of it? Is American politics a milieu in which the participants often forego their natural advantages in competition, out of a spirit of fairness? No? Then suggesting Hillary Clinton be tied to a different set of standards is horseshit, the end.

6. Thrill Up The Leg
The sad curse of immortality is that it is often our moments of folly that end up outliving us. MSNBC's Chris Matthews will come to understand this in time. While covering the 2008 "Potomac Primary," Matthews enthused that Barack Obama's oratory caused a physiological reaction, specifically:

I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often.

Matthews thus became a symbol for everyone who has ever complained, or will complain, about "Obama adulation" in the media. In all likelihood, Matthews will never live this down. Not ever.

7. 32 Important Words The Media Missed
Back when Henry Paulson wrote up the proposed $700 billion bailout package, it contained this part called "Section 8," whose thirty-two words basically precluded any or all efforts to hold anyone involved in the disbursement of these monies accountable:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

The mainstream media totally missed this. Today, they are all yelling at banks, wondering what happened to all the money. It's quite pathetic, really.

8. Message Force Multipliers
On April 20th, David Barstow of the New York Times told the incredibly true story of how the Pentagon unleashed a platoon of administration shills with extensive conflicts of interest upon the television media, presented as neutral "miltary analysts," to serve as a "Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance." The complacent/complicit networks did little to shoulder the responsibility of their failure to vet and/or disclose to the public the true affiliations of these P.R. agents. But hey, were it not for Barstow himself, following up on the matter months later, it's not like the New York Times took all that active an interest in their own story. So, yes, America: you are entitled to your cynicism!

9. NYT Mission Accomplished Panel
In May, the New York Times commemorated the anniversary of the "Mission Accomplished" banner by hosting a symposium from celebrated thinkers, most of whom were well-known as people who got the Iraq War wrong. They were allowed, in that symposium, to continue to get the Iraq War wrong. Mission accomplished!

10 (tie). Charlotte Allen/Bill Kristol
How do you prefer your op-ed idiocy America? Rendered in a thousand cuts from Bill Kristol, phoning in his obligation to the New York Times? Or delivered in one sharp, shock-and-awesome example of stupidity, a la Charlotte Allen in the Washington Post?


As for (dis)honorable mentions, where do begin and end? CNN capped off their year of election overkill with their infinitely mockable "holograms," which will now stand in for the human talent they've been shedding. Portfolio inexplicably put American Apparel's Dov Charney on their cover at a time when everyone else was chronicling the economic catastrophe. Amy Chozick wrote an idiotic piece for the Wall Street Journal about whether Obama was "too fit" to be President - some of her "sources" were anonymous message-board denizens who she prodded into participating. Barbara West went after Joe Biden with every GOP talking point she could stuff into her head, and later claimed that zeroed the balance. And MSNBC's The Race For The White House was the dumbest political show ever conceived by sentient beings.