Granted, other years have had flashier media embarrassments (Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, a complacent press cheerily abetting the march to war in Iraq — that sort of thing). But that doesn't mean that 2008 lacked for media misdeeds. Quite the contrary! In fact — thanks, perhaps, to the combination of a) the presidential race, and b) the ongoing immolation of the nation's newspaper industry — there was a veritable cornucopia of media low points to enjoy in the bygone year. Here, for your reading pleasure, is the Phoenix's recap of the best of the worst:
1) ALL THE WINKING INNUENDO THAT'S FIT TO PRINT
In a front-page story on John McCain's problematic ties to lobbyists, the New York Times highlights McCain's alleged/unproven/denied affair with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Their relationship, the Times explains, shows how McCain's "confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest." Hmm. Perhaps another, factual example would have worked better?
2) ARISE, KNIGHTS OF THE INVISIBLE EMPIRE! ACTUALLY, ER, SCRATCH THAT . . .
When a young white woman working for the College Republican National Committee shows up at a Pittsburgh police station with a "B" carved onto her face (that's for "Barack"), claiming that she was disfigured by a big, knife-wielding black man who'd taken umbrage at her McCain bumper sticker, most of the media proceed with caution. Not so the Drudge Report and Fox News, which immediately give the story massive play. Turns out it's a hoax, leaving both outlets with an "E" on their respective faces (that's for "egg").
3) HIS COLD, DEAD FACTS
The Times' 2500-word obituary for Charlton Heston generates approximately 270 words of corrections, meted out over three separate days. Errors include Heston's age, year of birth, and birth name.
4)THIS REALLY PUTS THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE . . .
After Meet the Press host Tim Russert's death at age 58, following a heart attack, his press brethren grieve so loudly, so publicly, and for such a long period of time that their disproportionate mourning becomes a case study in media solipsism.
5) HE ALSO GOES BY "PRINCE OF SHITTY EULOGIES"
Arriving late to the Russert love fest, conservative columnist Bob Novak, a/k/a the "Prince of Darkness," praises the late NBC mainstay for being an "extraordinary source" — thereby raising unanswerable questions about Russert's journalistic practices and integrity.
6) ALL THE HALF-ASSED, NEO-CON PABULUM THAT'S FIT TO PRINT
In January, the Times welcomes William Kristol, the neo-conservative eminence and Weekly Standard editor, to its stable of columnists. It's a great opportunity for Kristol to sway the American public during a hotly contested election. Instead, he makes an embarrassing mistake in his debut column (conflating conservative commentators Michelle Malkin and Michael Medved); shows an affinity for lazy arguments presented in tepid, almost grudging prose; and refuses to discuss his previous condemnations of the Times with public editor Clark Hoyt. For good measure, he disparages the Times again, during an appearance on The Daily Show — and, in his role as unofficial advisor to the McCain campaign, helps convince McCain to pick Sarah Palin. All in all, not a good year.
7) TWO WORDS, RUPERT:DON'T MESS
After Rupert Murdoch violates his promise not to interfere with the Wall Street Journal's editorial integrity by forcing out managing editor Marcus Brauchli and installing as his replacement Robert Thomson, formerly the editor of Murdoch's Times of London, the Dow Jones Special Committee — the body charged with protecting the Journal's independence — courageously responds by giving the Thomson hire its unanimous approval.
8) STAY CLASSY, KYRA!
During an on-air conversation with her news colleagues Gerri Willis (who's white) and Don Lemon (who's black), CNN host Kyra Phillips discusses making a "reverse Oreo" with her fellow anchors.
9) ALL THAT TWITTERS IS NOT GOLD
After an illegal immigrant with a history of driving violations crashes into a Colorado-area Baskin-Robbins and kills a young child, Denver's Rocky Mountain News sends a reporter to Twitter the boy's funeral. The reporter's "Tweets" — observations of 140 characters or less, composed and sent by cell phone, and instantly distributed to the News' Twitter-connected readers — include the following hang-on-every-word nuggets: "procession begins," "people gathering at graveside," "coffin lowered into ground."
10) A DUCK BLIND, A 28-GAUGE SHOTGUN, AND THOU
The Boston Herald unwittingly reprints a satirical report from noted humorist Andy Borowitz, on Dick Cheney's desire to go "hunting" with Hillary Clinton, as straight news. Busted by Boston magazine blogger Amy Derjue, Herald editor Kevin Convey admits the paper was "bamboozled."
11) LIKE THE HANDMAID'S TALE, BUT GLOSSIER
The New York Times Magazine publishes a front-page story by Style-section flunky Alex Kuczynski, known for her work as a plastic-surgery guinea pig, on surrogate motherhood. Titled "Her Body, My Baby," the piece is packed with enough self-pity, self-regard, smug classism ("I had the natal equivalent of a hall pass, a free ride, an automatic upgrade to first class"), and problematic racial imagery (e.g., the plantation-y portrait of Kuczynski, her child, and her child's black nanny) to alienate even sympathetic readers.