A year of media vapidity
Sean Hannity marks 2008 as the year journalism died. But it could just as easily be the year journalism felt a thrill going up its leg.
That Chris Matthews announcement in February -- that a Barack Obama speech caused him a mild ecstasy -- represented the everyday "mainstream" media view. Reporters didn't so much produce "news" during this election year as they tried to make a sale. Every story seemed to say, "You know you want Obama."
The Media Research Center has tallied the year's worst reporting or "The Best of Notable Quotables." (The center's annual "Quote of the Year" and runners-up appear tomorrow in "Media Monday.") Among outrageous quotes, the "Obamagasm Award" went to Nancy Gibbs, Time's senior writer in charge of obsequious fawning, for using her post-election cover story to compare Obama to Jesus Christ, only better: "Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope."
A Kool-Aid-abstaining Obama critic might see in that line a reference to how Obama's memoirs are a melange of biographical fact and self-serving literary invention, as authors from David Freddoso to Jerome Corsi have revealed. But no, Gibbs was celebrating the Obama victory as a massive crusade to save America: "He won because in a very dangerous moment in the life of a still young country, more people than ever spoken before came together to try to save it."
Even anchormen couldn't resist the urge to "save the country" by selling Obama. NBC's Brian Williams won the "Let Us Fluff Your Pillow Award" -- for soft and cuddly interviews -- for trying to help Michelle Obama identify the worst Republican lie about her husband: "What of the attacks has busted through to you• What makes you angriest at John McCain, the Republicans• What's being said about your husband that you want to shout from the mountain tops is not true?"
Do you remember Cindi McCain being asked claptrap like that?
The day after the last primary, ABC's Diane Sawyer won the "Media Hero Award" by conflating Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: "This woman, as we said, forged into determination and purpose her whole life. As someone said, 'No thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown." (The quoted "someone" was William Penn, who wrote a book on Christianity and Quakerism in 1669 titled "No Cross, No Crown.")
By contrast, liberal journalists loathed Gov. Sarah Palin from the moment she took the stage in Dayton, Ohio, as John McCain's running mate.
Chris Matthews won the "Half-Baked Alaska Award for Pummeling Palin" for insisting in October that comparing Palin to Hillary Clinton "is the comparison between an igloo and the Empire State Building!"
Liberal reporters often assumed that anyone who criticized these sainted Democrats must be inventing things out of whole cloth. Deborah Solomon of The New York Times Magazine won the "Damn Those Conservatives Award" by trying to shame T. Boone Pickens for backing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry in 2004. She asked if he regretted funding them, and when he responded, "Why would I?," Solomon shot back: "Because it's such an ugly chapter in American political history."
Boone protested: "Everything that went into those ads was the truth." Solomon retorted: "Really• I thought it was all invented." Thus proclaimeth a scribe for that bastion of objective news, The New York Times.
But Solomon was no Bill Maher, who's in his own category of viciousness. On his little HBO show in February, Maher earned the "Crush Rush Award for Loathing Limbaugh" by reveling in P.J. O'Rourke's mockery of Rush Limbaugh's old OxyContin addiction. Asked Maher: "Why couldn't he have croaked from it instead of Heath Ledger?" Maher's HBO rants also won the "Barbra Streisand Political IQ Award for Celebrity Vapidity" when he railed against the Catholic Church as both "a child-abusing religious cult" and "the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia."
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann ran away with the "Madness of King George Award" for yelling at President Bush in May to "shut the hell up" and attacked him for "a final crash of self-indulgent nonsense." (That would pretty much describe the entirety of Keith's not-so-special comments during the Bush era.) Olbermann also insisted Bush was a "fascist" who was "urinating on the Constitution."
Up until convention season was over, MSNBC thought this kind of commentary qualified Olbermann for "objective" anchorman duties sitting beside ecstatic Chris Matthews. That also sums up the media's year in review.
L. Brent Bozell III is president of the Media Research Center.