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2008: The Year In Media Highlights

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It's the end of the year, and so I must answer the call for summative listicles of things. So, why not a list of stuff I liked that people in the mass media did this year? Okay! Obviously this is by no means meant to be complete or offered despotically as the be-all-end-all list on this subject. Maybe you'd like to add your own highlights in the comments, or send me an email with your own nomination? That way, I'll have the fodder for something to write on New Year's Eve as well! Anyway, i hope you enjoy this!

TEN THINGS THAT MANAGED TO NOT SUCK IN 2008, MEDIA EDITION

1. FiveThirtyEight.com
The uncanny, poll-wrangling, stats-freaking Nate Silver took it upon himself to demonstrate that some level of governable, rational reality could be brought to bear on the confusing world of competing tracking polls, and along the way all but cemented the geek-chic trajectory of this election season. But FiveThirtyEight did flesh-and-blood reportage just as well as they did number crunching. Vastly undersung were the wonderful series of posts that Silver's partners in crime authored as they traveled the country assessing the ground-games of both campaigns. Their only worry now is what will happen in four years when their terrifying accuracy inspires the electorate to stay home and avoid the polls out of existential overconfidence.

2. Rachel Maddow
While many cheer the stellar rise of Rachel Maddow as further proof of the viability of progressive voices on primetime cable news, I'd rather celebrate the rise of a voice that's not endlessly yelling or yammering away with all of the dull and insensate tonality of a pair of pecans inside a tin can. Genial, witty, and composed, Maddow runs her MSNBC show with a unique-to-cable-news understanding that amplified stridency is not a substitute for a strong set of beliefs. Plus, she's fun. Don't people like to have fun, anymore? For Pete's sake! If you're going to watch cable news in prime time when you could be doing ANYTHING ELSE IN WORLD, shouldn't it not be like grim punishment?

3. Compassion Forum
Did you ever imagine that they could stuff four hundred debates inside a single election season? Me neither! And most of them ranged between awful and excremental. But one of the few I enjoyed was the Compassion Forum, despite its resolutely stupid name. As representatives of the media, Campbell Brown and Jon Meacham's questions tended toward the reductionist and the cliched. But the various religious officials who were on hand to question Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were OUTSTANDING, asking deep and involved questions on both faith and policy. The forum's quality questions inspired both candidates to offer some of their most engaging responses. More importantly, it was a lovely example of the value of a contemplative life.

4. Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald, on torture
The torture of human beings is an unquestionable moral failure and a rank-smelling blot on a society that permits it, and yet who knows where those of us who would take up this seemingly futile cause would be without the relentless rational ballast provided by the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan and Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who have relentlessly added to the case against these crimes and who show no sign of discontinuing that effort.

5. Peter Schiff, on the economy
There were a few voices in the wilderness, gravely warning of the imminent collapse of the economy, to whom no one listened. Euro Pacific Capital's Peter Schiff was made to endure the relentless mocking of idiots on the TV, and for that, we salute him.

6. "Katrina's Hidden Race War," in The Nation
A.C. Thompson's epic, harrowing piece for The Nation, which describes in detail the way racist vigilantes ran their own little campaign of ethnic cleansing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is investigative journalism done right. More importantly, it's a necessary reminder that our past is not done with us by a long shot. And by the "past," I'm not simply referring to the three years that have transpired since Katrina leveled a city.

7. Alex Pareene
For most of the people who ply their trade in political "analysis," the essential task is one of superficial dazzle, to see how much mystical crap they can get dancing on the head of a pin. Witness Mark Halperin, who turns his idiocy into painful Zen koans and is thought of by important people as a sage authority. Gawker's Alex Pareene is an antidote. Through his relentless refusal to indulge himself in the senseless, masturbatory mystification of the simple, Pareene manages to strip down a political event or a media obsession to its essential, understandable elements. He's just not that impressed with the people who populate the political milieu. And he'd fracking hate being included on this listicle. God bless him for that. Now, can we find Pareene a perch where his paymasters aren't bent on burning him out?

8. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salaam
Hey, have you heard about this "Republican Party?" If you wander into the deep woods, they'll be the ones naked and howling, with sadness. Yes, the 2008 election has sent a fractured group off to do some of that soul-searching. Some of them will be aligning themselves with the Aerial Wolf Huntress From Wasilla. Some will choose an even blander course. But the GOP that survives to once again be a formidable opponent will be the ones who've got a dog-eared copy of Grand New Party on their nightstands. Authors Ross Douthat and Reihan Salaam aren't the only ones working the return-to-the-working-class territory, but they have the added advantages of being new-media and new-blood.

9. Bob Costas interviews George Bush
Is it sort of dumb to include Bob Costas on a year-end list of the finest media moments? Well, if more people demonstrated the ability to conduct a substantive interview with President Bush, then yes! But they don't! Seriously: can't you see Costas hosting Meet The Press?

10. Damon Weaver
Damon Weaver is the ten-year old kid from Florida who interviewed Joe Biden and who wants to interview Barack Obama over Inauguration Weekend. He is JUST THE BEST. I want him to get his interview with Obama, and so do many of you, and together, we will MAKE THIS HAPPEN. Damon just makes you feel like there's some stuff going on in this world that's RIGHT. Here's some details from one of his teachers, Brian Zimmerman:

Since Damon has been a reporter for our school's television station his grades have improved. He is not a gifted student. He is an average student who has been working very hard. I asked him why his grades have improved since being a reporter and he told me that people out in Pahokee practice a lot to get better at football so he thinks it's important to try harder in school so that he could become a journalist. Over the years, Damon's has had some behavior issues in his classes, but since he has been involved with being a reporter the behavior issues have gone away. I must also mention, through all of the attention Damon has stayed well-grounded and never brags to the other students.

Kathryn E. Cunningham/Canal Point Elementary consists of a lower socio-economic student population. 96% of the students are on free or reduced lunches. 80% of our students are African-American. In Florida the schools are given grades based on their test scores. Our school was a failing school we had a low "D". The past couple of years our school has raised its grade to a "B" and we are trying for an "A" this year.

This kid is doing it right folks, and he's reflecting the larger efforts of a lot of other people who are also doing it right.

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Honorable mentions? Well, I've been a fan all year of McClatchy's great coverage of Iraq. And I'm fond of The Washington Independent as well, especially the work of Spencer Ackerman and Laura McGann. Public Service Administration has put out some of my favorite political parodies. Campbell Brown made beating up on McCain punishment-junkie Tucker Bounds cool, and I loved her humane, histrionic-free defense of Arab-Americans. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was delightful in his confrontation with Fox's Sean Hannity. And this Bloggingheads conversation between Brian Beutler and Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably the best thing Bloggingheads has ever done.