Ten Things That Did Not Suck About The Media In 2009
It's New Year's Eve, that time of year when you toss aside your better instincts and succumb to America's need for Contemplative Listicles that Explain The Year In Which We Lived.
And then, one day, you make a Listicle About Listicles, or you do one better and make a Listicle of The Best 85 Words Ending In -icle, In Order.
So, we begin today with Ten Things About The Media That Did Not Suck In 2009:
One of the sad things about living through this dark time in our nation's economy is the terrible way the media has addressed it. When they're not praising the culprits or treating human misery as pornography, they're trying to get us to sympathize with very well-off people who are surviving just fine, or just experiencing a fancy mid-life crisis about the recession.
But over at Bloomberg News, the reporters who originally set about bringing the complexities of the financial world into an open-source environment spent all year carrying on with their code breaking, and they routinely deliver the most clear-eyed, pom-pom-free, fact-dense, explained-at-length journalism on how the world was destroyed and what's being done to put it back together. There are too many examples to count: Jesse Westbrook's piece on Mary Schapiro is just the most recent example. And when others honored Ben Bernanke on the cover of their magazine, Bloomberg took on the Fed. That's how they rolled, all year.
Underscoring this is a bit of sadness, as one of Bloomberg's finest, Mark Pittman, passed away this year. You can see MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan leading a praise chorus, here.
Yeah, it's getting to be a bit repetitive to constantly praise Comedy Central's late night duo, but until more people crowd them out by making the same commitment to not suck at doing their jobs, it's going to be obligatory. This year, Colbert's been praised for doing all he can to bring residents of the District of Columbia some Constitutional rights, he's been way out in front in the arena of Glenn Beck ridicule, and he inspiringly lit Barack Obama afire for his detainee policy at Bagram AFB. But my personal favorite moment came with his dissection of the health care lobby's influence on lawmakers: "Folks, there are some things that everybody knows, but nobody says."
You do realize that Colbert is one of the few people in the media who has noticed they way the health care lobby has worked to file down the teeth of health care reform, let alone give a shit about it, right?
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Word - Out of the Closet|
I had the opportunity to talk to Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and Columbia School of Journalism professor Dale Maharidge this year, and man, am I ever thankful for it. The man just dropped straight science on me. If you haven't taken the opportunity to absorb his wisdom, do so now. And be thankful that he's still training reporters.
It was a small moment that probably seems stuntish and trivial at first blush. Maybe even second blush! But there's so little accountability in journalism these days that the symbolic gesture made by Chicago sportswriter Rick Morrissey, eating his own words in the presence of the guy he wronged, still meant something. People should tighten their game before it gets to the point where we'll have to digest our laptops.
THE END OF "MOUTHPIECE THEATRE"
Very few people noticed just how much suck Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza were bringing to the worlds of journalism and comedy with their viral video excrement, "Mouthpiece Theatre," until the two reporters hit the apotheosis of awfulness with their horrifically unfunny "Beer Summit" post. Finally, the wide world saw what they were doing and swiftly moved to put an end to it. And in one of the best decisions the Washington Post made this year, they listened, and cut the cord. The good guys won! Happily, we can still enjoy some actual funny people making fun of this:
This year, participants in a Time Magazine poll named Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" America's Most Trusted Newscaster. The ever-modest Stewart would go on to characterize the honor as something of a protest vote, but in 2009 he did plenty of stuff to earn it the honest way. Stewart and his crackerjack writing and research team were the brains behind two of the year's best take-downs: the first, his lengthy vivisection of CNBC jester Jim Cramer; the second, his patient ridiculing of high-toned liar Betsy McCaughey. But everyone remembers those. If there was a highlight that deserves some more attention, I'd suggest you check out Stewart taking aim at President Obama's "plan to ask our military veterans to use their private insurance to cover combat-related injuries." It's a matter that Stewart takes a little personally.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|That Can't Be Right - Veterans' Health Insurance|
This year, FireDogLake's Marcy Wheeler, who blogs at EmptyWheel, was the winner of the Sidney Hillman Foundation's Hillman Award for her excellent investigative reporting. It was an honor well-earned -- she's one of the most tenacious dot-connectors in the game today. If you take away one highlight from Wheeler's year, it's got to be her painstaking study of an assortment of documents that allowed her to lay out the timeline of our torture regime. She was the first reporter to discover the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a month -- a fact that sort of gives the lie to the notion that torture was an essential tool in defusing "ticking time bombs." She ended up in the pages of the New York Times -- which was good of the Gray Lady to do, seeing as how Wheeler did all the reportorial legwork for them. Wheeler followed that up by documenting the torture timeline of Abu Zubaydah, along with a chronicle of the scant intelligence all that immorality yielded.
The Washington Independent's Dave Weigel is perennially celebrated on these pages because no one's done a better job at walking the margins of the right-wing fringe. Part of what makes Weigel such an effective chronicler of the outlands is that he hews to a disciplined set of rules of engagement -- as a result, the subjects of his pieces open up to him. And while Weigel's plenty wry about the world he's been exploring, he very expertly uncovers the things that can and should be taken deadly seriously about it. Over the past year, he's written the book on the Birther movement, offered the best on-the-ground coverage of the fascinating election in New York's 23rd district, and is THE GUY who proved that the term "Teabagger" is a name the Tea Party activists chose for themselves.
One last important point: if you are not following Dave on Twitter, you just aren't getting the most out of the Internet.
THE YES MEN
The culture-jamming prankster-activists known as the Yes Men had a great 2009. This was the year they raised environmental awareness by spoofing the New York Post, won the Creative Time Award for Art and Social Change, released a new movie called "The Yes Men Fix The World"... and then they got better. In October, they received a massive amount of attention for staging a fake press conference at the National Press Club, pretending to represent the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that should exist, until a raving dickhead from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce we're stuck with showed up and bitchily put an end to it. The Yes Men then took their act global by going to the COP-15 conference in Copenhagen and throwing the world into a tizzy when they briefly pretended to be representatives of a Canada with actual guts on climate change. Our intrepid Katherine Goldstein got them to explain how they do what they do.
Recently, on these pages and elsewhere, we've been talking about how to fix the Sunday political shows. Here's one that doesn't need fixing: Fareed Zakaria GPS. The Sunday afternoon CNN show on a weekly basis delivers up news and analysis on stories that don't always get the attention they deserve, steeped in scholarship, substance and seriousness. Check out the fantastic, comprehensive coverage Zakaria gave to the Iran election and its aftermath. This is the news we wished he had every hour of the day.
Kid reporter Damon Weaver got his interview with Obama and a college scholarship this year. My favorite blogs of the year are The Awl (admittedly, I'm biased), and James Poniewozik's excellent Tuned In. CBS News's Bob Schieffer's defense of DC made me stand up and cheer. Spencer Ackerman showed what a reporter is supposed to do when they make a mistake. Like many people, I spent a lot of time this year enjoying the work of the Auto-Tune The News gang. I sort of wish CJR would temporarily bring Moe Tkacik's takedown of CNBC out from behind their subscription firewall, because it was one of the year's best reads.