MEDIA
12/28/2018 02:54 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2018

The Thinnest Skins In Media In 2018

Their diapers runneth over.

What follows is a list of our favorite media piss-babies and corncobs of the past year. A quick note to the piss-babies and corncobs themselves: Any communication with me regarding this post will be considered on the record. If any of you contact me to complain about your inclusion on the list, I will be obliged to publish the email, direct message, voicemail, what have you. You have been warned, Tapper.

Jake Tapper, CNN Anchor And Respecter Of Troops

Are there any journalists working in media today who haven’t found themselves at one point or another getting piously hectored by Jake Tapper? Presumably, yes, somewhere, but they’re increasingly hard to come by. Because not only does Tapper obsess publicly over even mild perceived slights...

Twitter

 ...but he’s also notorious for sliding into journalists’ DMs to lash out about every single criticism of either him or CNN that he can find. When I put out a call for information on prominent media figures who like to whine at their critics in private, roughly half the people I heard from had a story about being chastised by Jake Tapper over Twitter DMs. 

To put this into perspective, consider the time and energy he spends furiously pushing back against the lightest of jabs in public. 

And consider that Jake Tapper will step in to defend Jake Tapper’s honor even when Jake Tapper is not actually the subject at hand. 

If this is what he’s like in public, one wonders, what’s he like in private, liberated from whatever shame he might feel about throwing tantrums in front of everyone? By all accounts he is even more prolific in the DMs, only now with an added dose of “show your forebears some respect, sir.”

In the spare moments when he is not searching his own name to find people on the internet to yell at, Tapper carves out time to do the thing he’s actually paid to do: Go on TV and demand that Macklemore condemn Louis Farrakhan, or something.  

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine Columnist And Scab

Considering the delight and fervor with which people mock New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait — let us never forget the BOFA — it’s a wonder that he’s never been even slightly deterred from his crusade of making sure everyone knows that the biggest threat to our country is college students being rude to Ben Shapiro. But then again, Jonathan Chait knows that the second biggest threat to our country is anyone being rude to Jonathan Chait, and also to Jonathan Chait’s bosses.

Why would someone actively work to undermine the efforts of his colleagues when not doing so was also an option?

Because whether you realize it or not, absolutely everything is about Jonathan Chait. 

Jim VandeHei, Axios CEO And Co-founder, Unofficial Spokesman For Zuckerberg 2020

It’s been a great year for Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei. He got a show on HBO; his outlet scored countless major scoops though I’m having trouble recalling what any of them actually were; and there was probably something else, I’m sure. All of which makes VandeHei’s decision to call up and berate Columbia Journalism Review writer Lyz Lenz over a not-even-all-that-critical article about Axios all the more baffling. 

Breathtaking. 

Maggie Haberman, Nonpartisan New York Times Non-non-reporter

You would think that Maggie Haberman would have learned by now how to deal with her critics. She’s been doing this sort of work for decades, after all. She’s part of a Pulitzer-winning news team at The New York Times. She bears one of the most recognizable names in the industry, bestowed on her by a prominent journo father and a power-flack mother, both of whom are plenty familiar with angry detractors. At the very least, you would think that she might have learned at some point how to ignore her critics.

Reader, you would be wrong.

Witness the below exchange, between Haberman and Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. Haberman has a valid reason to push back. Marshall is expressing skepticism about the reporting that underlay a series of her tweets about Hope Hicks’ departure from the White House. Haberman of course has every right to counter. But look how she does it.

Haberman sniffs that “non-reporters” should forgo skepticism in favor of unquestioningly trusting “actual reporting,” never mind that Haberman’s “actual reporting” on the matter had gone unexplicated in the omniscient, Pravda-ish argle-bargle of her tweets. And never mind that her own newspaper is a good argument against the infallibility of “actual reporting,” particularly the “actual reporting” done by journalists in close contact with powerful people. In Haberman’s view, Marshall, in not just taking her at her sources’ word, had committed the gravest sin of all: partisanship.

And then she accused him of facilitating the fake news narrative.

More developed criticisms don’t fare much better. In October, back when President Donald Trump was demagoguing the migrant caravan, Vox’s Matt Yglesias dinged Haberman for having passed along one of Trump’s inflammatory lies with an observation about political positioning. She’d tweeted: 

Yglesias’ point was simply that Trump’s lying was more salient than whatever value it might have as a matter of political strategy, and that journalists should frame their coverage accordingly. Haberman pounced. “Dear @mattyglesias -⁩,” she wrote, “calling out the uniting theme of anti-Muslim sentiment isn’t ‘noting political savvy.’ I understand tweets are subject to interpretation, but yours is incorrect.” What was she doing if not discussing Trump’s tweet as effective politics? No explanation was ever offered, and the rest of us nonreporter partisans were left only to guess.

It’s certainly true that Haberman is attacked on Twitter more often than her male colleagues are. And it’s also true that the Times in general is institutionally incapable of accepting even the mildest of critiques. What sets Haberman apart, though, is both her eagerness to respond and her inability to say anything in response that amounts to more than a sneer at her lessers.

Haberman would likely say she meant this as a joke, and that Twitter is simply a poor medium for such humor. She’s not mad, you see; actually, she thinks it’s funny.

Jonathan Swan, Axios-Branded Dictaphone 

Axios golden child Jonathan Swan likes to make a big show of being a gracious recipient of criticism. Just not quite so big that the graciousness crowds out his brief fits of rage.

On a recent podcast with fellow thin-skinned honoree Maggie Haberman, Swan, known for his ability to coax powerful people into saying precisely the thing they wished to broadcast, had this to declare about his critics:

Look, I’m always grateful for good-faith criticism. Advice, suggestions, how I can be a better reporter, and I’m lucky I’ve got talented and hardworking people, colleagues, not just at my own organization, who help me do better. But I think a lot of the criticism is phony and some of the people who criticize me, some of the publications who’ve tried to suggest that my work is devoid of public value, they’re quite insistent on aggregating my reporting when it’s negative. I reported recently that Trump wants to cut off funding to Puerto Rico, and two of the publications that wrote that I’m this worthless hack aggregated it. That’s fine. I don’t really like ... you know, I read all the criticism.

In other words, he’s incredibly thankful for his critics — they keep him honest and humble. That said, they’re also a bunch of jealous, gibbering hacks who wouldn’t know what real reporting was if you broke it down into bullet points so facile even a toddler would get bored. But, no, really, criticism is so important.

He loves it.

 Doesn't know how he'd do his job without it.

 

Chris Cillizza, CNN Something-Or-Other

Chris Cillizza, CNN editor-at-large, an ongoing experiment in what happens when you lobotomize a golden retriever and prop him up near a keyboard, is a special sort of defensive, in that he only really ever has one move. That move is this:

It goes on. 

Glenn Greenwald, Prophet Of Civil Liberties And Ironic Capitalization

Whisper “Russia” into a mirror three times, the old seafarers’ legend goes, and Glenn Greenwald will appear in your mentions calling you a warmongering neocon grifter, you fucking coward. He loves to fight, and truth be told, I almost left him off the list. It’s hard to say exactly where the asshole ends and the defensiveness begins. But then Greenwald tweeted this.

Pair this with the fact that he may or may not have created a parody account of writer Charles Pierce in retaliation for Pierce having quoted a Greenwald parody account earlier that day, and excluding Greenwald would amount to Journalistic Malpractice. 

Salena Zito, Gas Station Oracle 

Over and over and over again, critics in 2018 revealed the extent to which Salena Zito is a fraud, that her dispatches from forgotten America were doing a lot of forgetting themselves. Somehow, she managed to emerge mostly unscathed, having never really addressed the core of the arguments against her. This might give one the impression that Zito, who fancies herself one of the only journalists who actually gets what’s going on in Trump country, has been blessed with an otherworldly ability to ignore the haters, however correct and plentiful they may be.

Or maybe it’s just because Zito has actually just blocked about half of the users on Twitter. Inexplicably, in many cases, Zito will block someone and unblock that person days later, only to repeat the process all over again any number of times. I myself have been blocked at least twice, though I currently enjoy unfettered access to her feed of gas station koans. I pray this will be corrected by week’s end.

Chris Cuomo, Famous Brother Haver

Chris Cuomo, much like his CNN colleague Jake Tapper, suffers from a rare, debilitating illness that compels him to respond to nearly every single tweet that contains even the slightest implication that Chris Cuomo is anything but an upstanding, fair, nonpartisan, perfectly coiffed reporter at all times.

Fortunately, Chris’ fate does not have to be your own. Talk to your kids about the dangers of Cable News Guy Brain today.

Ben Wittes, Prose Torturer

Sept. 8: Lawfare torture apologist Benjamin Wittes composes a Twitter thread in which he refers to Brett Kavanaugh as “a thoroughly decent and honorable person” and assures his followers that Kavanaugh is not a liar. He then states simply, “I know this isn’t going to make me popular, but WTF, I don’t care. It’s the truth as *I* see it.”

Sept. 9:

Every Former Gawker Writer

If you’ve ever said anything even remotely negative about Gawker, chances are you’ve found yourself the target of a small army of its former editors and writers, swooping in to defend the honor of their dead website. Self-pitying, hysterical, they wander Twitter like some lost tribe of the true religion, wreathed in their own martyrdom, raging omnidirectionally over the insufficient mourning of their absence.

Part of the reason for this is the need to convince themselves and others that it was all worth it — that before their careers were gutted and their old home was occupied by a former enemy, they were part of something vital, that in fact the gutting and the occupation are evidence of the vitality. And they’re willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make this case. Consider, for example, the actions of John Cook, a former executive editor of Gawker Media, which later became Gizmodo Media Group:

Upon checking, Cook realized I was correct before attempting to engage in the sort of revisionist history Gawker had once prided itself on eschewing.

Cook is not the only former Gawker-ite known to engage in the practice. 

Ashley Feinberg, Professional Corncob

As I was finalizing the names I’d chosen for this post, something struck me. I had previously butted heads with the majority of the people on the list. Tapper? Check. Swan? Check. Cillizza? You know that’s gonna be a check. ZitoWittesChait (unblock me, coward). Had I just accidentally put together an enemies list? Was I using a lazily conceived year-end roundup as an excuse to lash out at people who’ve wronged me? I asked my editor if he thought that I was obligated to place myself among the ranks of the incurably thin-skinned. He said yes.

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