The Stinkiest Media Performances of the Year
by Norman Solomon
The P.U.-litzer Prizes were established a decade ago to give recognition to the stinkiest media performances of the year.
As each winter arrives, I confer with Jeff Cohen of the media watch group FAIR to sift through the large volume of entries. This year, the competition was especially fierce. We regret that only a few journalists can win a P.U.-litzer.
And now, the tenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, for the foulest media performances of 2001:
"Love a Man In A Uniform" Award -- Cokie Roberts of ABC News "This Week"
On David Letterman's show in October, Roberts gushed: "I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff, and they say it's true and I'm ready to believe it. We had General Shelton on the show the last day he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I couldn't lift that jacket with all the ribbons and medals. And so when they say stuff, I tend to believe it."
Protecting Viewers from the News Prize -- CNN Chair Walter Isaacson
"It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan," said Isaacson, in a memo ordering his staff to accompany any images of Afghan civilian suffering with rhetoric that U.S. bombing is retaliation for the Taliban harboring terrorists. As if the American public may be too feeble-minded to remember Sept. 11, the CNN chief explained: "You want to make sure that when they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States."
Protecting Readers from the News Prize -- Panama City News Herald
An October internal memo from the Daily in Panama City, Florida, warned its editors: "DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper ... has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails... DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT."
Best Embrace of Terrorist Mindset Award -- columnist Ann Coulter
This category had many candidates -- pundits apparently trying to sound as fanatical as the terrorists they were denouncing -- but it was won by Coulter, who wrote in September: "We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Runner-up: Thomas Woodrow and The Washington Times, for a column headlined "Time to Use the Nuclear Option," which asserted: "At a bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilities should be used against the bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan. To do less would be rightly seen by the poisoned minds that orchestrated these attacks as cowardice."
Tortuous Punditry Prize -- Jonathan Alter of Newsweek
In the Nov. 5 edition, under the headline "Time to Think About Torture," Newsweek's Alter wrote: "In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to ... torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history.... Some people still argue that we needn't rethink any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they're hopelessly 'Sept. 10' -- living in a country that no longer exists."
Child Warnography Award -- Bob Edwards, NPR News
On a Nov. 26 broadcast, the longtime anchor of "Morning Edition" interviewed a 12-year-old boy about a new line of trading cards marketed "to teach children about the war on terrorism" by "featuring photographs and information about the war effort." The elder male was enthusiastic as he compared cards. "I've got an Air Force F-16," Edwards said. "The picture's taken from the bottom so you can see the whole payload there, all the bombs lined up." After the boy replied with a bland "yeah," Edwards went on: "That's pretty cool."
"Wild About That Madman" Award -- Thomas Friedman of The New York Times
"I was a critic of Rumsfeld before, but there's one thing ... that I do like about Rumsfeld," columnist Friedman declared on Oct. 13 during a CNBC appearance. "He's just a little bit crazy, OK? He's just a little bit crazy, and in this kind of war, they always count on being able to out-crazy us, and I'm glad we got some guy on our bench that our quarterback -- who's just a little bit crazy, not totally, but you never know what that guy's going to do, and I say that's my guy."
"History is for Wimps" Prize -- Newsweek
When Newsweek published a Dec. 3 cover story on George W. and Laura Bush, it was a paean to "the First Team" more akin to worship than journalism. Along the way, the magazine explained that the president doesn't read many books: "He's busy making history, but doesn't look back at his own, or the world's.... Bush would rather look forward than backward. It's the way he's built, and the result is a president who operates without evident remorse or second-guessing."
Blame Certain Americans First Prize -- televangelist/pundits Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson
On the national "700 Club" TV show, with host Robertson expressing his agreement, Falwell blamed the Sept. 11 attacks on various Americans who had allegedly irritated God: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
America United Except for Those Decadent Traitors Award -- Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic and Sunday Times of London
Columnist Sullivan, as if trying to prove that a gay rights advocate can be as hysterically right-wing as a Falwell, wrote in mid-September: "The middle part of the country -- the great red zone that voted for Bush --is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead -- and may well mount a fifth column."
Sheer O'Reillyness Award -- Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly and Catherine Seipp of MediaWeek
A February profile of O'Reilly in MediaWeek quoted the TV host's claim that The Los Angeles Times had never named the woman who'd accused Bill Clinton of raping her in 1978: "They never mentioned Juanita Broaddrick's name, ever. The whole area out here has no idea what's going on, unless you watch my show." After it was pointed out that O'Reilly was wrong and that Broaddrick had been repeatedly mentioned in the L.A. Times, the writer of the MediaWeek profile, Catherine Seipp, commented that she would likely have caught the error "if I hadn't been so mesmerized by O'Reilly's sheer O'Reillyness. There's just something about a man who's always sure he's right even when he's wrong."
Norman Solomon is the author of The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media. He writes "Media Beat," a nationally syndicated column.