By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY — Looking back on another year of distorted analysis and reporting throughout the mainstream news media, a plurality of judges (myself included) chose as “quote of the year” an unforgettable comment from Martin Bashir.
After each cycle of analysis over a quarter century, it’s hard to imagine operative standards and practices in leading news organizations getting worse, especially on the nation’s cable and broadcast news programs. And yet, each annual compilation seems, taken as a whole, more distressing than the one before.
Bashir’s missive will stand the test of time as one of the most shocking television commentaries of the modern era. After former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin compared America’s crushing public debt to slavery, Bashir on November 15 unleashed a savage assault in his MSNBC commentary, one so dreadful that even seasoned analysts hesitate to quote it directly.
Bashir cited the memoirs of Thomas Thistlewood, an Eighteenth Century slaveowner who described the proper punishment of one slave was for another to defecate in his mouth. Bashir thought Palin deserved similar treatment for her analogy.
A firestorm of denunciation resulted, and Bashir resigned from the network on Dec. 4 (http://www.mrc.org/notable-quotables/year-end-awards-best-notable-quotables-2013?cat=16).
Runners-up simply couldn’t match Bashir’s vile rhetoric, but another MSNBC pundit, Ed Schulz, made a strong showing when he claimed, on Sept. 30, it was easy to navigate the healthcare.gov website.
“This is the website folks, HealthCare.gov,” he said. “If you go to this website, you will find out how easy it is to read, how easy it is to navigate all the information, all the basic questions, and all the direction you need to take to get involved, to get health care.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Americans found themselves unable to maneuver around, or even to understand, the site.
Finishing third for quote of the year was Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, who said the best initial response to the Boston Marathon Bombing would be to enact a carbon tax.
For two decades, I have helped chronicle and analyze the best of the worst (http://watchdog.org/64732/mcguigan-notable-quotables-analysis-documents-legacy-media-bias/) in the left-leaning national press corps.
Bottom line: the trendline for both reporting and commentary seems to be inexorably awful., marching from one excess to another on a road to irrelevancy.
I remember the Reagan presidency, when Chris Matthews was a likable liberal, a top aide to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill in the 1980s.
Now a seasoned veteran of cable commentary, he has a category all to himself: the Mean-Spirited, Nasty Belligerent Chris (MSNBC) award.
When it comes to a conservative U.S. Senator from Texas, you might say Matthews is on cruise control. No shock, his “winning” comments include this denunciation: “They are political terrorists, and like all terrorists, including those who use bombs, their number one goal — their only goal — is to blow things up. [Senators Ted] Cruz, [Rand] Paul and Mike Lee are on a mission to destroy, shut down the American government, destroy ObamaCare, drive the country into default, destroy the U.S. credit rating. Terrorists with one purpose: To bring down, not just this administration but, let’s face it, the American government.”
So there you have it: Fiscal conservatism as a brand of terror.
If brevity were the sole qualifier for the soul of wit, then these words from Politico’s Roger Simon might work for more than what MRC calls “The Kamikaze Award for Disparaging Conservatives During the Shutdown.”
Simon’s rhetorical question and answer from an October follows:
“Question: If Ted Cruz and John Boehner were both on a sinking ship, who would be saved? Answer: America.”
Other categories in MRC’s annual awards included a “let us fluff your pillow” honor for “Obsequious Obama interviews,” the “Obamagasm Award,” the the ever-popular “damn those conservatives” winner.
By now, you get the idea. Check it out for yourself, both in text and living color videos (http://www.mrc.org/notable-quotables/year-end-awards-best-notable-quotables-2013).
Today, my chosen profession is afflicted, at the national level, with not only bias against a broad swathe of American activists and citizens, but also ignorance of or willful disdain for the best journalistic practices of the past.
A tip of the hat to contest organizer Brent Baker and his boss, MRC founder Brent Bozell – and thanks to Jason Stverak and the team at the Franklin Center. These folks are renewing their passion to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.