18 Most Mortifying Media Moments of 2018
In the second year of the Trump Administration, the media went all in.
This was the year when reporters, in the race to claim a scalp, began loosening the usual boundaries governing journalism.
It was the year “corroborating evidence” became the most hotly contested term in America, Michael Avenatti was unleashed on an unconsenting public, on-air profanity was normalized, and reporters worked overtime as Democratic cheerleaders, frequently urging lawmakers to deliver them the media event of the millennium — the impeachment of President Trump.
Whatever Trump was for, the media came out against. When Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to become the next justice on the Supreme Court, the media went to war, digging through every trace of his existence, even combing through notes he sent in high school — anything that might turn up the silver bullet that sank his nomination.
There was so much, in fact, that we had expand our normal custom of compiling the “Top 10 Most Mortifying Media Moments” and expand it to a more befitting “Top 18.”
So now, without any further ado, here are the 18 most mortifying media moments from 2018.
18 — Beto O’Rourke Is a Rock Star Who’s Making People Horny (July – Nov., 2018)
Starting circa July, the media came down with a fever, and the only prescription was more Beto O’Rourke. The major media effectively offered Beto an open-invite to receive a glowing profile whenever his schedule permitted. He was featured on the cover of virtually every publication covering politics, and likewise received effusive praise in the broadcast media. In one representative moment, ABC’s Paula Faris, traveling with Beto on the campaign trail, marveled at his adoring fans and gushed aloud, “You’re a rock star!” Things got so heated, in fact, that the Daily Dot “reported“ that an Instagram video of Beto making dinner was “making people horny.”
17 — Cheering on North Korea at the Olympics (Feb. 10, 2018)
The American media went gaga for the sister of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Yo-jong, a younger sibling to Kim Jong Un, and the North Korean cheer squad, during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Yo-jong, who attended the games on behalf of North Korea, is the deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of North Korea’s Worker’s Party and a member of the Politburo.
CNN offered the most excited praise, publishing an article titled, “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.” The article began, “If ‘diplomatic dance’ were an event at the Winter Olympics, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister would be favored to win gold.” The Washington Post was likewise smitten with Kim Jung Un’s sister, likening her to the “Ivanka Trump of North Korea.”
16 — CNN Harassed a Random Old Lady for … Doing the Same Thing CNN Did (Feb, 2018)
For some reason CNN at one point tracked down a senior citizen Facebook user who, apparently, shared a meme that had originally been posted by a Russian troll farm. CNN’s Drew Griffin tracked her down and essentially accused the unsuspecting grandma of acting as an agent of a foreign government. It was painfully awkward for her, for Griffin, and for all of the viewers at home. But what was especially ironic was that the woman’s “crime” was doing … exactly what CNN itself had itself done: inadvertently promoted an event in part organized by the aforementioned Russian troll farm. After Trump won the 2016 election, CNN enthusiastically reported from an anti-Trump “Love Rally” in New York City, which Robert Mueller later reported to have been organized by Russians.
15 — Networks Let Michael Avenatti Use Them to Spread Smears (Sept. 26, 2018).
After celebrity TV attorney Michael Avenatti began claiming he had a secret client who would upend Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, the media effectively extended him an open invitation to spread his scurrilous smears. Once he unveiled his client, Julie Swetnick, and her bizarre claims of drugs, drinking, and gang rape, he was invited onto ABC, CNN, MSNBC, where he presented no evidence against Kavanaugh, but helped add to the circus atmosphere by challenging Kavanaugh to a lie detector test. NewsBusters reported that Avenatti was treated to more than 170 interviews from March to November. CNN’s media reporter, Brian Stelter, even promoted Avenatti as a “serious” contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
14 — Steve Schmidt Loses Touch with Reality, MSNBC Keeps Inviting Him on Anyway (Jan. – Dec., 2018)
Like many others in the media, the Trump Era has severed Steve Schmidt from any sense of perspective. His appearances on MSNBC can now be reliably counted on for serving up hefty portions of hilariously detached hyperbole. Schmidt, we often wonder, must surely be running out of ways to express how much he hates Trump — but somehow he keeps managing to up the ante. In September, he said of Trump: “On any given moment, the combination of his erratic behavior, his ignorance could pose a profound danger to every single person in this country and literally every inhabitant of the planet Earth.” In a December segment on Michael Cohen pleading guilty to a campaign finance violation, Schmidt wondered aloud: “Look, we’re at this moment in time right now where we have enough information to sit and wonder, might this be the greatest crime in American history?”
13 – In Naked Attempt at Destroying Kavanaugh, Ronan Farrow Torches Credibility (Sept. 14-Oct. 4, 2018).
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ronan Farrow partnered with his New Yorker colleague Jane Mayer to publish a series of anti-Kavanaugh articles that failed every reasonable standard of journalistic fact-finding. As both Ford and the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, first took their story to Farrow, it appeared they sought leveraging the credibility he earned in starting the #MeToo movement to compensate for their own lack of corroborating evidence. Farrow’s first article on the so-called “second accuser,” Deborah Ramirez, was widely panned for its elevation of an allegation that the accuser herself admitted only recalling a week before the article ran (more than 30 years after the night in question, a night during which she admits being extremely intoxicated and having only a hazy recollection of). When she first spoke to The New Yorker, she wasn’t even sure Kavanaugh was responsible. However, after “assessing” her memory for five days — as the New Yorker helpfully put it — she decided Kavanaugh had exposed himself during a drunken Yale dorm party their freshman year.
12 — CNN Goes Dumpster Diving in Bid for Russia Collusion Clues (Feb. 19, 2018)
Perhaps hoping to somehow uncover the missing link that would enable Robert Mueller to pin conspiracy charges against Trump, CNN dispatched a reporter, Matthew Chance, to St. Petersburg, Russia, to literally dig through garbage outside the infamous troll farm from which 13 Russians had recently been indicted. Unsurprisingly, this bit of intrepid reporting failed to yield any clues, but what it lacked in helpful information it more than made up for in comic relief.
11 — CNN Flies to Thailand to Interview Prostitute Who Claims to Have Dirt on Trump. (March 5, 2018)
Digging through dumpsters was hardly CNN’s nadir for the year. The network also sent a reporter to Thailand, where a prostitute claimed to have the goods on the Trump camp’s alleged collusion with Russia. The catch? The woman, Anastasia Vashukevich, who is also a self-described “sex coach,” is imprisoned, and hoped America (and/or CNN) would offer her asylum in exchange for her story. As of August 31st, the New York Times reported she’s still in jail, but is now facing a much longer jail sentence after her bizarre bid for freedom “badly backfired.”
10 — The ‘Bombshells’ that Turned out To Be Duds (2017 – 2018)
The overeagerness of the media to finally land on hard, incriminating evidence against Trump led many to prematurely declare minor news developments as bombshells. Even worse, many developments originally hyped as “bombshells” turned out to be … totally wrong (a trend that began in 2017). Here are but a few examples:
» CNN reported in July that Michael Cohen told Robert Mueller that Trump knew of the infamous Trump Tower meeting in advance. Cohen’s lawyers later recanted and said that’s untrue, but somehow CNN never retracted or apologized for this fake “bombshell.”
» In another “bombshell,” NBC reported that Michael Cohen’s calls were being monitored, including at least one with the White House. That, however, was untrue, and the story was retracted.
» And in 2017, there were a handful more.
9 — NBC Sat on Information that Undermined Brett Kavanaugh’s Accusers — Until He Was Confirmed (Oct. 1 – Oct. 23)
After the Avenatti carnival turned the Kavanaugh confirmation upside down, NBC attempted to report the bizarre claims his client was leveling. NBC spoke with a supposed corroborating witness Avenatti produced, but that woman instead debunked most of the client’s claims. Despite all of this happening before Kavanuagh’s confirmation vote, NBC didn’t actually publish the story until weeks later. The Daily Wire published a helpful overview.
8 — After Calling for Dialing Down Rhetoric, The Media Ramped It Up
After two horrific terror attacks shortly before the midterm elections, the media reincarnated a familiar narrative: “It’s time to dial down the rhetoric.” Politics, they said, was becoming too hot, and people were being driven to dangerous ends. The only problem was that they didn’t think this dictum ought to apply to themselves. After all, over this same two-week time span, the major media referred to Trump as “evil” no fewer than 12 times, likened him to Adolf Hitler at least 10 times, warned that Republicans risk eternal damnation for not sufficiently “taking on” Trump, and even said that the president “poses a profound danger to … literally every inhabitant on Planet Earth.” MSNBC contributor Elie Mystal said Trump could be ushering in a “1,000 year reich.” And on … and on … and on … [Related montage]
7 — NYT Exclusive: As a College Student, Brett Kavanaugh May Have Once Thrown Ice (Oct. 1, 2018)
In perhaps the most widely mocked article from Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, The New York Times credulously reported on a bar fight after a UB40 concert in 1985 in which it was rumored that Kavanaugh may have thrown ice at another patron. In journalism its customary to not report on a police response when no arrest was made, but the Times ignored this custom to ostensibly help feed the narrative of Kavanaugh being an out-of-control drunk prone to sexually abusing women.
6 — CNN Goes on Profanity Bender (July 6, 2018)
For all of CNN’s talk about President Trump coarsening American culture, the network is hardly blameless. Over the last year, the station went on something like a profanity rampage, using virtually every imaginable expletive on the air. Things started after Trump was reported to have referred to some countries in Africa as “sh*tholes” in a private meeting with aides. The hosts on CNN used that an opportunity to then repeat the word, uncensored, dozens of times over the next few days. Once the seal was broken, CNN’s anchors and contributors were let loose. And “sh*t” was hardly the only obscenity CNN’s hosts voiced on air.
5 — GQ Reporter: Trump’s Radicalized More People than ISIS
While this one could have been included in the “media ramp up the rhetoric” item above, we thought it deserved its own spot, being such a bizarre TV moment that captured so much attention. After a madman shot up a Pittsburgh synagogue, GQ’s Julia Ioffe went on her own rampage, first garnering tons of attention for effectively blaming Jews for the attack, and then later accusing Trump of “radicalizing more people than ISIS.” Her comments came as many in the media attempted to paint Trump as the leader of America’s anti-Semitism movement, thus suggesting he bore responsibility for the synagogue attack.
4 — The New York Times Canvasses for Kavanaugh Opposition (Oct. 3, 2018).
In another unusual diversion from ordinary journalism, The New York Times began canvassing for law professors to sign an open letter opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination for the court. Unsurprisingly, they found a lot, and as the number of signatories increased, the Times triumphantly tweeted updates. We certainly can’t recall newspapers coordinating opposition campaigns during Elena Kagan or Sonya Sotomayor’s nominations, least of all The New York Times.
3 — CNN’s Lemon: ‘The Biggest Terror Threat in This Country Is White Men’
Speaking of not dialing back the rhetoric, no one in the TV news dialed it up more than CNN’s Don Lemon. “We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them,” Lemon lectured. “There is no travel ban on them. There is no ban on — you know, they had the Muslim ban. There is no white guy ban. So, what do we do about that?”
That Lemon’s comments actually began with a call for greater unity created an irony that was evidently lost along the way.
2 — Media Urge Dems to Impeach Trump, Kavanaugh
Continuing a trend that began last year, the media frequently invited on Democratic lawmakers and urged them to deliver the media event of the millennium — the impeachment of President Trump. After the bid to sink Kavanaugh failed, the media likewise urged impeachment hearings against the forthcoming Supreme Court justice.
After The New York Times report that President Trump wanted his Department of Justice to charge Hillary Clinton and James Comey, the media immediately seized on the story to suggest impeachment.
1 — Media Turning Trump Voters into Public Enemy No. 1
But if we have to choose one moment among all of the others that should go down as the media’s most mortifying of the year, we actually can’t, because there were many. We’re referring to the media’s new tendency of taking out their anti-Trump animus on … his voters and supporters. Whether it was calling these Americans racist, sexist, or “Nazis,” there’s no question that this preoccupation with Trump is having cascading consequences in the form of a more divided America.
During the controversy over family separation at the border, CNN and MSNBC became a platform for attacking conservatives.
“All” Trump supporters are racist, CNN contributor Michaela Angela Davis, recently said: “Tens of millions of people voted for him after he showed his cards for years.” When the anchor, John Berman, asked her to clarify if she’s calling all Trump voters racist, she replied, “Yes, yes.” Labeling almost half the country bigoted did not earn her a rebuke from the hosts or other panelist.
Many conservatives this year said that frequent media invocations of “racism” and “Nazi” to describe Trump supporters risks an increase in organized harassment and violence.
When the Virginia restaurant, The Red Hen, kicked out Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family over her affiliation with the Trump Administration, some in the media defended the provocative act. CNN’s Symone Sanders, for example, endorsed the Red Hen’s actions and said people “calling for civility need to check their privilege.”
MSNBC contributor Zerlina Maxwell likewise endorsed refusing service to conservatives.
“These policies that this administration is putting forth are intentionally cruel,” she said Monday. “They are racist. It is our job as citizens to speak out against that. Now, does that mean that we are going to be violent? No. But does that mean that Sarah Sanders can have a nice quiet dinner with her family when she is taking our tax dollars to implement this policy? I don’t think so.”
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