Fourth-estate follies, 2009 edition

The Phoenix's second annual year in media malfeasance
By ADAM REILLY  |  December 28, 2009

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Between the rise of the Web, the ADD-addling of America, the fragmentation of any national political consensus, and the devastated economy, working in the press can feel a bit like manning the Titanic — and this year, the entire industry seemed to teeter on the edge of oblivion. That may explain 2009's roster of media misdeeds, which include unseemly schadenfreude, excessive journalistic aggression (physical and verbal), shameless whoring for Web traffic, shoddy writing and editing, timidity in the face of power, naked acquisitiveness — and a cartoon depicting Barack Obama as a dead chimp. It may not have been the ugliest media year on record, but 2009 certainly wasn't pretty, here in Boston or anywhere else. Take the following lowlights — please!

1) JOURNALISTIC SOLIDARITY: IT'S A BEAUTIFUL THING With the New York Times Company threatening a shutdown of the Boston Globe — unquestionably the biggest local media story of the year — the rival (and understaffed) Boston Herald unleashes its scrappy-tabloid id, publishing a contemptuous list of 10 ways to save the paper (e.g., "Cancel pricey newsroom subscriptions to Sanctimonia and Pomposity Today magazines"). Around the same time, Globe-hating Herald columnist Howie Carr explains his myopic calculus — and the Herald's, apparently — to CBS News: "If we outlast the Globe by one day, we win."

2) HUNDREDS OF UNEMPLOYED EDITORIAL CARTOONISTS, ANDTHIS GUY GETS TO KEEP HIS JOB? Linking a face-eating chimpanzee story out of Stamford, Connecticut, to President Obama, New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas depicts two police officers staring at the simian one has just shot, as the other says: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Previous Delonas jaw-droppers have included hook-nosed terrorists cheering the Democrats' victories in the 2006 congressional elections, Al Sharpton with a really huge butt, and — as New Jersey moved toward legalizing same-sex nuptials — a lusty man carrying a sheep and applying for a Garden State marriage license.

3) AND THAT'S THE WAY IT ISN'T In an impressively strong follow-up to last year's mistake-ridden Charlton Heston obituary (in which the paper erred on Heston's age, birth year, and birth name, among other things), the New York Times publishes an appraisal of the late Walter Cronkite's legacy — written by factually challenged TV critic Alessandra Stanley — that contains eight errors (one due to editing) and prompts two separate corrections, totaling roughly 250 words. Meanwhile, the paper's standard-issue Cronkite obit requires another three corrections totaling approximately 180 words.

4) HE REPORTS —YOU DECIDE! A Time magazine cover story by David Von Drehle on Fox News's Glenn Beck begins with a description of a September 12 conservative protest in Washington, DC, that effectively renounces the possibility of objective truth. "If you get your information from liberal sources," muses Von Drehle, "the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists. If you get your information from conservative sources, the crowd was hundreds of thousands strong, perhaps as many as a million, and the tenor was peaceful and patriotic." And if you get your information from Time, you get what you deserve.

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  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Barack Obama, Columbia Journalism Review, Harvard Crimson,  More more >
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