Now in their seventeenth year, the P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of the nation’s stinkiest media performances. As the judges for these annual awards, we do our best to identify the most deserving recipients of this unwelcome plaudit.
And now, the P.U.-litzers Prizes for 2008:
HOT FOR OBAMA PRIZE—MSNBC’s Chris Matthews
This award sparked fierce competition, but the cinch came on the day Obama swept the Potomac Primary in February—when Chris Matthews spoke of “the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”
BEYOND PARODY PRIZE—Fox News
In August, a FoxNews.com teaser for the “O’Reilly Factor” program said: “Obama bombarded by personal attacks. Are they legit? Ann Coulter comments.”
UPSIDE DOWN “ELITIST” AWARD—New York Times columnist David Brooks
For months, high-paid Beltway journalists competed with each other in advising candidate Obama on how to mingle with working class folks. Ubiquitous pundit Brooks won the prize for his wisdom on reaching “less educated people, downscale people,” offered on MSNBC in June: “Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he’s had to change to try to be more like that Applebee’s guy.” It would indeed be hard for Obama to fit in naturally at an Applebee’s salad bar. Applebee’s restaurants don’t have salad bars.
GUTTER BALL PUNDITRY AWARD—Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball”
In program after program during the spring, Matthews repeatedly questioned whether Obama could connect with “regular” voters –“regular” meaning voters who are white or “who actually do know how to bowl.” He once said of Obama: “This gets very ethnic, but the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody. But the fact that he’s that terrible at bowling does make you wonder.”
STRAIGHT SKINNY PRIZE—Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick
In August, the Journal’s Chozick went beyond the standard elitist charge to offer yet another reason that average voters might be wary of Obama. Below the headline “Too Fit to Be President?” she wrote of Obama: “Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.” Chozick asked: “In a nation in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is overweight and 32 percent is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability?” To support her argument, she quoted Hillary Clinton supporters. One said: “He needs to put some meat on his bones.” Another, prodded by Chozick, wrote on a Yahoo bulletin board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”
“OUR CENTER-RIGHT NATION” AWARD—Newsweek editor Jon Meacham
With Democrats in the process of winning big in 2008 as they had in 2006, a media chorus erupted warning Democratic politicians away from their promises of change. Behind the warnings was the repeated claim that America is essentially a conservative country. In an election-eve Newsweek cover story with the sub-headline “America remains a center-right nation—a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril,” Meacham argued that the liberalism of even repeatedly re-elected FDR offended voters. And the editor claimed that a leftward trend in election results and issues polling means little—as would Obama’s victory after months of charges that he stood for radical change. Evidence seemed to lose out to journalists’ fears that campaign promises might actually be kept.
BAILOUT BLUSTER AWARD—Pundit David Brooks
On Sept. 30, just after the House defeated the $700 billion Wall Street bailout measure, Brooks’ column in the New York Times denounced the balking House members for their failure to heed “the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed.” But a week later, after the House approved a bailout—and with the credit crunch unabated and stock market still plunging—Brooks wrote: “At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they’re coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater.” Now he tells us.
“STATUS QUO CENTRISTS CAN’T BE IDEOLOGUES” AWARD—Too many to name
In late November, corporate media outlets began to credit Barack Obama with making supposedly non-ideological Cabinet picks. The New York Times front page reported that his choices “suggest that Mr.Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.” Conservative Times columnist David Brooks praised the picks as “not ideological” and the economic nominees as “moderate and thoughtful Democrats.” USA Today reported that Obama’s selections had “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.” In mediaspeak, if you thought invading Iraq and signing the NAFTA trade pact were good ideas, you’re a pragmatist. If not, you’re an ideologue.
“WHO WOULD HAVE PREDICTED?” AWARD—New York Times
The Times op-ed page marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion in March by choosing “nine experts on military and foreign affairs” to write on “the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wish they had considered in the prewar debate.” None of the experts selected had opposed the invasion. That kind of exclusion made possible a bizarre claim by Times correspondent John Burns in the same day’s paper: “Only the most prescient could have guessed … that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America’s financial costs by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008.” Those who’d warned of such disastrous results were not only prescient, but were routinely excluded from mainstream coverage.
IMPERIALLY EMBEDDED PRIZE—John Burns, New York Times
Described as “the longest-serving foreign correspondent in New York Times history,” Burns seemed less a skeptical reporter than a channeler of Henry Kissinger when he offered his world view to PBS’ Charlie Rose in April: “The United States and its predominant economic, political and military power in the world have been the single greatest force for stability in the world, such as it is now, certainly since the Second World War. If the outcome in Iraq were to destroy the credibility of American power, to destroy America’s willingness to use its power in the world to achieve good, to fightback against totalitarianism, authoritarianism, gross human rights abuses, it would be a very dark day.”
Jeff Cohen, author of “Cable News Confidential,” is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and the founder of the media watch group FAIR.
Norman Solomon, author of “War Made Easy,” is a columnist on media and politics.