- Dec. 23, 2018
I’m usually cheerful during the holiday season. This year? Not so much. My bad list has grown too long, my patience way too short.
So with that, allow me to present what I hope will not have to be an annual Mediator tradition — the Grinchies. It’s an award that doubles as a ranking of the people and institutions who undermined this already troubled industry or actively worked against a free press, and it was devised with high hopes for a better 2019.
Recipients of the Grinchies are ranked on a scale of one to five Grinches. One Grinch denotes an annoyance, and five Grinches go to those who have undermined the news media or the general discourse.
Bill de Blasio
As if the New York City mayor’s refusal to take reporters’ questions at public events wasn’t bad enough, emails released this year showed him cheering looming staff cuts at The Daily News. “Good for us, right?” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote. He also rooted for the demise of The New York Post and suggested that his staff “starve” The New York Times. And I thought Rudy Giuliani hated the press when he lived in Gracie Mansion. Hizzoner needs to get a grip.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
You had one job. It was not a very hard job. Find a funny host and put on a show promoting the movie business. But then you hired Kevin Hart without checking his social media feeds or otherwise inquiring about his views. And now nobody wants the job. At this point, hire the Unknown Comic for 2019 and cancel 2020.
The Philadelphia Flyers this year introduced a mascot named Gritty. Like the city’s less-than-civilized sports fans, this fun-loving orange monstrosity was rude and crude and a little out of control — and the internet couldn’t get enough. Then the anti-Trump resistance claimed him as one of its own. Does everything have to be political these days? (Full disclosure: My late father worked for the team when it was known as the Broad Street Bullies.)
Ben Brafman, Weinstein Lawyer
Benjamin Brafman, a criminal lawyer, said last month that Harvey Weinstein had been “vilified by a vicious media assault.” Oh, the press was vicious to Mr. Weinstein? Is Mr. Brafman aware of how his client sought to undermine reporters looking into the numerous sexual harassment and assault accusations made against him? Does he remember how Mr. Weinstein hired secret agents from Black Cube to sidle up to reporters, gain their confidence and report back to Mr. Weinstein?
My queue is full. Enough already. Enough shows. Enough with the algorithm (do I look like I’m in a “Love, Actually” mood?). I’m saying this for your own good: Your content gluttony is becoming a problem. Just because you can swallow an entire industry doesn’t mean you should. And when you run movie theaters out of business, Mediator is going to be very upset.
James Katz, City of New York
Who is James Katz? He’s the New York City development official who signed off on a stipulation in the city’s agreement with Amazon that will give the company immediate warning whenever anyone makes a public records request about its arrangement with the de Blasio administration. That proviso was one of many inducements that gave the online giant a swath of Queens. As Politico put it, the city promised to give Amazon “notice sufficient to allow Amazon to seek a protective order” and block any such requests. Ever heard of the public’s right to know? It’s part of this thing we call democracy. Give it a whirl.
Why would Amazon even want a heads-up from citizens seeking answers? The company’s founder and chief is Jeff Bezos. Mr. Bezos owns The Washington Post. You know, the newspaper with the motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Demanding notice of public information requests so that you can stifle them is pro-darkness.
The Fox News Caravan Crew
Pete Hegseth, a “Fox & Friends” weekend co-host, said that the slow-moving “caravan” of migrants making their way toward the United States “looks more like an invasion than anything else.” A frequent Fox guest, Sidney Powell, accused the migrants of bringing diseases with them, and another Fox News guest, David Ward, got more specific, claiming that they would bring to the United States “smallpox and leprosy and TB.” (Smallpox was eradicated as of 1980!) Chris Farrell, a guest on Lou Dobbs’s Fox Business Network show, said that the groups supporting the migration were propped up by the “Soros-financed State Department,” a callback to anti-Semitic tropes about the Hungarian-born liberal financier George Soros, who is Jewish. Fox later condemned the comments and banned the guest from future appearances. But it all played to President Trump’s xenophobic message at the close of the midterm campaign. And more recently, Tucker Carlson, a Fox News prime-time host, said immigration made the United States “poor and dirtier and more divided.”
Claas Relotius / Der Spiegel
In a less heated political environment, the story of a star journalist who was found to have passed off fiction as fact would be worth little more than a chuckle from general readers and a scolding from media critics. But now that people from both ends of the political spectrum routinely accuse reporters of creating “fake news,” this kind of thing hurts journalists everywhere. Claas Relotius, a writer for Der Spiegel, a German magazine known for its fact-checking department, is the latest in a line of fabulists (Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, among others) to have made a name for himself by hoodwinking editors and readers with stories that really were too good to be true. Pick a new field, Herr Relotius. We hear Hollywood’s hiring.
It wasn’t me, Charter Spectrum — it was you! How many commercials did you run promising higher internet speeds? A million? Well, last week came the news that you have agreed with the New York attorney general that Charter Spectrum did not deliver the speeds it had advertised. Sure, Time Warner, which was previously running the service, started the pattern of bad-faith promises. And the company will try to make good by offering its customers payments of either $75 or $150. But that’s not going to get back the eBay bid that the cursed spinning pinwheel caused me to lose.
The Trump Campaign Advertising Team
The 2020 race has yet to start in earnest, but in the days before the midterm elections, the Donald J. Trump for President organization managed to do something I’ve never seen any other presidential political team come close to pulling off: It produced a commercial so racist and xenophobic that all the major networks rejected it, after it had aired on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” This piece of propaganda featured footage set to ominous music of an undocumented immigrant bragging in court about his murder of two police officers, followed by images of the caravan that originated in Central America. What other exciting firsts are in store for us in the next 22 months, Trump ad team?
Joy Reid / MSNBC
When reports that she had made homophobic remarks on her old blog surfaced toward the end of 2017, the MSNBC host Joy Reid apologized for her “choice of words and tone.” Fine. But when Mediaite reported on more posts of a similar vein, she claimed they were planted by hackers. When that defense fell apart, she apologized again, saying she still didn’t “believe” she wrote them but her views had changed, anyway. And that was that — no investigation by NBC News, which oversees MSNBC, no further comment from Ms. Reid. Either the blog was hacked or she invented a cover story. MSNBC and Ms. Reid still owe viewers a full explanation.
Safeway, Kroger, Publix, et al.
Long before Twitter and Facebook, the magazine racks in supermarket checkout aisle were the original platforms. In 2016, those racks featured covers of The National Enquirer as it pilloried Hillary Clinton with false allegations that she had covered up a “child sex scandal,” committed treason and was hiding a deadly illness (from which she seems to have miraculously recovered). The supermarkets arguably played as much of a role in spreading politically motivated misinformation as any online entity swarmed by Russian bots.
The fish rots from the head. And as a number of articles published over the last year have shown, a culture of sexual harassment pervaded every part of CBS. Its morning show had as a co-anchor Charlie Rose, who was fired after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment. Among the network’s prime-time hits was “Bull,” whose star, Michael Weatherly, was accused of sexual harassment by the actress Eliza Dushku, whom the company paid $9.5 million in a confidential settlement. The news division’s standout program, “60 Minutes,” was run by Jeff Fager, who was fired after sending a threatening text message to a CBS reporter looking into allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior against him. The executive suite was the domain of Leslie Moonves, the recently fired company head, who was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. And the CBS corporate boardroom had a place for Arnold Kopelson, who died in October after dismissing the accusations against Mr. Moonves by saying, “I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff. Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.”
Social Media Titans
You know what you did. And didn’t do. And continue to do. And not do. The Russians are still using your platforms. I’m talking to you, Jack Dorsey, Larry Page, Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg.
Guy Gilmore / Alden Global Capital
Guy Gilmore is an executive at a subsidiary of the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which owns a number of newspapers nationwide. In April, Mr. Gilmore spiked an editorial at an Alden-owned publication — The Denver Post — that criticized the company for the steep cost reductions it had imposed on the paper and the further cuts it had planned. Alden was already peeved with The Post’s now-former editorial page editor, Chuck Plunkett, for sneaking through an editorial calling company executives “vulture capitalists.” That editorial noted that the paper was profitable and argued that the cuts were part of a scheme to trade quality journalism for bigger earnings. Helpful hint: If you don’t want to be called a vulture capitalist, don’t act like one.
Myanmar, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China
Repressive regimes made 2018 a near-record year for the jailing of reporters, and they helped create a climate for an increase in the number of reporters who were murdered, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the name of the dissident writer — and contributing Washington Post columnist — Jamal Khashoggi, the truth will out, always, eventually.
Donald J. Trump
And to think: Those regimes see an enabler in the president of the United States. As the Philippine journalist Maria Ressa put it at a recent awards ceremony hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mr. Trump has given “permission to autocrats like ours to unleash the dark side of humanity and extend their already vast powers with impunity.” Ms. Ressa should know. She faces prison time in the Philippines on dummy charges. Mr. Trump’s “enemy of the people” language has reverberated around the world. And he once again undermined press freedom when he ignored his own intelligence community’s assessment of the role played by the Saudi Arabia crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.