Looking back at 2001 is like looking back at two years -- the fat and happy first eight months, and then the unfathomable terror followed by sudden war. For the national press it was equally turbulent. For eight months it was business as usual, only to become, literally overnight, non-stop war coverage. Geraldo Rivera started 2001 on the set of CNBC still spinning for Bill Clinton and ends the year on Fox, reporting from caves, bounty hunting for Osama bin Laden.
To review the year in media lows, as well as highs, a distinguished panel of judges have once again provided the Media Research Center with "The Best Notable Quotables" of 2001.
A year doesn't go by when someone in the press doesn't say something so moronic, and sometimes so insulting, personally or intellectually, that one wonders how he got to where he is in life. Fading media titan Ted Turner made the headlines when he came upon CNN personnel marked with ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday. He won "The Politics of Meaninglessness Award" for the silliest comment when he asked, "What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox."
Speaking of the ignorant, ABC host Bill Maher's career is crumbling since he implied that our pilots dropping bombs on terrorist targets were "cowards," unlike brave comedians whose idea of a tough day is missing the party at the Playboy Mansion. Yet this wasn't the dumbest thing he said in 2001. Maher won the "Damn Those Conservatives Award" for suggesting that missing intern Chandra Levy's disappearance shouldn't be pinned on Gary Condit. No, one should blame ... Ken Starr. "You have to look at Ken Starr for a little bit of guilt," he told Larry King on CNN. In the glory days, you could hide your adultery and "they didn't have to make a political criminal case out of it. Now, it's almost like you have to get rid of them."
ABC's Carole Simpson took home the prize for the annual "Media Hero Award" for launching Hillary Clinton's 2004 presidential campaign. When Hillary joined the Senate, objective news anchor Simpson proclaimed that our heroine had "finally come into her own, free at last to be smart, outspoken, independent and provocative, all qualities she had been forced as First Lady to 'hide under a bushel.' Still she was voted one of America's most admired women. Just wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet." (Simpson omitted an itty -- bitty point: Hillary was "most admired" by a walloping 7 percent of the people who volunteered her name.)
But don't think the press has stopped salivating for Bill, too. Helen Thomas, who will never leave, earned the "Carve Clinton Into Mt. Rushmore Award" for the kind of gushing that might embarrass -- well, Carole Simpson. "Throughout his eight years in office, President Clinton warned us that the next great menace was international terrorism," Thomas announced in perhaps her first real scoop in years since this is news to the rest of us. Helen wasn't reporting, but speaking at a lecture series about the human spirit. She proclaimed, "To me and millions of others, President Clinton has always personified that. He is the man from Hope, and that is what he has given us, hope. We miss him."
Then came Sept. 11. Radical -- left filmmaker Michael Moore won the "Blame America First Award" for screaming in print on his Web site: "Keep crying, Mr. Bush. Keep running to Omaha or wherever it is you go while others die, just as you ran during Vietnam while claiming to be 'on duty' in the Air National Guard. Nine boys from my high school died in that miserable war. And now you are asking for 'unity' so you can start another one? Do not insult me or my country like this!"
With America on war footing after Sept. 11, it was necessary for some journalists to proclaim, emphatically, that reporters ought not to succumb to the pitfalls of patriotism. ABC News President David Westin won the "Swiss Press Corps Award" of neutrality for suggesting to Columbia University students that as a journalist he should have no opinion on whether bombing the Pentagon was legitimate: "I actually don't have an opinion on that, and it's important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now."
But after the terror attacks there were also those in the media who bluntly put aside political differences with a patriotic clarion call for justice. Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow has won the "Glimpse of Patriotism Award" for stating, unequivocally, what Americans should feel. "A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage," he wrote. "Anyone who does not loathe the people who did these things, and the people who cheer them on, is too philosophical for decent company ... This is the moment of clarity. Let the civilized toughen up, and let the uncivilized take their chances in the game they started."
No one said it better in 2001.