18 Most Mortifying Media Moments of 2018

‘This was the year when reporters ... began loosening the usual boundaries governing journalism’

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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." 

The North Korean cheer squad, who appeared at both the joint South/North Korean women hockey team's game and the joint Korean speedskating performance, also received glowing reviews in the American media. A Wall Street Journal article triumphed: "North Korean Cheerleaders: 100 Olympic Stars Are Born." The article describes the cheer squad as the highlight of the speedskating event: "The surprise came when the South Koreans on the ice were upstaged from the stands by over 100 of their neighbors from over the border, the North Korean cheer squad." During NBC's coverage of the Olympics, reporter Mary Carillo excited described watching the North Korean cheer squad. "I've never seen anything like that," she said. "It was a remarkable scene."

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. 

NBC tried to corroborate Avenatti’s gang-rape claims but could not, yet the network let the accuser spread them anyway. Later, when fame-thirsty attorney was arrested for beating up his girlfriend and was evicted from his office for non-payment and was sued by his former partners for refusing to pay previous settlements … the media lost all interest in Michael Avenatti. 

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. The article, and another that came a week later, failed to find any eyewitness accounts to buttress her claim; in fact, those who would have been in the room of such a party all denied Ramirez’s account. The New York Times said it had also investigated the story, but after speaking with “dozens” of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmates and failing to find a single supporting witness — and, indeed, learning that Ramirez had reportedly been asking friends if Kavanaugh had done anything wrong — the Times passed on the story. But after The New Yorker published it anyway, Farrow and Mayer went on a media tour, elevating Ramirez’s unsupported claim further. 

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. CNN’s Ivan Watson appeared miffed she wouldn’t offer up any of her apparent intel without first being sprung from jail, and thus not much came from his assignment. 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

» Virtually every time the aforementioned Avenatti appeared on TV, he claimed he was bringing forth some new “bombshell.” (Avenatti is currently fending off criminal charges for interfering with Senate business, namely that his “bombshells” were “materially false.”) 

» 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. When confronted, Avenatti told NBC the woman debunking his client’s claims was in fact his corroborating witness, but after being told she didn’t corroborate anything, he shot back: "How about this, on background, it's not the same woman [as the corroborating witness]. What are you going to do with that?" There was more back and forth and the “corroborating witness” ultimately said Avenatti was lying about everything, yet 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. They pretty much … covered the gamut, as you’ll see in the (consequently NSFW) montage above. 

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. In the days after Pittsburgh shooting, the night-time anchor told his colleague, Chris Cuomo, that “we have to start doing something about“ the imminent terror threat from white Americans. 

“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.

MSNBC’s Alex Witt, interviewing Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), asked if Democrats will “protect the rule of law” and seek impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh. “Do you think it is a good move for Democrats — politically, strategically, ethically, morally —  to pursue, potentially, an investigation that could lead to impeachment?” she asked.

MSNBC’s Katy Tur, interviewing a California congressional candidate, Ammar Campa-Najjar, asked: “There is talk about the ‘I’ word, impeachment, when it comes not just the President any longer, but now Brett Kavanaugh. Is that something that you would support if you were elected to the Congress?”

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.

NBC’s Ken Dilanian, the Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein, and CNN’s Toobin all said the story echoes the second impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon. “Today I read the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon,” Bernstein said. “Everybody should read article 2 and how similar it is to what we’ve seen Trump do here.“

“It opens him up to impeachment, no question about it,” MSNBC contributor and former Watergate prosecutor, Jill Wine-Banks, said. Another Watergate attorney and frequent TV personality, John Dean, said Trump’s behavior was straight out of a “banana republic” and was “autocratic.” [Related montage]

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. MSNBC's Donny Deutsch said Trump supporters are the "bad guy" in America and are akin to Nazis. 

"If we are working towards November, we can no longer say Trump’s the bad guy," Deutsch said on Morning Joe. "If you vote for Trump, you’re the bad guy. If you vote for Trump, you are ripping children from parents’ arms."

He continued: "If you vote for Trump, then you, the voter, you, not Donald Trump, are standing at the border, like Nazis going, ‘You here, you here.’ I think we now have to flip it and it’s a given, the evilness of Donald Trump. But if you vote, you can no longer separate yourself. You can’t say, ‘Well, he’s okay, but ...’ And I think that gymnastics and that jiu-jitsu has to happen.”

When news hit that some elderly Americans inadvertently shared a Facebook meme originally created in Russia, CNN tracked down one such senior citizen and harangued her on national TV. CNN likewise threatened to "dox" or publish the address, of another Trump supporter who had created a meme mocking CNN.

"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. 

Frequent MSNBC guest and Hollywood filmmaker Rob Reiner said "those people who are supporting" America's immigration policy are "racist — PERIOD!" 

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."

"I believe movements and people talking and speaking up for things, whether we're talking about the civil rights movement, whatever else," Sanders continued, "those movements should be nonviolent but not nonconfrontational."

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.”

Did we miss anything? Would would your nomination be? Let us know in the comments below! 

Honorable Mentions:

It’s Curtains for The New York Times. For some bizarre reason the Times thought it would try nailing Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, for buying curtains for the ambassador’s New York City residence that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The story naturally went immediately viral. But as people who actually read more than halfway through the story learned, these expensive curtains were actually purchased during the Obama Administration, and Haley had simply been the current ambassador when they were installed. After the supposed gotcha blew up in the Times’ face, the paper issued a rare clarification and apology. 

Grabien Goofs. When making these types of lists, it might seem like we’re presenting ourselves as the authority on good journalism. But we too are liable of making mistakes, and boy did we ever during the Kavanaugh confirmation. After receiving a tip that Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, had terrible student reviews on RateMyProfessor.com, we located the reviews and quickly wrote up a story, which somehow went viral with lightning velocity. The only problem? It was the wrong Prof. Christine Ford. Ouch. Definitely the most mortifying media moment in Grabien News’ history, and we deserved all of the resulting mockery. 

Past Editions:

Top 10 Most Mortifying Media Moments of 2017

Top 10 Most Mortifying Media Moments of 2016

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to share the above montage, it’s available on Grabien’s YouTube page here

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