The Silliest Stories of 2010
A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders
2010 was a year consumed with silly stories. The more trivial the controversy, the more airtime it consumed. Although not all the silly stories made conservatives look stupid, the more a squabble tarnished the right, the surer it was to generate talking-head babble. And then they fizzle, as most non-stories do.
Where to begin?
The Quran burning. After every media person in America dumped on Florida pastor Terry Jones for being a dangerous clown, and after two Quran-loving protesters died in Afghanistan, Jones didn't deliver on his threat to burn a Quran on the anniversary of 9/11. Yet a Nexis database search on "Terry Jones" and "Quran" shows the non-event generated more than 2,900 articles.
Any story about Sarah Palin. She's not Alaska's governor any more. She's not a declared candidate. She is a genius at getting on cable TV. Palin understands the trigger words -- for instance, when she told supporters in April, "don't retreat, reload" -- that can turn a Facebook post into a three-day, 24-hour debate. If she tweets, it's national news. When it became apparent her daughter Bristol couldn't dance, "Dancing With the Stars" became a news story. If the right person dishes Palin -- be it Oprah, Joy Behar, Andrew Sullivan or any other lib whom you'd expect to sneer at Palin -- somehow that's news, too.
Few expect Palin to run for president. But all she has to do is tease the press with the possibility that she might run in 2012, and she is rewarded with priceless book-promoting publicity. If she does run, only amateurs think she has a snowball's chance in Florida of winning the GOP nod. But it seems TV news producers -- and Palin haters eager for another fix -- just can't help themselves. It's like an addiction.
The incestuous relationship between "The View" and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. "The View" ladies regularly scold O'Reilly; he airs video of what they said. Sometimes he invites a she-critic on his show; they bicker, then make nice. Both sides manage to come across as
preachy, insincere and smarmy.
Larry King's retirement. How can you tell? Note to CNN execs: King's ratings were in the toilet before he announced in June he was retiring. So why did you devote hours of airtime covering the exit of a talk-show host -- whom Americans stopped watching because he was boring -- surrounded by the usual sycophants who made the show so irritating? Why treat his retirement as if it were (a) important and (b) tragic? CNN's indulgent send-off to King wasn't news. It was self-promotion, and wrong-headed self-promotion at that. Any ratings gain from the last night is more than offset by the news network's nosedive in the credibility department.
Delaware tea party candidate Christine O'Donnell. She never had a chance to win Veep Joe Biden's former Senate seat. But national news outlets were desperate for any hook to justify their excessive post-primary coverage of the gaffe-prone "I am not a witch" Republican, so they tried to make it look as if O'Donnell had a shot. When she was "just 10 points behind" Democrat Chris Coons in the polls, National Public Radio reported a "surge" of voter support, with O'Donnell closing the gap.
Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally and Comedy Central's counter-rally. Attendees from both sides told TV news crews that they showed up to prove they're not crackpots or extremists. Didn't work.
Stories about Twitter. Anything over 140 characters is too long.
TSA pat-downs. Or, as I like to call them, freedom fondles. (Just kidding.) Start with an absurd premise that TSA screeners want to get up close and personal with your average airline passenger. Then add the new national desire of partisans to paint themselves as victims. You just knew some camera-phone-toting wannabe-oppressed person would pick a fight and start talking up his "junk." Presto: the sound bite that made Monica Lewinsky jokes seem quaint.
Also predictably, some guy on the Internet urged the flying public to refuse body scans, which would subject them to time-consuming pat-downs, and thereby jam security lines on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He proclaimed his stunt "National Opt Out Day." Huge story that never happened. The flying public opted for security.
The Obama comeback. I'm not saying it won't happen; it well may. But can't the pundits who wrote about the Dems' shellacking a month ago at least wait until the next Congress convenes before they declare President Obama this year's political winner? Can't the chattering class wait until major polls show that Obama's approval rating is above 50 percent? Are we boardwalk fortunetellers, or can we wait for something to happen, or at least appear likely to happen?
You know the answer, and it's not pretty.
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