The Ten Worst Media Disasters of 2011

Posted on the Mr. Media Training blog on December 14th by Brad Phillips

The Mr. Media Training Blog is pleased to announce the ten worst on-camera media gaffes of 2011!

This year’s winners include a politician who lost his place, a country singer who lost his job, and a celebrity who lost his show.

The media spokespersons were selected based on the impact of their gaffes. All ten people reinforced an existing narrative about their lack of preparedness for office, their lack of discipline, or their lack of compassion.

Here, without further ado, are the ten worst video media disasters of 2011!

#10: Hank Williams, Jr. Compares President Obama to Adolf Hitler

In October, country singer Hank Williams, Jr. was fired up during an appearance on Fox and Friends. While reflecting on a golf match between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, Mr. Williams quipped, “It would be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” The Fox hosts looked shocked and distanced themselves from his statement; ESPN promptly dropped his theme song as its Monday Night Football opener.


#9: Sarah Palin’s “Blood Libel”

Months before Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was almost killed in Tucson, Former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) released an infamous “crosshairs map,” which placed a target over Ms. Giffords’  congressional district. In the days after the shooting, Ms. Palin was blamed, in part, for the shooting.

Ms. Palin was upset by media stories connecting her to the crime; she was right that there was no evidence that the shooter had even seen her map. But she over-reacted, taking to the airwaves to blame the media for committing "blood libel." That term is most commonly used as an anti-Semitic slur referring to Jews murdering Christians.

Her poll numbers immediately plummeted with Independents and Republicans (Fox News head Roger Ailes was also said to be infuriated by her response). Instead of using the moment to expand her base by issuing a gracious statement, Ms. Palin narrowed it, leading many political prognosticators to declare her 2012 hopes dead.


#8: NPR Fundraiser Ron Schiller Blasts The Tea Party

National Public Radio’s chief fundraiser, Ron Schiller, went to lunch with a couple of men claiming to be Muslim donors in March. It turned out they were Republican activists with a hidden camera. During the lunch, Mr. Schiller called members of the Tea Party, “seriously racist, racist people,” among other things.

That he made those comments was bad enough; that he made them while NPR was already in the midst of a heated debate about its public funding was flabbergasting. His comments not only led to his immediate resignation, but the resignation of NPR’s CEO, as well. The House of Representatives voted to strip NPR of its federal funding. Fortunately for NPR, the Senate prevented that from happening – for now. 


#7: Rupert Murdoch Channels Tony Hayward

While testifying before the British Parliament in July, News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch was asked whether he accepted the ultimate responsibility for his company’s phone hacking scandal. Not only did he say “no,” but he delivered his answer without even a hint of humility. So much for Harry Truman’s axiom, “The buck stops here.”

By delivering such an indifferent answer, he gave former BP Executive Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward competition as the world’s most clueless corporate executive.


#6: Rick Perry’s “Oops” Moment

During a Republican presidential debate in November, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) confidently declared he would eliminate three government agencies – and promptly forgot what they were. For 47 painful seconds, Mr. Perry tried to recall the third agency he would eliminate. He finally gave up, shrugged his shoulders, and lamely said, “oops.” That one moment likely sank any remaining chances Mr. Perry had of winning the nomination.




#5: President Obama Jokes About Joblessness

With the nation’s unemployment rate above nine percent and millions of Americans desperate to find work, President Obama cracked a joke in June that few people found funny.

When a questioner asked a serious question about the nation’s inefficient permitting process, Mr. Obama cracked wise about his two-year-old pledge to create shovel-ready jobs, joking, “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” Many people blasted the President for his political tin ear, which has gotten him in trouble before (see earlier gaffes related to a San Francisco fundraiser, Hillary Clinton, and the Special Olympics).


#4: Charlie Sheen’s Downward Spiral

There’s little funny about addiction, and Charlie Sheen’s dangerous spiral was sad to watch (see “Why #Winning Isn’t Funny”). Sheen stayed in the news for months, but it was his out-of-touch interview with sycophantic radio host Alex Jones in February that led to his dismissal from his top-rated sitcom, Two and a Half Men.

In that interview, Sheen made vaguely anti-Semitic comments about “Men”” creator Chuck Lorre, called Alcoholics Anonymous a “bootleg cult,” and labeled Thomas Jefferson a “pussy.” He topped off his tirade by threatening to “murder” those who attack his family.


#3: The Herman Cain Affair

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was caught flat-footed in October when numerous women accused him of sexual harassment (another woman later asserted she had had a long-term sexual affair with him). Mr. Cain changed his story on an almost-hourly basis, even arguing that he didn’t understand an earlier question that had used the word “settlement” instead of “agreement.” 

Mr. Cain dropped out of the race in December, maintaining his innocence to a public
that no longer believed him.

Politico compiled a partial chronology of Mr. Cain’s rolling disclosures in the early days of the crisis.


#2: (Alleged) Penn State Child Rapist Jerry Sandusky Speaks

When former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky spoke to NBC’s Bob Costas in November about horrific allegations that he raped numerous boys, no one was prepared for his jaw-dropping answer to this direct question: “Are you sexually attracted to young boys?” It took 16 seconds for Sandusky to say “no.” Instead, he began by saying how much he “enjoyed” young people and loves to be around them. Sandusky’s alleged actions, combined with Penn State’s ineffectual response, led to the firings of the University president and legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

(Fast forward to 7:15)


#1: Anthony Weiner’s Twitter Scandal

Self-immolations rarely come in more spectacular fashion than when Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was caught tweeting naughty photos to strangers in June. His approach to crisis management was to: 

  1. 1. Deny the charges and claim his Twitter account had been hacked.
  2. 2. Call a reporter a “jackass.”
  3. 3. Say that although he hadn’t sent the photos, he couldn’t rule out “with certitude” that the erect undies shot was of him.
  4. 4. Hold a tearful press conference to admit he had tweeted the photos himself but refusing to resign.
  5. 5. Watch helplessly as a nude photo of his…ahem…member…was released.
  6. 6. See his private news about his wife’s early-term pregnancy announced to the world.
  7. 7. See yet another batch of sexy gym photos released.
  8. 8. Resign in shame.

One of Mr. Weiner’s worst moments (there were many) was captured during a CNN interview, in which he sanctimoniously blasted reporters. After Mr. Weiner resigned, a Republican won his seat, costing Democrats a critical seat in the House of Representatives.


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