Book of Tens: Epic Media Feuds of 2009

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Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin Credit: Eric Engman
America's most famous retired Alaska politician took on America's most ... uh ... most famous baby daddy? Most unlikely pistachio pitchman? Most notorious Fleshbot-award-winning Playgirl model? Most cunning hoarder of unspecified damning personal information that could possibly derail a certain almost-mother-in-law's presidential prospects? We're not sure what to call him. Maybe you're on Team Sarah, maybe you're on Team Levi -- us, we're not taking sides because we want the deliciously surreal tango danced by these two masters of media to go on forever. Seriously, it's way better than anything we saw last season on "Dancing With the Stars."

They had a bunch of kids, these two. They were cute kids, more or less. Mom and Dad exploited these cute kids to get on TV, and, for a while, everybody was mildly entertained. But the real show didn't really start until their stupid marriage started to come apart at the seams, and then Jon started acting out by canoodling with a new tabloid-ready gal pal, and then Kate changed her signature reverse-mullet haircut, and then Jon huddled with his new "spiritual adviser" Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, then Kate switched back to her reverse-mullet, and then ...

Or, if you want to believe the gossip mill, perhaps this should just be: Elin (the allegedly wronged and very angry wife) vs. Tiger. In the aftermath of the golf superstar's bizarre car accident, the year's best celebrity scandal arrived as an early Christmas present to the giddy tabloid press. Was Tiger really such a hound that his wife chased after his car with a golf club? Does he have a fatal weakness for party girls and cocktail waitresses? And do any of them have anger-management issues (and ready access to nine-irons) as well? Stay tuned.

In a year in which Wired Editor Chris Anderson insisted, per the title of his book "Free," that information really, truly should cost nothing, Rupert Murdoch came after him a golf club and ... oh wait, we're getting confused here. It was Google Rupert came after with a golf club. Er, no, wait, actually, it's just Rupert who's confused, because if he really wanted Google to stop "stealing" News Corp. content by linking to it, his websites could block Google search spiders overnight by adding a simple bit of HTML. No charge for that bit of info, Rupe.

In media terms, David Letterman was the Tiger Woods of his day (you know, last October): a shameless philanderer who went looking for love in all the wrong places (i.e., the office). So why did we all move on from his scandal so (relatively) quickly? Because Dave came clean from the get-go -- and rather cleverly overshadowed consideration of his own failings by dissecting, on his show, the mentality of the guy Dave claims had the not-so-clever idea of demanding $2 million to clam up. Dave declared seriocomic battle on his "hinky" alleged extortionist -- and won the media war.

Congratulations, Sarah and Dave! You're both on our list twice this year! But really, Sarah Palin deserves way more than just two mentions -- because there was perhaps no feistier feud-er in the public eye this year, whether she was attacking McCain campaign staffers or attempting to derail Obamacare ("death panels!"). But given how long she milked her attack on Letterman for a tasteless joke -- and the fact that they couldn't even agree what the joke was about (Sarah insisted it was aimed at her younger daughter; Dave insisted it was about her adult daughter) -- Sarah vs. Dave definitely makes the cut.

At the Miss USA pageant, judge Perez Hilton asked Miss California Carrie Prejean her opinion about gay marriage. Her answer: "I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage and ... I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman ..." Despite seeming to champion marital freedom of choice, Prejean was instantly cast as a heroine among, uh, "opposite marriage" supporters -- and Perez was cast as the nasty queen who derailed her shot at the crown.

"American Idol" loser Adam Lambert hijacked the American Music Awards and ABC's airwaves to deliver a performance that included, most notoriously, simulated gay fellatio. A tone-deaf attempt, perhaps, to distance himself from the family-friendly karaoke competition where he made his name -- but more to the point, an assault on the sensibilities of TV viewers of every persuasion. ABC then effectively banned him from its airwaves, prompting Lambert to go on a non-apology tour (I'm the victim of homophobia, he tried to argue) and, well, anyway, how nostalgic we are for Janet Jackson's Nipplegate now!

Barack Obama can't be president of the United States because he's bl... er, because he's not a natural-born citizen. Yeah, that's it! Because he's from Indonesia or Kenya, not Hawaii, which is barely a real state anyway, or he's secretly half-British or something, or something-something about his Kenyan dad and stuff -- so, yeah. Anyway Lou Dobbs and a few other folks have kindly pitched in to rent a U-Haul van so that the Obamas can move out of the White House. But Barack's ticket back to Kenyanesia or wherever -- sorry, that he's going to have to cover himself.

Throughout the year the denizens of the White House apparently felt singled out -- terrorized! -- by Fox News. And so, come fall, in the midst of wartime and continuing economic meltdown, a bunch of administration brainiacs sat around and said, basically, "Fox News won't stop picking on us! Let's say mean stuff back to those meanies!" And so they did, on the White House website and on rival networks. Humbled, Fox News apologized, promised to change its bullying ways, and threw a tea party for Rahm Emanuel -- and everybody lived happily after.

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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco

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