James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

Posted by James McPherson on December 30, 2008

It’s the time of year for lists, and not surprisingly, the election of Barack Obama topped the annual Associated Press list of the top 10 stories of the year. The next three were the economic meltdown, oil prices and Iraq. The order of those three stories help explain the election of Obama.

In fact, Iraq has faded so much in importance that now NOT ONE of the three major broadcast networks has a full-time correspondent there (reaffirming once again how far the news operations of the Big Three have fallen).

China made the AP list in fifth and sixth place, with the Olympics and the May earthquake that killed 70,000 people.  I was happy to see no “Nancy Grace specialties (“pretty dead white woman stories) on the list, while two women in politics–Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton–finished seventh and ninth. Two more international stories, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Russia-Georgia war, filled out the list.

CNN let readers and viewers vote on the top stories, and as of today those readers the respondents agreed with the AP on the top three. Further down, however, Michael Phelps, O.J. Simpson, Rod Blogojevich and same-sex marriage all made that list.

Fox News also lets “you decide,” though just through a running blog that lets people sound off. Some respondents’ ideas for “top story” (as written): “The biggest story of 2008 is that Barack Obama is not eligible to hold the office of the President, because he is not a Natural Born Citizen”; “It was the Democrat spawned credit crisis which they have worked so hard for to have it happen when the election was close”; “a made up money crisis to sway an election and Muslim financing in our institutions”; and “How the Democrats highjacked the economy and the white house.”

Time‘s list was considerably different and more internationally oriented than the others. The magazine put the economy at the head of its “top 10” list, followed by Obama’s election, but the next eight were the Mumbai attacks, terrorism in Pakistan, international piracy, the war in Georgia, poisonous Chinese imports, the Columbian rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, and “Mother’s Nature’s double whammy” in China and Burma.

Time also offered a number of other top 10’s, including lists of crime stories, political gaffes (the Huffington Post also offers its own list of “top political scandals“), oddball news, and medical breakthroughs.

I found Time‘s list of underreported stories among the most interesting and disturbing. For example, No. 9 on the list: the shipment of 6,700 tons of radioactive sand–created by U.S. weapons during the first Persian Gulf War–from Kuwait to Idaho.

Fox News contributer K.T. McFarland offered her own “most important story everyone missed this year,” one particularly close to my own heart: “the death of news delivered in print and the birth of news delivered over the internet.” She also engaged in a bit of snarky broadcast-style self-promotional hyperbole: “Perhaps the most intriguing new way to deliver news is something FOX News came up with this summer–online streaming programming delivered right to your computer screen. FOX’s first foray into this medium, The Strategy Room, is part news program, part panel discussion, part chat room. It’s been called ‘”The View” for Smart People.'”

Actually, like “The View,” “The Strategy Room” is sometimes informative, sometimes a trivial and inane collection of posers. But if you want to be really afraid–and disgusted with the shortcomings of fading American journalism–read Project Censored’s annual list of the top 25 “censored stories.”

In truth, the stories were simply underreported or incorrectly reported rather than censored, but the fact remains that every story on the list is more important than the “accomplishments” of Britney Spears (who topped MTV’s list), Paris Hilton, and every other Hollywood nitwit combined. And speaking of nitwits, Fox News also produced a “top” list. On its Christmas Day front page, Fox–the great “protector” of Christmas–offered “2008’s Hottest Bods.”

Finally, on a personal note related to another list: I was excited yesterday morning to see my blog at #5 on the WordPress list of “top growing blogs,” with my post about Christmas killers hitting at least as high as #76 on the list of top posts for the day. Less encouraging were the responses from nutball racists (mixed in with several more thoughtful and thought-provoking comments) on both sides of the Iraeli-Arab issue over both that post and yesterday’s.

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8 Responses to “Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?”

  1. Discover magazine’s top story, from their list of 100, is titled “The Post-Oil Era Begins.” See the list here: http://discovermagazine.com/columns/top-100-stories-of-2008

    Discover gets it right: Peak oil is the most important story in the history of civilization. What they get wrong is particularly telling, though: Technology will NOT come riding to the rescue (and neither will Obama). Next year’s top story likely will not be televised, or broadcast, either. It’s about the demise of the world economy.

    Happy new year.

  2. Ted said

    Challenge, can anyone prove this wrong?:–

    1. Constitution Article II requires USA President to be “natural born citizen”.

    2. BHO’s website admits his dad was Kenyan/British, not American, citizen when BHO was born.

    3. BHO is therefore not a “natural born citizen” (irrespective of Hawaiian birth or whether he may be a 14th Amendment “citizen” of USA) — as confirmed in the Senate’s own McCain qualification resolution agreed to by BHO.

    4. Supreme Court has already docketed two upcoming conferences, 1/9/09 and 1/16/09 — between dates Congress counts electoral votes (1/8/09) and Presidential inauguration (1/20/09) — to address Berg Case and fashion relief on BHO’s eligibility to be President.

    5. Since no facts are in dispute, Supreme Court rules on Summary Judgment to enjoin BHO’s inauguration as President.

    6. Therefore, BHO is not inaugurated as President.

    7. Vice President Elect Biden is inaugurated Acting President under the 20th Amendment to serve until new President is determined — the procedure for which determination to be set out by Congress and/or the Supreme Court so long as in conformance with the Constitution.

  3. […] Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the wa… […]

  4. […] those dead is both a sign of respect for those who died, and one of many areas in which the media have fallen short. Still, I also have to admit that journalism isn’t all about grim news, […]

  5. […] Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the wa… […]

  6. […] That seems like an incredibly low figure to me, but then I think much of what passes today for mainstream news also qualifies as pointless […]

  7. […] and the media they depend upon, would focus more on issues of substance. But the odds of that remain slim, despite a Pew study that the general population is smarter than the media on this […]

  8. […] problem is the focus on entertainment — on “razzle dazzle” — rather than on news that actually affects our […]

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