The top 10 media errors of 2012 prove that even the most experienced media pros sometimes use poor judgment when making critical decisions. Some top executives, on-air talent and national politicians all committed big media mistakes during the year.
The PBS children's show Sesame Street suffered a media crisis when the puppeteer who provided the voice and actions of Elmo left the program. Kevin Clash faces a federal lawsuit from a man who claims he was underage when he and Clash had a sexual relationship. At this point, it is still just an accusation, but it was enough to lead to Clash's resignation. Sesame Street is handling the fallout by saying Elmo is bigger than any one person. But Clash was more than just a longtime employee -- his work was once the subject of a documentary called Being Elmo. Now it appears a movie deal with Warner Brothers has been scrapped in the wake of the allegations.
Rupert Murdoch may have been one of the 10 media people to watch in 2012, but he faced yet another year swirled in the controversy involving Britain's phone-hacking scandal. The uproar forced Murdoch to shut down his News of the World newspaper last year. While most people in the U.S. may not be keeping up with the complicated details of this controversy, it threatens Murdoch's position at the top of News Corporation, one of the world's largest media companies, which owns Fox TV and cable properties as well as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post newspapers.
When NBC's Today show chose to skip coverage of the annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony and moment of silence, it capped off a year that this smooth-riding gravy train for NBC fell off the tracks. The first sign of trouble was when ABC's Good Morning America topped Today in the Nielsen ratings. That involves more than just bragging rights. Today is one of the top moneymakers on TV. NBC decided to dump Ann Curry in favor of Savannah Guthrie. Disgruntled viewers turned their venom toward Matt Lauer, who had just signed a $25 million deal to remain on the program. These developments leave NBC with a big clean-up job on one of its most important shows.
The list of CNN problems kept growing throughout 2012. Most media watchers had expected that the hard-fought presidential campaign would give CNN its usual ratings boost. That didn't happen. With Fox News Channel capturing the politically conservative audience and MSNBC quickly snapping up the liberals, CNN finds itself without a group of viewers to target. Straddling the fence hasn't worked. Its personalities, like Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan may be familiar, but their programs are far behind the competition in the Nielsen ratings. Former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has now been hired to revamp CNN's programming in the hopes that something will stick.
The competitive nature of sports can create trouble for those covering the games, especially when they take to Twitter to voice their opinions. A sports radio host in Ohio was fired for saying he hoped an ESPN broadcaster would "get fired or die". If you thought that there was never a limit to what could be said on a sports radio broadcast, this proves otherwise. Meanwhile, a TV reporter in North Carolina left his station after being accused of using his personal Twitter page to speculate that a major league baseball player was using performance-boosting drugs. While sports reporters are encouraged to inject their opinions into their stories, social media has become a common way to get fired when tweets go too far.
Every political candidate hopes to manipulate the media by steering interview questions in a way that benefits the campaign. But presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced different types of questions after a TV reporter in Denver says she was told she couldn't ask him about certain issues. The reporter says a campaign staffer told her she couldn't ask Romney about abortion or about a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who made controversial comments about rape. When the reporter went on the air at her TV station to say her reporting was being stifled, the story went national. Romney was portrayed as someone who was afraid to field questions, though his campaign says it was a state-level person and not a national worker who imposed the restrictions on the reporter.
Whether it was part of a misguided strategy or a careless omission, the Democratic National Convention was just getting underway when someone noticed that the word "God" was nowhere to be found in the party platform. That someone was a Fox News Channel anchor, who seized the opportunity to question a party leader on live TV. Knowing how to ask tough reporter questions put the party leader on the defensive, especially when it was pointed out that the Democrats had included God in other recent platforms. But the party quickly moved to keep the issue from taking over the convention by inserting God into the official party platform language.
You know it's a strange presidential campaign when Big Bird becomes an issue. During the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney declared his love for the famous yellow bird, before saying he wanted to cut federal spending that helps fund PBS. President Obama's campaign jumped at the chance to protect Big Bird and the others on Sesame Street from Romney's budget ax, even using Big Bird in a TV commercial. But that move may have backfired, because Sesame Street asked the Obama campaign to stop running the ad. The big winner was Big Bird himself, who was invited to appear on Saturday Night Live.
Anyone who's ever held a job has probably thought of sticking it to their boss. When you're a TV news anchor, you have the chance to do it on live television. That's just what two co-anchors in Bangor, Maine, decided to do at the end of a 6 o'clock newscast. While the video went viral and brought them brief national attention, they will be left trying to repair the self-inflicted damage they brought to their careers. Their action provides an example for TV news directors and other executives that they need to protect themselves from this reckless behavior which can inflict damage to their brand.
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh is a master at building a radio brand. He understands that being mild-mannered or soft spoken won't grab listeners' attention. But even some conservative politicians who would normally agree with Limbaugh's views were taken aback by his on-air attack of a female college student. The student had testified before a Congressional committee about having contraception covered by health insurance. Limbaugh openly attacked her personal sex life, which caused some advertisers and at least two radio stations to cut ties to his show. Limbaugh later apologized for what he said.