NBC News shed a controversial chairman, CNN’s Jake Tapper was accused of attempting to meddle in an election and C-SPAN’s Steve Scully admitted he lied about his Twitter account being hacked. The New York Times returned a coveted award as the paper’s credibility crumbled, Twitter feuded with the New York Post and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin even had a hand in the bizarre year for liberal media.
Whoopi Goldberg accidently floated Dr. Jill Biden for Surgeon General, despite her doctorate being in education, The Washington Post published a glowing feature on China’s Communist Party, CNN settled a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed by Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann, former media darling Michael Avenatti was convicted of extortion, and the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was condemned by some American reporters in a wild, jam-packed news year.
Without further ado, here are some of the biggest media scandals and controversies from 2020.
MSNBC’s now-former “Hardball” host Chris Matthews’ abrupt resignation in March shocked his colleagues and viewers despite a series of gaffes, controversial moments, and accusations of sexist behavior.
The announcement came days after journalist Laura Bassett claimed in a GQ op-ed that Matthews used sexist language when she visited the MSNBC studio to appear on his show.
Matthews spoke with NBC management and the decision was made to accelerate his looming retirement after a series of controversies, including Bassett’s claims, a person familiar with the meeting told Fox News at the time.
“Compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men, including me, might have once incorrectly thought were OK were not OK, not then and certainly not today. And for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry,” Matthews said during his on-air goodbye.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo – one of the first high-profile people to test positive for coronavirus — regularly faced hypocrisy charges as a result of his actions related to the pandemic, as the “Cuomo Prime Time” namesake regularly called for others to wear a mask, stressing its importance and condemning anyone who did not cooperate. However, Cuomo is often accused of living by the “rules for thee, but not for me” mantra.
In April, he was accused of staging his own dramatic emergence from the basement in his posh Hamptons home where he had been recovering from the coronavirus, after his widely-reported spat with a bicyclist occurred the week prior to his “official re-entry” into society.
Cuomo addressed his road to recovery, which included a video showing him emerging from the basement of his home where he had been quarantined.
“All right, here it is… the official re-entry from the basement, cleared by the CDC,” Cuomo narrated as he walked upstairs to greet his family. “This is what I’ve been dreaming of, literally, for weeks.”
However, Cuomo was involved in a heated altercation that took place outside a different home when a bicyclist claimed the CNN anchor was violating quarantine guidelines that were being enforced by his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The media bent over backwards in 2020 to paint sometimes violent protests across the nation as “peaceful” demonstrations. In May, MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi, who was reporting live from Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, told viewers that the situation was “not generally speaking unruly” … while standing in front of a burning building.
ABC News was mocked in July for describing a California protest that featured demonstrators setting fire to a courthouse, vandalizing a police station, and shooting fireworks at police officers, as “peaceful.”
“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell even said “mostly peaceful” protests would cost $1 to $2 billion in claims as a result of damage from looting and arson.
Perhaps the most egregious example happened when CNN national correspondent Omar Jimenez was reporting live in August on the unrest that had taken place in Kenosha, Wis., following the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake. The CNN reporter was literally standing in front of a raging fire and the chyron at the bottom of the screen read, “FIERY BUT MOSTLY PEACEFUL PROTESTS AFTER POLICE SHOOTING.”
The “Cuomo Prime Time” namesake happens to be the younger brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the siblings conducted a series of playful on-air conversations masquerading as interviews at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, famously reversed a March 25 order that forced nursing homes to accept patients who tested positive for coronavirus, despite testing deficiencies for both residents and staff. Cuomo changed his mind and signed an executive order on May 11 stopping hospitals from sending infected patients back to nursing homes and ramping up testing for staff – but thousands had died from COVID-19 in New York nursing homes before Cuomo reversed course.
Americans wanted answers from the elder Cuomo, but the CNN host instead joked around with his brother about things such as who is their mother’s favorite child while ignoring the nursing home scandal. During one infamous segment, the Cuomo brothers turned to physical comedy after the CNN anchor played a clip of the governor taking a coronavirus test where a nurse placed a cotton swab up his nostril.
“Is it true that this was the swab that the nurse was actually using on you?” the primetime host asked his brother while holding a cartoonishly oversized cotton swab.
Months later, CNN’s Cuomo finally mentioned the nursing home controversy to his brother after ignoring it during at least 10 on-air interviews since the pandemic began.
“Nursing homes. People died there, they didn’t have to, it was mismanaged and the operators have been given immunity. What do you have to say about that?” the CNN anchor asked.
“Several statements that are not correct, but that’s OK. It’s your show, you say whatever you want to say,” Gov. Cuomo jokingly reacted.
The governor then called the nursing home deaths “the most tragic situation” and pointed to how there were nursing home deaths “all across the country” and said “we have to figure out how to do it better the next time” before the next virus wave occurs.
At the end of the interview, the CNN anchor showered the governor with praise as New York’s leader and even admitted to his viewers, “Of course, I’m not objective” while expressing his love for his brother.
The New York Times published a June op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton about the George Floyd unrest that caused an uproar at the newspaper. The piece, headlined, “Send in the Troops,” called for the government to deploy troops as a last resort to help quell riots and looting that emerged amid the anger over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
The publication sparked a revolt among Times journalists, with some saying it endangered black employees. Staff members called out sick in protest, and there was a reported “civil war” within the paper between the young “woke” and older liberal journalists.
The Times later announced that a review found the piece did not meet its standards and announced several changes, including expanding its fact-checking operation and reducing the number of op-eds–opinion pieces written by outside contributors. Then-editorial page editor James Bennet stepped down because of the chaos and admitted that he did not read the piece before it ran.
Now-former New York Times opinion columnist and editor Bari Weiss announced in July she would leave the Gray Lady, saying she was bullied by colleagues in an “illiberal environment,” weeks after declaring there was a “civil war” inside the paper.
Weiss published a scathing resignation letter that she sent to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger on her personal website, noting she doesn’t understand how toxic behavior is allowed inside the newsroom and “showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.”
Weiss then wrote that “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times,” but social media acts as the ultimate editor. She said her own “forays into Wrongthink” have made her the subject of “constant bullying by colleagues” who disagree with her views.
“They have called me a Nazi and a racist,” she wrote of her former Times co-workers.
ABC News executive Barbara Fedida was fired in July after being placed on administrative leave over racist remarks she reportedly made about Black employees.
The move came after journalist Yashar Ali laid out damning accusations against Fedida, then-head of ABC News talent, and her treatment of Black journalists at the network, including “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts.
In 2018, during a contentious meeting about renewing Roberts’ contract, Fedida reportedly “asked what more Roberts could want and said it wasn’t as if the network was asking Roberts to ‘pick cotton.'” Fedida also reportedly referred to “The View” co-host Sunny Hostin as “low rent.”
According to Ali, at least a “dozen” HR complaints were made against Fedida over the years and her conduct “has led to millions in confidential settlements including at least one settlement involving allegations of racial discrimination.”
MSNBC host Joy Reid came under fire for remarks that led critics to accuse her of Islamophobia in September when she suggested that President Trump has radicalized his supporters in the same way that “Muslims act.”
Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and civil rights organization Muslim Advocates called on Reid to apologize, but the MSNBC host declined, instead suggesting the criticism was “not in good faith.”
Later in the year, Reid caught fire again, this time for using a racial slur against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during the network’s election coverage. She sounded the alarm that the conservative-controlled Supreme Court would favor Trump over Biden if they had to decide on the presidency.
The anonymous Trump administration official who authored a New York Times op-ed in 2018 declaring to be part of the “resistance” revealed himself in October to be former Department of Homeland Security staffer-turned CNN contributor Miles Taylor. Many observers were disappointed, as “Anonymous” was assumed to be a bigger name with a more prominent role in the government.
Taylor lied to CNN by denying authorship of the op-ed during an Aug. 21 interview with Anderson Cooper. The liberal network hired him weeks later and did not dismiss him after he revealed himself to be “Anonymous.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany released a statement knocking Taylor as a “low-level, disgruntled former staffer,” as well as “a liar and a coward who chose anonymity over action and leaking over leading.”
In February, ABC News suspended veteran Washington correspondent David Wright for remarks he made that were captured on video by Project Veritas. Wright was disciplined after higher-ups at ABC News reviewed footage in which Wright described himself as a “socialist” and appeared to criticize the network for how it chooses to present the news – but Project Vertitas wasn’t finished generating headlines in 2020.
Project Veritas, a conservative whistleblower watchdog group, went after CNN and published a series of secret recordings of the network’s internal conference calls. During the calls, CNN honchos were heard dismissing the Hunter Biden scandal and bashing President Trump.
C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, who was slated to moderate a town hall debate between President Trump and Joe Biden that never happened, was suspended indefinitely in October after admitting he fabricated a story that his Twitter account was hacked after a message to former Trump aide-turned-adversary Anthony Scaramucci emerged.
A viral tweet to Scaramucci made it appear the would-be debate moderator was seeking advice about Trump, but C-SPAN and the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) both initially defended Scully as “a man of great integrity” and chalked the public message up to the result of a ruthless hacker. C-SPAN even issued an official statement claiming Scully “did not originate the tweet” in question.
Scully later admitted he lied and actually sent the tweet himself, chalking it up as “errors in judgment for which I am totally responsible.” His credibility as an unbiased debate moderator was initially questioned after it became known that he previously worked as an intern for then-Sen. Joe Biden and served as a staffer for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
During the 2016 campaign, Scully shared a New York Times op-ed headlined, “No, Not Trump, Not Ever.”
Now-former NBC News Chairman Andy Lack left the company in May amid a trail of scandal and controversy. He had been accused of botching a variety of sexual misconduct issues, ranging from his claim that Ronan Farrow’s award-winning coverage of Harvey Weinstein wasn’t fit to print to insisting the investigation into Matt Lauer’s workplace sexual misconduct be piloted by fellow NBC executives instead of an outside entity.
Despite all of the negative attention and calls for change coming from both high-powered women in media and women’s rights groups, NBCUniversal publicly stood by Lack – with multiple insiders pointing to his cozy relationship with former CEO of NBCUniversal Stephen Burke as the reason the controversial executive once seemed untouchable.
But Burke was replaced with current NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell in 2020 and the Peacock Network’s news division was quickly shaken up – starting with Lack’s exit.
MSNBC President Phil Griffin is set to leave the company early next year, too. In October 2019, sexual assault survivors and activists from UltraViolet, a leading national women’s organization, organized a protest outside NBC News headquarters in New York City and called for the firing of Griffin and “every other person in leadership that enabled abusers and silenced survivors” at the network.
NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, who also came under intense scrutiny during the #MeToo movement amid the Lauer and Weinstein scandals, has managed to remain at the network.
Presidential historian Jon Meacham failed to disclose to his employers at MSNBC that he was serving as a speechwriter for President-elect Joe Biden. Meacham even appeared on MSNBC following Biden’s election victory speech without any disclosure that he was heavily involved in the crafting the same address he was on TV to analyze. Needless to say, he complimented the speech he helped write.
Meacham lost his paid contributorship at MSNBC but is still welcomed as a guest.
The liberal mainstream media largely ignored the ongoing Hunter Biden scandal until after his father won the presidential election. In the final weeks of the campaign, there was an unprecedented media blackout of the explosive reporting from the New York Post that shed light on Hunter Biden’s questionable business dealings overseas. The Post was the first outlet to publish damning emails and messages found on a laptop suggesting impropriety in Hunter Biden’s foreign business ties that implicated his father.
Following the election, the scandal that was once dismissed by members of the media as “too disgusting” to cover and a “baseless conspiracy theory” suddenly appeared to be newsworthy when the Biden-Harris transition announced that the younger Biden’s “tax affairs” were being investigated.
The Hunter Biden scandal wasn’t the only story glossed over by the liberal media in 2020. Everything from Rep. Eric Swalwell’s relationship with a Chinese national named Fang Fang to New York City politico Lindsey Boylan charging that Gov. Cuomo “sexually harassed me for years” went largely ignored.
CNN and MSNBC didn’t even bother to air President Trump’s comments at the historic vaccine summit at the White House in December, instead showing viewers President-elect Joe Biden speaking about what his administration plans to do with the vaccine.
CNN and MSNBC also chose not to air the historic vote in the Senate that confirmed Amy Coney Barrett as the 115th justice and only the fifth woman to the Supreme Court.
Big Tech faced significant backlash after Twitter and Facebook attempted to suppress the bombshell New York Post report, which included published emails that allegedly came from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Twitter went to extremes by not even allowing users to share the article, which it initially claimed violated its policy of sharing hacked material, though there was no evidence that the emails published by the Post were hacked.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey eventually admitted its policy of forbidding anyone to tweet out the Post’s Hunter Biden report was a mistake. However, the company’s position remained that the newspaper needed to delete the original tweet in order to regain access to its account – but the paper refused.
Twitter finally caved after a weeks-long standoff and restored the Post’s account.
“We’re baaaaaaack,” the Post tweeted above a picture of its front page, which bore the headline “Free Bird!”
The Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” was so polarizing that opinion columnist Bret Stephens went after his own paper with a scathing column. He wrote that Nikole Hannah-Jones’ controversial project “has given critics of The Times a gift” because it can justify claims that the paper is “fake, biased, partisan and an arm of the radical left.”
But “The 1619 Project” was far from the only award-winning project that caused issues for the Gray Lady in 2020.
The Times published an extensive correction in December after acknowledging its 2018 podcast series “Caliphate” heavily relied on a serial fabulist who claimed to have been a member of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization.
The debacle was so embarrassing for the newspaper that Executive Editor Dean Baquet called it an “institutional failing” and the Times even returned a Peabody Award that the project earned.
The fiasco surrounding “Caliphate” started when the paper admitted it failed to properly vet Shehroze Chaudry’s lurid stories before airing them on the podcast. It also published the interviews with him even after its own investigations found discrepancies in his stories.
Chaudhry claimed to Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi he traveled to Syria and committed numerous atrocities on behalf of ISIS, as well as engaged in secret discussions of terrorist attacks against the West on the scale of 9/11.
However, he was arrested by Canadian authorities in September for perpetrating a terror hoax after an investigation revealed his tales were fictional. An internal investigation led to Callimachi getting reassigned to a new beat.
Talk about election interference…
CNN anchor Jake Tapper tried to convince Republican Sean Parnell not to run against incumbent Democrat Rep. Conor Lamb for a Western Pennsylvania House seat, according to a Twitter direct message obtained by Fox News.
Tapper suggested that Parnell, a U.S. Army combat veteran who delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention, would be better off running in a safer district for Republicans, according to a source close to, but unaffiliated with, Parnell’s campaign who felt the CNN anchor was unethically participating in political activism.
Fox News obtained a Twitter direct message that Tapper sent Parnell’s @SeanParnellUSA account on Nov. 8, 2019, after he officially declared his candidacy for Pennsylvania’s 17th congressional district against Lamb.
“And best of luck in your race. For the record, I wasn’t trying to talk you out of running — I was trying to talk you into running in a safer R district! Lol,” Tapper wrote to Parnell.
Tapper later pestered Parnell to issue a joint statement with him to clean up the mess, but the Republican refused, according to a source close to Parnell told Fox News.
“I was with Sean the day one of these stories broke. Tapper was blowing up his phone like an obsessed lunatic,” the source said. “Everyone knew it. By the end of the day, every time Sean’s phone rang or beeped, half a dozen people would roll their eyes, turn to Sean and ask, ‘Tapper?’”
CNN’s star legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was fired from his job as a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine following an investigation into an incident in which he was caught masturbating on a Zoom call with colleagues.
CNN has not publicly said a word about Toobin’s future at the network despite recently hiring a reported witness to the lewd act.
New Yorker staff writer Masha Gessen later described the now-infamous Oct. 15 video call that led to Toobin’s fall from grace.
“I was really, truly shocked,” Gessen told The New York Times.
The CNN star was seen “lowering and raising his computer camera, exposing and touching his penis, and motioning an air kiss to someone other than his colleagues,” the Times reported.
Perhaps the most bizarre media story of 2020 set the internet ablaze in December when once-prominent Bloomberg News reporter Christie Smythe told Elle magazine that she quit her job and left her husband to pursue a relationship with jailed “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli.
Smythe initially covered Shkreli for Bloomberg News but eventually fell for the man who first gained notoriety by buying the rights to a drug used to treat AIDS, malaria and cancer patients only to raise the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill. He is typically considered one of the most hated people in America and currently serving a seven-year sentence.
The entire ordeal is peculiar but the shocking twist is that Shkreli stopped talking to the now-former Bloomberg reporter because she spoke about their relationship to Elle.
Shkreli issued a statement that wished Smythe “the best of luck in her future endeavors.”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn, Bradford Betz and Sam Dorman contributed to this report.
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.