Host Hostilities: ’09 Media Feuds Countdown

As if the media industry didn’t have enough problems already in 2009, many media hosts found their anchor seats a little heated these days.

Some feuds did start with an innocent jibe, others were deliberately set, and a couple were of the pundits’ own making—and one started off with a big ban. Set the remote on rewind and check out the year’s biggest feuds.

10. Dobbs. vs. the Aloha State
Strictly speaking, Lou Dobbs‘ summer feud wasn’t with the Aloha State per se. The CNN host, more infamous for his illegal alien claims, fastened onto the so-called birther movement, which claimed the president was actually Kenyan-born. His CNN colleagues showed evidence of Barack Obama‘s American roots and his own sub, Kitty Pilgrim, discredited the birther leaders on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” Still, the anchor revived the issue, prompting the Hawaii health director to repeat her verification. Pundits on both side dismissed Dobbs, and Bill O’Reilly called the obsession a ratings bid. If so, the ploy didn’t quite work: Online searches aside, viewership dropped 15%. A few months later, Dobbs bowed out, ending a long tenure. That’s the danger of trying to doubt the Aloha spirit.

9. Conan vs. New Jersey
Conan O’Brien assumed the late-night anchor position when he took over The Tonight Show. David Letterman was the ratings rival, but the foe turned out to be Mayor Cory Booker. On September 23, O’Brien joked that Newark’s health care program included a one-way bus ticket out of the capitol. Don’t mess with Brick City: Booker, riding on a Sundance Channel exposure, took to the Web with his mock response. The back-and-forth entailed bans from airports, then entire states (Booker from the Sunshine State, “CoCo” from the Eastern Seaboard) until—yes—Hillary Clinton brokered a détente. Hands were shook, a $100k donation was granted, and battlefield history of scrappy Web vs. big TV was made.

8. Olbermann vs. Hannity
The one-sided argument started when Sean Hannity invited actor-turned-cranky-commentator Charles Grodin for an April 22 chat about enhanced interrogation. The Fox host offered to do his part for troops’ families by being water-boarded for charity—sort of like a dunk-tank fundraiser. Across the media aisle, his MSNBC counterpart Keith Olbermann gleefully pounced on the chance, and bid $1,000 for every second of dousing. He later sweetened the deal by offering up a trained professional to do the job. Hannity didn’t follow up on his off-the-cuff remark, but the troops did benefit in the end: Olbermann coughed up $10k for Veterans for Valor after shock jock (and Libertarian) Mancow held out for 30 seconds and called it worse than drowning.

7. Savage Nation vs. The United Kingdom
Shades of colonial America. People tea-partied like it was 1773, and another revolt brewed in May when the Savage Nation host found himself on the UK’s banned list for “unacceptable behavior” that fostered “hatred.” Never mind that Michael Alan Weiner, AKA Michael Savage, hadn’t stepped on British soil in years. Not one to sit quietly, Savage stormed the media circuit (even NPR, albeit briefly), filed a libel lawsuit against UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and updated his bio to call himself “the only member of the U.S. media ever blacklisted and banned from a Western nation.” Turns out his inclusion may indeed be tokenism, and a Brit court ruling may support his suit…but the ban has proven better for show business than any visit to the mother country.

6. Trump vs. The View
Plenty of infighting takes place among the female hosts on the ABC morning show, although they do take a break to pick on outside targets. But, with Rosie O’Donnell long gone and Elizabeth Hasselbeck on maternity leave, this season of “The View” has been much tamer. That meant a window for amends-making. Biz whiz Donald Trump ended a three-year absence, triggered when O’Donnell lit into Trump, a beauty pageant master, for giving Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner‘s wild behavior a pass. Co-host Barbara Walters and Trump renewed friendship vows at Howard Stern‘s wedding (and that’s why everyone loves one). He returned triumphant on May 6—conveniently with a show finale and book to plug. Next up for 2010…Ann Coulter?

5. Rush vs. The GOP
A tiff between a new Democratic president and the conservative radio host might have happened earlier than anticipated, but a clash wasn’t unexpected. What raised eyebrows and bestirred the Web, though, were the GOP slaps. RNC chairman Michael Steele, in his rush to assert himself the “de facto leader of the Republican Party,” called Rush Limbaugh‘s show “incendiary” and “ugly” during a March 1 interview. Limbaugh, who had already butted heads with Colin Powell in December, tore into Steele, who cried uncle within 48 hours.

The Party bashing wasn’t over: The heavyweight threw his money in the pot to buy the St. Louis Rams, but an October outcry over his “divisive” talk got him booted from the buyers’ group. Limbaugh blamed “race hustlers” and an NFL “run by the left“—but NFL owners give three times more to the GOP than the Democrats. As Limbaugh himself predicted in his first address to the nation, conservatives coming to agreement was “going to be difficult.”

4. McCain vs. the Twits
When you’re a maverick’s daughter, you’re bound by inheritance to tweak tradition. Or tweet it. Meghan McCain joined the pundit circuit this year and promptly established herself as daddy’s girl by calling Karl Rove a “creepy” Twitter follower (plus a boring tweeter) and declaring the former strategist as well as vice-president Dick Cheney as past their expiration date. The Twitter-verse turned on her, though, after she posted a bosomy self-portrait. Searches exploded for the social networker’s photo, even as some criticized the cleavage. McCain threatened to abandon the “vessel for harassment,” but later apologized while defending her cup size. Sorry or not, she won new fans…for her spunk, of course.

3. Beck vs. The White House
Glenn Beck hit his stride after leaving CNN Headline News in 2008 for Fox. The colorful commentator got plenty of online buzz for his love of anti-big government tea parties, calling the biracial Obama a racist, the 9-12 Project, and his sleight-of-hand with amphibians. Not everyone was bucking for Beck: Hometown honors brought unneighborly protests against the conservative conspiracist, while SNL found comic fodder in his Mao obsessions. But he barely missed a beat after the White House thumbed their noses at Fox News: He installed a red telephone and begged for a one-on-one with outgoing communications director Anita Dunn. Tiffs aside, Beck declared the better candidate had won the 2008 election. Then again, a Dem is better for show biz—and Beck’s bottom line.2. Letterman vs. The Women
In the case of apologies, does practice make perfect? Not in the case of David Letterman. The “Late Night” host’s wisecrack about one Palin daughter got the then-Alaska governor up in arms. Sarah Palin demanded a mea culpa for “young women across the country.” Letterman admitted he erred (on the second try), and scored on the sincerity meter. Four months later, a cockeyed blackmail scheme from a “48 Hours” producer forced another “creepy” confession: Letterman had relations with staffers, a well-crafted admission that put the media and Web on overdrive. The apology—to Regina Lasko, his partner of 23 years—came four days later, and reportedly at some urging. One thing he should have remembered: With apologies come ratings.

1. Stewart vs. Cramer
Money problems leads to lots of fights, and a global economic crisis prompted an 8-day flare-up between Jon “The Daily Show” Stewart vs. Jim “Mad Money” Cramer. A montage critical of CNBC assertions before financial meltdown got the biz show pundits fuming at the comedian, who continued his criticism on the Late Show. Cramer played defense on shows like “Martha Stewart.” The media joined in with their two cents, and emboldened economists sent a letter to CNBC demanding “strong, watchdog journalism.”  Cramer took the guest chair on March 12 before 2.3 million eyeballs and spurred lots of “stewart vs. cramer” online searches. In what Stewart himself called “largely manufactured battle,” the media gave him the win. Not bad for the most trusted newsman in America.

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