2018 was another year of trial and turmoil, with hurricanes in the East and wildfires in the West. As we close out the year, here are the 10 media stories we feel most captured the nation’s attention in 2018.
1) Trump Remains the News of the Day … Every Day
The day’s top story has been Trump every day since he was inaugurated in January 2017, and as the country nears the two-year mark of the Trump presidency, that remains the rule.
Today, it’s whether or not the government will be shutdown right before the holidays because Trump wants his border wall. Earlier this week, it was Judge Emmet Sullivan showing his disdain for Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn due to Flynn’s operating as an undocumented foreign agent while serving the administration. Last week, it was Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen telling Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos that Trump intentionally ordered cover-up payments to his former lovers Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. And almost every day, it’s something about Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign during the election.
No matter the story, it’s the very rare day that the president does not dominate the news cycle.
2) Time Magazine Honors Journalism in the Age of Fake News
In opposition to Trump, who often labels new organizations fake news or kicks reporters out of press briefings, are often journalists. Last week, Time Magazine named journalists its Person of the Year, with murdered Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi leading the list.
Not satisfied with merely leading the news cycle every day, President Trump said in November that “I can’t imagine anybody else other than Trump” when it came to deciding who should receive the honor this year. Trump was the magazine’s selection in 2016.
Including Khashoggi, 53 journalists have lost their lives this year covering stories such as the devastating civil war in Syria, according to the Committee to Project Journalists.
3) Facebook Continues to Have to Defend Itself to Diminishing Results
Facebook’s problems started with fake news that was widely disseminated on its platform in 2016, continued with news in March that Cambridge Analytica had used its platform to gather data that allowed it to target users with propaganda and just became worse — if that is possible — earlier this week when the New York Times reported that the company allowed tech giants such as Spotify, Amazon and Microsoft access to its users’ private data.
Now lawmakers are calling to regulate the tech giant, with Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeting earlier this week that “It has never been more clear. We need a federal privacy law. They are never going to volunteer to do the right thing. The [Federal Trade Commission] FTC needs to be empowered to oversee big tech.”
And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is mulling a run for president in 2020, told NPR that “we have to pass privacy legislation.”
4) Leslie Moonves Forced to Exit CBS, Forego $120 Million Severance
They fell like dominos in 2017 — first Harvey Weinstein, then Charlie Rose and finally Matt Lauer. Rumors emerged and persisted that CBS’ previously untouchable chairman Leslie Moonves was next to go, and sure enough, on August 6, the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow published a story with accounts from six women accusing Moonves of harassment and intimidation and dozens more saying they had felt abused while working for the company that he ran.
Moonves held on after the first story, but when the New Yorker published a second story with six more accusers on Sunday, Sept. 9, that was it. Moonves stepped down from CBS that day.
On Monday, the CBS board decided Moonves also had forfeited his $120 million severance after an internal investigation found that the executive had misled the company about his actions and tried to hide evidence.
Also, this week, the Wall Street Journal and other outlets reported that former Disney executive Tom Staggs was the lead candidate to take over as CEO. Most expect whoever is named to the job to work closely with principal owner Shari Redstone to re-merge the company with Viacom.
5) Tribune Walks Away from Sinclair, Nexstar Steps In
Throughout 2017 and in to 2018, many voices rose to object to Sinclair’s plan to acquire Tribune and its 42 TV stations, including stations in top markets New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Those objections were largely due to Sinclair’s conservative leanings, and its tendency to require its TV stations to run opinion pieces to that effect.
Still, most anti-trust watchers thought the deal would get done; first, exactly because of those conservative tendencies and Sinclair’s sympathy to the Trump administration and second, because corporate mergers tend to get approved in the U.S.
But Sinclair’s continued attempts to trick the FCC into letting it keep stations the agency had told it to sell finally undid the merger. On Aug. 9, Tribune called off the deal and sued Sinclair.
On Dec. 2, Nexstar, another station group that’s been aggressively acquisitive, announced it was buying Tribune for $6.4 billion, including debt, and would be selling $1 billion worth of stations in order to meet regulatory requirements. This time, almost everyone agrees this deal will stick.
6) AT&T Completes Acquisition of Time Warner, Launches WarnerMedia
In what appeared to be an attempt to punish CNN, the Trump Administration did its darnedest to damn AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, taking AT&T to court over the issue. But AT&T ultimately prevailed, with U.S. District Court Judge Richard Wagner approving the merger with no conditions.
The Justice Department is appealing that ruling, but it doesn’t look that appeal is gaining any traction.
Meanwhile, AT&T has relaunched Time Warner as WarnerMedia and is looking to take on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple, Hulu and soon, Disney+, with its own streaming service to be led by Turner Chief Creative Officer Kevin Reilly.
7) Disney-Fox Merger On Track to Close
While Sinclair’s plan to acquire Tribune failed, Disney’s merger with Fox carried on. The merger has yet to officially close, but executives have started to move over to Disney. Disney also is looking to shed itself of Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, the sale of which the government requires in order to complete the merger.
Meanwhile, Comcast managed to snag European pay-TV giant Sky away from under Fox, after the EU refused to allow Disney to keep that asset as part of the union.
As mentioned, Disney is preparing to enter the streaming wars with the launch of Disney+ this spring. Already in production is a new Star Wars-branded series, The Mandalorian, to be produced by Jon Favrreau and starring Game of Thrones and Narcos’ Pedro Pascal.
8) Prince Harry Marries American Actress Meghan Markle
In a year of very non-feel-good stories came the welcome love story of American actress Meghan Markle and her handsome Prince Harry. The two announced their engagement in November 2017 and were married in a wedding at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19 with 1.9 billion viewers looking on worldwide.
To complete the fairy tale, in October, the new Duchess of Sussex announced she was pregnant.
Dreams do still come true.
9) ABC Cancels ‘Roseanne’ After Star’s Racist Tweet
ABC’s reboot of classic blue-collar sitcom Roseanne, starring Roseanne and most of the original cast, took America by storm when it returned last March, pulling an average of 25 million viewers across three days for its March 27 premiere, and then going on to average nearly 20 million viewers an episode throughout its nine-episode run.
ABC was ecstatic and most of May’s upfront presentations touched on the sitcom to prove the continued power of broadcast TV.
It only took a tweet for all of that to crumble. On Tuesday, May 29, Roseanne compared Valerie Jarrett, an African-American aide to former President Barack Obama, to an ape, tweeting “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” which has since been deleted.
ABC took decisive action, announcing the popular and lucrative show’s cancellation that day.
Once the dust settled, ABC and the show’s producers and cast took stock and decided to launch a spin-off series — The Conners, which stars everyone from the reboot, except Roseanne herself.
The Conners is doing respectable business, opening to 10.5 million viewers and averaging 10.2 million viewers per episode, making it this season’s number-one new comedy in viewers. ABC is currently negotiating a 13-episode season-two renewal, according to Deadline.
10) Megyn Kelly Forced Out of NBC After ‘Blackface’ Comments
Once the darling of Fox News, Kelly was wooed by NBC News Chief Andy Lack to NBC for a reported $69 million deal over three years, reported Business Insider. But the relationship got off to a bad start and got steadily worse, and mediocre-to-low ratings for her daytime show, Megyn Kelly Today, did not help matters.
She routinely got into hot water for making controversial comments, offending the likes of Jane Fonda and Debra Messing. But the final straw came when she wondered aloud why it was wrong to dress up in blackface for Halloween, causing Today host Al Roker to say on air: “The fact is, she owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the county. This is a history, going back to the 1830s [with] minstrel shows. To demean and denigrate a race wasn’t right. I’m old enough to have lived through Amos ‘n’ Andy where you had white people in blackface playing two black characters just magnifying the stereotypes about black people. And that’s what the big problem is. … No good comes from it. It’s just not right.”