News headlines in 2021 ranged from the ridiculous to the outrageous. Below are some of the best of the worst that a remarkable year had to offer.
The candidates this year included controversial takes on President Biden, an economy battling both a high inflation rate and a supply chain crisis, the coronavirus, education, and even fatal tragedies. The list below captures a few of the more unpopular takes on these concurring events, as well as some accompanying reactions from startled readers.
Some media observers would refer to these titles as "Not the Bee," in reference to the popular satirical website the Babylon Bee.
1. ‘Inflation is Good for You’
As the rise in inflation began affecting Americans everyday lives' this year, The Intercept told its readers in November that they should welcome it.
"That’s because inflation is often good for most of us, but it’s terrible for the kinds of people who own corporate news outlets — or, say, founded coal firms," author Jon Schwarz wrote. "And a panic about inflation usefully creates the conditions to weaken the power of working people."
The Intercept's take turned out to be one of several more examples to come of the liberal media downplaying the economic crises.
2. ‘Maybe Christmas Shortages are a Gift’
Yahoo Finance senior columnist Rick Newman claimed inflation was a great time to consider embracing a less burdensome Christmas shopping experience.
"Save money, time and aggravation by exploiting the pandemic shortages to slash your shopping burden," he wrote, advocating for a permanent "partial Christmas."
"Maybe Partial Christmas is more like real Christmas than the Excessive version," he concluded. "Gutsy parents have a chance to find out."
3. ‘China Basks in COVID Vindication as Omicron Closes Borders’
China's containment methods had worked because it did not appear to be as affected by omicron as other nations, the piece argued.
"The emergence of a new coronavirus variant has provided some vindication for China’s Covid Zero approach, which has kept strict border controls in place since the start of the pandemic," according to the authors.
"While other places pivot to living alongside the virus, China has prioritized weeding out every last infection, saying the health of the population is its main priority – and economic benefits will follow," they later added.
Social media users accused the outlet of parroting Chinese Communist Party talking points.
"Two years into the pandemic and major media outlets are still willingly pushing CCP narratives," tweeted the Washington Examiner’s Jerry Dunleavy.
4. ‘Waukesha will hold a moment of silence today, marking one week since a car drove through a city Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring scores of others’
CNN infuriated readers when it tweeted a headline that appeared to suggest an SUV drove itself into a crowd of people at a Wisconsin town's Christmas parade and killed six people. A more fitting headline, critics told the outlet, would have included the alleged culprit, a career criminal.
"Well, how about that? Autonomous cars seem to be running amok," legal scholar and McCormick professor Robert P. George wrote. "Evidently, one got it into its head to kill and maim a bunch of humans, so it 'drove through a Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring scores of others.' We should punish that car to teach others a lesson."
"A ‘car’ did this? Not a human being with intent to kill and maim and being held on $5 million bail?" California congressional candidate Buzz Patterson agreed. "You guys are a joke."
The headline now reads, "Waukesha held a moment of silence Sunday, one week after a man plowed a vehicle through a Christmas parade."
The CNN tweet gave the Babylon Bee plenty of material to work with last month. "FBI To Place All SUVs On Terror Watchlist," one of its more popular headlines mocked. But editor Joel Berry stopped short of concluding that CNN's message was borne out of a "conspiracy theory," instead suggesting its narrative had been driven by a natural desire to not publish anything that would implicate itself.
"I’ve always seen that as what happened in Waukesha really the media having blood on their hands," he said. "The way they characterized it. Of course they’re going to bury it. They’re not going to run stories that implicate themselves and what they’ve done to journalism. And the reputation of media and journalism."
"I don’t know if they got in a room and said, ‘OK, how do we bury this story,’" Berry later mused. "I think it’s almost just like a natural thing. It’s like, OK I don’t really want to talk about this because this kind of makes me feel uncomfortable."
5. 'The media treats Biden as badly as - or worse than - Trump. Here's proof'
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank published what he called "proof" that President Biden has often received worse media coverage than former President Trump.
He cited research from Forge.ai, a data analytics unit of the information company FiscalNote. The study used algorithms focused on adjectives and their placement in articles – more than 200,000 of them – to rate the coverage Biden received in the first 11 months of 2021 and the coverage Trump got in the first 11 months of 2020. Biden was often on the worse end of the stick when it came press coverage in the past four months, the findings purported to find. The study was referred to as "sentiment analysis."
The author used the study as proof the media should engage in some "soul-searching" before considering what they're telling their audiences.
"What's actually interesting is you would think there'd be a corresponding effect, the left-wing media would be more favorable to Biden. But it doesn't actually happen," Milbank said while doubling down on his op-ed on CNN. "The left-wing media is tough on him. He's too progressive. He's not progressive enough."
Milbank admitted he only "somewhat" trusted in the study's findings. But he defended his reliance on the data, saying, "It's better than having no numbers at all."
The study's methodology came under withering criticism, with pollster Nate Silver calling it "complete crap." Critics noted some stories in the study didn't even address Biden, and that words like "high" and "rise" were correlated with positivity, creating a misleading picture when taken out of context.
6. ‘Is math racist? As many students of color struggle with the subject, schools are altering instruction — sometimes amid intense debate.’
USA Today provided an 11th-hour entry for 2021 on Dec. 9 when it asked, "Is math racist?"
The authors focused on "bolder recommendations to make math more inclusive."
"No, math is not racist. Major venues like @USATODAY even asking this question is a sign of cultural sickness. Racial disparities can be addressed (in part) by using the best evidence-based pedagogical practices that enable student learning. Please stop suggesting math is racist," Portland State University professor Peter Boghossian wrote.
Following backlash, the outlet changed the title to, "Is math education racist? Debate rages over changes to how US teaches the subject."
Berry said the Babylon Bee's most engaging stories of the past year were about Biden's botched withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Most of the media appeared to agree, knocking the president for the foreign policy blunder, which left Afghanistan vulnerable to a Taliban takeover.
"Trump Sneaks Back On Twitter By Disguising Self As Taliban Spokesperson" and "CNN Praises Taliban For Wearing Masks During Attack" were two of the Bee’s wildly popular examples. The latter was even subject to fact checks after it was widely shared by social media users.
Yet the criticism of Biden’s Afghanistan debacle, it turned out, wasn’t unanimous.
7. 'The Media Manufactured Biden's Political ‘Fiasco’ in Afghanistan'
New York Magazine's Intelligencer writer Eric Levitz credited Biden for overseeing an exit from the embattled country that came with "relatively little chaos and tragedy." He couldn't fathom why so many other outlets thought otherwise.
"In other words, Joe Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a ‘disastrous’ and ‘humiliating’ ‘fiasco,' in the words of the mainstream media's ostensibly objective foreign-policy journalists," Levitz wrote. "Yet this political fiasco is not a development that the media covered so much as one that it created."
The forthcoming headlines of 2022 have some big shoes to fill.