That’s right, it’s time for yet another end-of-year countdown! Of course, this isn’t a regular list of jackasses, oh, no. These are those specific jackasses who at some point in 2008 assaulted science, reason, and basic human decency. I’m sure I missed some, so take a look and let me know who you think should have made the list by logging on and posting in the comments. Enjoy!
10. Oprah Winfrey
I’ll be honest, Oprah didn’t really do that much to annoy me this year. I mean, compared to previous years, when we had to put up with bullshit like The Secret, aka the Law of Attraction, which is still enjoying popularity amongst certain subsets of the American public. This year was mostly filled with her endorsement of Dr. Oz, a credulous surgeon who somehow managed to get a degree from a reputable university before marrying a reiki practitioner and rejecting everything he ever learned about clinical studies, science, and/or integrity.
Dr. Oz appears on Oprah wearing scrubs, which is shorthand for “don’t ask questions, just trust me.” Early in 2008, Dr. Oz appeared on Oprah to laud “alternative medicine,” in general, as the “globalization of medicine.” Bob Carroll did a great job dissecting his craziness here.
Oprah’s helping Dr. Oz get his own platform to spread misinformation, so look forward to him gaining his own spot next year. In the meantime, this slot goes to Oprah, since Dr. Oz is just one part of her zany world of superstition. Want more? Check out this tutorial, All About Homeopathy, which is distinguished by not containing more than 10% of actual true reality-based facts.
9. The View
That’s right: five women, one show, one giant jackass. To be fair, I think Barbara Walters is intelligent, strong, and generally kick-ass. Joy Behar has her moments of good humor and rationality. Whoopie Goldberg, is, well, there. So why doesn’t this popular talk show work? Why doesn’t it make me proud to be a woman? Because they’ve taken care to “balance” their panel with two complete idiots.
Elizabeth Hasselbeck is famous because she was on a reality show. This year, she gave a glowing introduction to Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, making it not at all surprising that she shares Palin’s uneducated views on science. Combine her idiocy with that of Sherri Shepherd, a fundamentalist Christian “comedian” who last year said she wasn’t sure if the world was flat, and what do you get? “Evolution is false because of designer handbags.” Kill me.
8. Kevin Trudeau
If you watch late-night infomercials, you’ve probably seen Kevin peddling all sorts of products “THEY” don’t want you to know about: namely, natural cures, weight loss cures, and debt cures. The last of those is probably the one he’s most interested in these days, considering that he was just fined $5 million by the FTC.
Prior to that recent slapdown, Kevin already had a rap sheet straight out of Law & Order: Special Douchebags Unit. Larceny, credit card fraud, pyramid schemes, class-action lawsuits, contempt of court â€“ a lesser (read: more moral) man would have given up by the third or fourth lawsuit and settled down to a long career as stockboy at the local Stop & Shop. Not our Kevin, though! He continued advertising his useless and sometimes dangerous products, leading to the $5 million judgment for flat out lying about some of his weight-loss cures. My favorite is that Kev says once you complete the course, you can eat whatever you want, but Phase 4 of the course literally goes on for the rest of your life. Ha, sneaky. Apparently not sneaky enough.
7. Bill Donohue
What if you got paid to be a jackass? Like, specifically, that’s your job. You show up at work and you surf the ‘net for awhile, looking for something to be insulted by. Some days you really have to work hard, like finding insults in a pop song about love and forgiveness. Other days, it’s easier, like when a popular cartoon show depicts you being ripped in two by your own deity. Now that’s insulting! Fire off a letter to a network or maybe the FCC and ka-ching, your bank account grows. That’s right: you are Bill Donohue.
Bill reached new heights of shrillness this year by helping create one of the stupidest controversies ever: Crackergate. The short story is this: a kid in Florida walks out of Mass holding a Eucharist wafer. Bill Donohue calls it a hate crime. PZ Myers says it’s silly and offers to personally desecrate a wafer to prove it’s no big deal. Bill Donohue freaks the fuck out. Hundreds of insulted Catholics call for PZ’s head, sometimes a little too literally. PZ kept his job and never got his brains beaten in as threatened, Bill got plenty of the attention he desired, the world kept turning, and transubstantiation is still a myth.
As the thrill of Crackergate slowly dissipated, Bill cheered himself with the notion that soon the War on Christmas would begin.
6. Matthias Rath
Matthias Rath sold vitamin pills that he claimed could cure AIDS, which, let’s face it, pretty much guarantees him a place on any list of jackasses worth its salt. Rath peddled his pseudoscience in South Africa, where every day 1,000 people die of AIDS, which pretty much guarantees him a place on the shuttle bus to a special level of hell if only such a thing actually existed.
Matthias distinguished himself further this year by bringing a million-pound libel suit against our friend Ben Goldacre and The Guardian, for an article that explained all the above to the general public. This suit was dropped this past September forcing him to pay the Guardian’s legal fees (up to a half-million pounds), making Matthias a dangerous nuisance, an obvious con artist, and ultimately, a total loser.
5. Bernie Madoff
I admit there’s something fleetingly romantic about the old-fashioned financial con. Maybe I’ve watched too many David Mamet movies, because in my imagination Bernie Madoff’s a fast-talking trickster in a fedora with an admirably cunning wit, but in reality I know that he’s a jackass scammer. Madoff recently pulled off the largest Ponzi scheme in history by abusing the trust and exploiting the greed of an incredible swath of the population, earning himself about $50 billion before his kids turned him in.
In essence, a Ponzi scheme is your basic pyramid scam: people pay to get in, and they get paid back with a portion of what later “investors” pay. The few at the top of the pyramid make gobs of money, but after only a few levels, it becomes literally impossible to find enough people to enlist to pay back those above them. The scam is illegal, but many companies get around it by offering actual products that “investors” sell, like Herbalife and Amway, and probably any company that hosts parties at your neighbor’s houses. These are varying degrees of scamminess, depending upon how much money is made through actual sales compared to how much comes in through people buying in to the company.
Lovable carney Todd Robbins recently bestowed upon Bernie “The Largest Investor Swindle Ever by a Single Individual” Award, recommending that you read up on the guy who started it all in Ponzi: The Incredible True Story of the King of Financial Cons (Library of Larceny)
4. Sarah Palin
She made rape victims pay for their own forensic investigation kits, and if a 14-year old rape victim is impregnated by the encounter, she’d prefer the government force the girl to have the baby. She’s a young-Earth creationist who thinks that schools should teach kids that “Goddidit” is a good alternative for evolutionary theory. She thinks men and dinosaurs co-existed. She doesn’t believe in man-made global climate change. She wants the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. She did a lot more.
She was seriously in contention for Vice President of the United States and considered by some to be a strong feminist symbol.
3. Jenny McCarthy
I nearly gave her first place. After all, few other people have done as much to put the lives of others at risk through the spreading of misinformation, and few others have shown themselves to be bigger clowns than Jenny. (Our #2 and #1 choices, respectively, have accomplished these goals.) Jenny spent her year convincing otherwise logical people that doctors are out to kill their children through vaccines, which is akin to suggesting that CPR was invented by succubi who secretly want to steal your soul through your mouth. She enjoyed broadcasting lies that have been repeatedly debunked, again and again. Our friend Orac has pretty much turned his blog Respectful Insolence into a full-time JennyWatch, and a new site called Stop Jenny started specifically to catalog the reasons why she is wrong in just about every word that comes out of her mouth. For instance: she thinks there are no autistic adults, because these vaccines weren’t around 40 years ago. No, Jenny: there are no autistic adults because you’re living in a fantasy world where there are no autistic adults, as opposed to the real world where there are, unfortunately, plenty of them.
2. George W. Bush
Eight years of lies, half-truths, and misleading half-literate ramblings â€“ what could I possibly say that hasn’t been said a hundred times over? Oh, I know, this: one of his last major acts before leaving office was expanding Health & Human Services regulations that allow health workers such as pharmacists to restrict women’s access to birth control due to “religious reasons.” Awesome feminist Amanda Marcotte writes about how he also opened up Title X family planning funding to organizations that refuse to educate newly pregnant women on all their options (including, of course, abortion). Thanks, Bush! It’s so nice to have something to remember you by. Like an unwanted baby.
1. Ben Stein
Ben wins our number one spot not because he caused the most damage. On the contrary, he wins because he drew the most attention to himself, and then made the biggest ass of himself as was possible. The nearest equivalent would be your drunk, shirtless cousin climbing to the second story balcony and shouting “Hey y’all, look et me!” before tripping over the ledge and tumbling into a pig sty full of manure.
Here’s a quick recap of Ben’s jackassery: first he starred in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary that lived up to its name by being the stupidest feature to hit the big screen since Paulie Shore was relevant. Which, oddly, was the last time Ben Stein was relevant. Weren’t they both in Biodome?
Anyway, the idiocy of the movie is difficult to summarize in one short blog post, since Ben’s ultimate point in Expelled is that Darwin personally green-lit the Holocaust. On the circuit when Ben was shilling for his crapumentary, he specifically said this:
When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed â€¦ that was horrifying beyond words, and thatâ€™s where science â€” in my opinion, this is just an opinion â€” thatâ€™s where science leads you.
No, Ben. The last time any of your relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were probably having their fucking lives saved with bypass surgery or maybe they were buckling their seat belts thanks to studies showing it keeps you safer or maybe they were wearing eyeglasses invented by a scientist, improved by a scientist, and prescribed by a scientist. Dickhole quotes like the above make me want to stab Ben Stein. WITH SCIENCE.
Anyway, Expelled bombed in the theater and earned a golden 3.7 of 10 on IMDB and 10% on the Tomatometer, worse than Blair Witch 2 (13%), The Dukes of Hazzard (14%), and Cat in the Hat (12%). It was panned by pretty much everybody, everywhere, most recently Roger Ebert. Ben Stein is, once again, a joke, and his sad little movie will be forgotten.
Well, that’s it! Who did I forget? Mention your favorite jackass in the comments.