TheDC’s top ten stories of 2011

David Martosko Executive Editor
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Another year has gone by, and at America’s fastest-growing (and fairest) online news organization, we’ve brought you every amusing, aggravating and heart-thumping minute of it.

We’ve identified the ten most memorable stories from 2011, out of the thousands of pieces The Daily Caller published this year. It wasn’t an easy task, but we carved out some honorable mentions for the borderline judgment calls.

If your favorite Daily Caller moment didn’t make the cut, just let us know in the comment section below.

First, the honorable mentions:

HONORABLE MENTION: Nearly one in five Obamacare waivers went to businesses in Nancy Pelosi’s district

In April, the Obama administration approved 204 waivers exempting businesses from the restrictions and requirements of  Obamacare. And lo and behold, 38 of them went to restaurants, nightclubs, day spas and hotels in the swanky California congressional district represented by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Shocked. We were shocked. But the D.C. press corps didn’t seem to care, the White House played the nothing-to-see-here-let’s-all-move-along card, and a follow-up waiver for the AARP soon emerged. But in the face of consistent outrage from conservatives, what passed for “transparency” rapidly deteriorated into comic theatre.

It later emerged that the health care reform law never gave the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to issue the waivers in the first place. Ultimately, a Government Accountability Office report doomed the waiver program, which got the axe in June — a move that the Obama administration quietly buried in a Friday evening press statement.

HONORABLE MENTION: These “patriotic” one-percenters like higher taxes but refuse to pay more to the government

“I’m here arguing in favor of higher taxes on the wealthy,” a member of Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength told TheDC on Nov. 16 at the Capitol. “I’m one of the wealthiest one percent … we should be paying more of our fair share.”

Then our reporter whipped out her iPad. “Now is your chance,” she said. “I have the Department of the Treasury right here — the donate page. Would you like to donate a few thousand dollars?”

Over and over, the “patriotic millionaires” passed on the opportunity to put their money where their mouths were. Higher taxes, it seems, are for thee — not for me.

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HONORABLE MENTION: The Horse Soldiers of 9/11

If you haven’t seen this six minute mini-documentary, you’ve cheated your arms out of a few good goosebumps. War reporter Alex Quade took Daily Caller readers inside the stories of the fearless Special Operations Forces who rode horses into combat after the 9/11 terror attacks — something no American soldiers had done in nearly a century. Their secret mission: embed themselves with the warring tribal factions of northern Afghanistan and secure that crucial territory during the War on Terror’s earliest and most chaotic weeks.

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HONORABLE MENTION: A U.S. ambassador in the Middle East tells the truth about Syria

It’s generally considered bad form for ambassadors to bad-mouth the leaders of the countries in which they serve. But not every country is, like Syria, massacring its citizen protesters. In an exclusive Daily Caller interview that left CNN’s Candy Crowley practically speechless — although she did offer a firm atta-boy — U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was, in a word, evil.

Ford expressed outrage at “what’s happening under [Assad’s] authority in terms of people being tortured to death, people being shot who are unarmed and no one being held accountable for it … because I see no accountability, I can only assume that on some level that he accepts it if not encourages it. To me that would be evil.”

The full interview had Ford telling TheDC that Assad’s days in power are numbered. “I don’t think the regime is going to come crashing down tomorrow or next week,” he said. But “time is not on the side of the regime.”

NEXT: The MSNBC lunatic, the congressional boss from hell, and the fleecing of the State Department

TheDC’s Top Ten Stories of the Year

10. Chris Matthews officially went ’round the bend

It’s hard not to feel just a little bit sorry for Chris Matthews. The thrill up his leg is gone, and the poor man just doesn’t know what to do with himself. When he finally went thermonuclear in June and tried to blame former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s wife for his sexting disorder, we saw the rapid denouement of a tragicomedy that the MSNBC star had been writing week after week, all year long.

In his mind, Obama critics were “crackers.” Republican House leaders were birther “collaborators.” Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was “profoundly stupid” and just “like Moammar Gadhafi.” Conservative radio hosts harbored an “ethnic disdain” for the president. Newt Gingrich looked “like a car bomber.” The mere mention of “food stamps” was a racist overture. The GOP was full of “the Wahhabis of American government.” Rick Perry was “Bull Connor with a smile.”

President Obama, of course, was pure as driven snow. “Just tell us, commander,” Matthews would later implore. “Give us our orders.”

9. What’s worse than being unemployed? Working for Sheila Jackson Lee

As we discovered in March, Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has some unique eccentricities. Like demanding to be “treated like a queen.” And repeatedly addressing a staffer as “you stupid motherfucker.” And stopwatch-timing her aides as they physically ran from office to office, fetching her paperwork. And calling them in the middle of the night, demanding that they go to the pharmacy for her garlic supplements.

It’s almost enough to make Jackson Lee’s staff refer to her as “a lonely, miserable person” who is hated by all her colleagues. Almost sufficient to make more than one former aide call her a racist. And almost enough to generate a turnover of 39 staffers in a single year, including nine in just two months’ time.

Wait. Strike the word “almost.” Those things actually happened.

8. A State Department contract officer’s $52 million sweetheart deal

Hers was the marriage that wasn’t. Or something. A Daily Caller investigation found that State Department contract officer Kathleen McGrade steered $52 million in federal government contracts to Sterling Royale Group, a company that her husband and daughter secretly owned and operated.

Her husband, Brian Collinsworth, initially told TheDC that McGrade was not his wife. But his MySpace profile — how retro! — did him in, wedding photos and all. And a condominium security guard confirmed that the pair lived together.

State fired McGrade within hours, but stonewalled on the details of how she was able to get away with her alleged fraud for so long. Why delay the investigation? Possibly because, as TheDC reported, President Obama had not nominated anyone to lead the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Federal agents raided McGrade’s $543,000 Virginia home two months later, and IRS agents seized the house’s contents — including the Lexus in the garage — two weeks after that. Criminal cases are pending.

7. Love letters from Jon Huntsman

“You are a remarkable leader,” read the hand-written note from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. He underlined the word “remarkable” before adding, “and it has been a great honor getting to know you.”

Who was the GOP presidential candidate writing to on Aug. 16, 2009? Barack Obama, the president he is now campaigning to replace.

The Daily Caller also obtained another letter, this time to Bill Clinton, which Huntsman wrote just six days earlier. “I have enormous regard for your experience, sense of history and brilliant analysis of world events,” Huntsman wrote to the former president. And he lavished praise on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, writing that she “is well-read, hard working, personable and has even more charisma than her husband! It’s an honor to work with her.”

6. The “99 percent” might live better than you do

During a four-week period in September and October, New York City police arrested 984 Occupy Wall Street protesters. And The Daily Caller obtained all of their booking information, including their home addresses — 95 of which corresponded to homes worth approximately $500,000 or more. And yes, we have photos.

5. A Navy SEAL calls shenanigans on the official account of Osama bin Laden’s death

Forget everything you thought you knew about the Navy SEAL raid that took out America’s “public enemy number one.” In an exclusive interview that ranks among the all-time most read Daily Caller stories, Seal Target Geronimo author Chuck Pfarrer explained that the official story’s truthfulness fell somewhere between Jayson Blair and Baron Münchhausen.

The elaborate tale told in The New Yorker? Nonsense, said Pfarrer. Leon Panetta’s assertion that the SEALs were on a “kill mission” from the beginning? Not believable. And the scenesters who later tried to insert themselves into the narrative? “The story they tried to tell — it’s preposterous,” he explained, basing his conclusions on conversations with the very SEALs who did the heavy lifting.

Pfarrer’s bottom line is that as the White House was asked tougher and tougher questions, one “fairy tale” after another emerged. “There were so many of these leaks that were incorrect,” he explained, “the [Obama] administration couldn’t walk them all back.”

4. Michele Bachmann’s campaign headaches

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was, at one point, a GOP presidential front-runner. But then The Daily Caller broke a story that had her, literally, seeing things.

As the House Attending Physician would later attest, Bachmann is a long-time sufferer of chronic migraine headaches. More precisely, she has been diagnosed with “migraine headaches with aura.” What’s an aura, you ask? It usually precedes a migraine, and it involves flashes of light, blind spots, and sometimes spontaneous visual distortions that can last a half-hour or longer.

TheDC first reported that Bachmann had been hospitalized at least three times in connection with the ailment. The congresswoman’s staff responded that she kept a vigorous schedule despite her health shortcomings, but they clearly didn’t want her physical fitness to serve in the White House to be an issue.

Two days after TheDC broke this story, Bachmann’s bodyguards roughed up ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross when he tried to ask the candidate whether migraines had ever kept her away from the House floor during legislative votes. Asked by a Time magazine reporter if he had ever been treated that harshly before, Ross said, “A few times. Mostly by mafia people.”

3. POLITICO and MSNBC: a match made in northern Virginia

A stunning and buzz-generating analysis of just one week’s worth of MSNBC broadcasts in November unearthed no fewer than 24 appearances by reporters and editors from Politico, a suburban Virginia dead-tree and online news outlet that styles itself as inside-the-beltway Washington’s “hometown paper.” A majority of MSNBC’s news shows that week featured at least one Politico commentator.

The incestuous relationship between Politico and the avowedly liberal MSNBC network has since become such an unavoidable meme that Saturday Night Live inserted Politico’s executive editor into a Dec. 10 sketch lampooning MSNBC “news” host Al Sharpton.

2. #Weinergate

What can we say about former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Hanes) that hasn’t already been said with a juvenile snicker? We always knew he leaned to the left, but in late May the whole country found out just what that meant. The only thing that kept the liberal crusader-turned-unintentional-underwear-model from becoming an instant parlor joke was the “certitude” of a  self-inflicted cover-up that only prolonged the agony. But once you tweet a picture of your junk to the world, your chances of being taken seriously have pretty much gone the way of Kim Jong-Il.

While the national pile-on included everyone from Andrew Breitbart to The Daily Show, we contributed angles that (mercifully) no one else thought to pursue — including reaching out to Ginger Lee, the adult film star who received at least one private tweet from the embattled New York congressman.

Not that Weiner was short on defenders or deflectors. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel used the scandal to tweet a bank-shot insult at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  MSNBC contributor Melissa Harris-Perry compared Weiner’s lewd behavior to Bristol Palin’s out-of-wedlock motherhood. Politico’s Mike Allen, the stalwart “Playbook” scribe, made news by pretending Weinergate wasn’t worthy of coverage. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, normally a reliable feminist, stayed on the sidelines and was among the last members of Congress to call for Weiner’s resignation — only 24 hours after outright refusing to do so.

And Barbara Walters, always a wild card, said with a straight face that “it may be that he took that picture and sent it to his wife to say ‘this is how much I miss you.'”

Meanwhile, the profiteers moved in. A Brooklyn, New York sausage eatery offered “Anthony’s Weiners.” An airline held a “Weiner sale” with “prices too HARD to resist.” Online bookies took over/under bets on Weiner’s resignation date. We saw (of course) Weiner-branded condoms, a Weiner doll, a “naked sex therapist” who offered the congressman her “services” and a life-long pornographer who offered him a job.

And just when we all thought the circus couldn’t get any more circusy, RadarOnline posted a chat transcript showing that Weiner had plans to travel to Las Vegas to cheat on his wife with a woman he met on the Internet. Then a morning zoo radio show “inadvertently” broadcast a naked picture of Weiner’s own tumescent namesake — amazingly, the first such snapshot — on its video webcast as the pic was being passed around on a guest’s iPhone.

Yes, The Daily Caller’s Person of the Year gave us all quite a wild ride. He stuck it out, though, and for longer than we thought possible. But once the snarky newspaper headlines created their own cottage industry, and early complaints from Republicans Eric Cantor and John Boehner gave way to nervous barbs from Democrats — including President Obama — Weiner was ready to wave his tighty whiteys in surrender.

The only person in America who clung to Weiner’s survival more desperately than the congressman himself? Barbara Walters, of course. At one point, she said, “If Sarah Palin can still ride around on her bus and be considered as a possible president, this man can override this.”  Later, Walters blamed Viagra and Cialis. And ultimately, she fretted about Weiner’s post-Weinergate future.

“You know, we can make fun of him but in a way it’s a tragedy,” Walters said. “He’s never had another job. What does he do after this?

1. Eric Holder’s short trigger

By any definition, Operation Fast and Furious was the sort of thing today’s teenagers call an “epic FAIL.” As early as March, House Republicans were demanding to know if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) gun-walking program was connected to the 2010 death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. It turned out that Terry was killed with a gun that the ATF allowed to cross the Mexican border, under the auspices of a program whose purpose was to track illicit firearms back to drug cartels.

Most of the more than 2,000 guns that left the United States as part of the operation have not been recovered. They have, however, killed hundreds of Mexican nationals. And unlike a similar but far smaller program operated during the George W. Bush administration, Fast and Furious was conducted without the knowledge or cooperation of Mexico’s government.

Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Department of Justice oversees the ATF, is ultimately responsible for what happens on his watch. And amid increasing pressure from Congress and journalists — including The Daily Caller’s provocative coverage of this growing scandal — Holder’s progressively wearied exterior shows signs of stress. In the latest chapter, 91 congressmen have either called on Holder to resign or signed on to a House resolution of “no confidence” in the attorney general.

Holder seems to believe that The Daily Caller has put them all up to it, as though any news outlet can possess a magic wand capable of dictating terms to an elected official. On Nov. 29, after delivering remarks at a White House event, Holder pointed an accusing finger directly at a Daily Caller reporter and said, “You guys need to — you need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it.”

Holder then left the room without acknowledging or answering our reporter’s question about whether he would heed the growing chorus of calls for him to step down. (A simple “no” would have sufficed.)

Every major Republican presidential candidate has now called on Holder to resign his office. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was the first to cautiously weigh in, and later made her views more definitive. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney famously dodged the question with a 35-second stemwinder, but later made a decision. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proclaimed that he favored Holder’s removal for a laundry list of reasons. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have all expressed varying levels of outrage.

At the root of Washington’s (and now, the nation’s) collective frustration with the president’s top law enforcer are two things. First, the shocking level of dishonesty — both tangible and perceived — coming from the Department of Justice in its responses to congressional inquiries.

In one case, Holder deputy Ronald Weich made a false statement about Fast and Furious in a Feb. 4 letter to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. Weich wrote that the ATF “makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.” Lanny Breuer, another Holder deputy who heads the DOJ’s Criminal Division, later conceded in Senate testimony that he knew the statement was a lie long before the letter was sent.

The second thorn in Holder’s side is his own intransigence. Despite contrary evidence already presented to Congress, Holder told The New York Times in a Dec. 18 front-page story that he denounced the gun-walking tactics used in Fast and Furious, and that, in the words of a Times reporter, “he did not know about them or sanction their use.”

Yet top Justice Department officials provided Holder’s office with multiple briefings and memos about the operation, going into great detail on how the ATF was facilitating the purchase and smuggling of the weapons.

In that same Times interview, Holder said “extreme” conservatives see attacking him as “a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him … both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”

The race card, so far, hasn’t satisfied anyone who is not already invested in Holder’s job security. But it has managed to exasperate his critics.

However this story’s final chapter takes shape, Operation Fast and Furious will go down in history as one of the most ham-fisted and ill-advised plots ever devised by the United States government. And as the strain of accountability has mounted on Holder, his story — the story of the Obama administration’s most dynamic and newsworthy scandal — has been the year’s most gripping one by far.

David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter