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The biggest controversies of 2010
A month-by-month review of the battles, scandals, debates, and disputes that drove opinion in 2010
 
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange rose to prominence in 2010 after engineering the disclosure of thousands of secret U.S. government cables.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange rose to prominence in 2010 after engineering the disclosure of thousands of secret U.S. government cables.
Corbis

From a controversial Super Bowl ad to the threatening rise of WikiLeaks, 2010 has been a volatile year. Here's a look back at the political clashes, provocative stances, celebrity scandals, and public outrages that most defined the past 12 months.

January
TIM TEBOW'S ANTI-ABORTION AD

Despite a long-standing refusal to air "political ads" during the Super Bowl, CBS okays an anti-abortion spot starring Heisman Trophy–winning college quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother. In the ad, produced by Focus on the Family, Tebow, an outspoken conservative Christian, says his mother had defied her doctor's advice to abort him amid concerns about her health and his viability. Things get more heated when celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred accuses Tebow's mom of lying about the story. The outrage over a harmless "Christian, pro-life" ad, says Cassy Fiano in Hot Air, shows just how "completely out of touch" liberals are. I don't care if Tebow's "commercial has a beautiful, undeniable message," says Gregg Doyel in CBS Sports. Just don't show it "during the damn Super Bowl."

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: A determinedly ubiquitous reality TV star says she's "addicted" to plastic surgery and claims to have had 10 operation in a single day. Doubters wonder if she's just trying to hype her new album and prolong her dwindling 15 minutes of fame. (Watch Heidi Montag discuss her many surgeries) 

February
TOYOTA FALLS FROM GRACE
Top global automaker Toyota recalls more than 8 million cars after the media seizes on issues surrounding sticky accelerators and faulty brakes. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood turns a damaging recall into an alleged conspiracy when he advises "anyone who owns one of these vehicles" to "stop driving it" — prompting commentators to note Uncle Sam's stake in GM and Chrysler. It's no coincidence, says Terence Corcoran in the National Post , that a "top-line political gamesman" like LaHood launched this "great American nationalist assault on a foreign corporation ." Toyota knew about these problems for years, counters the Las Vegas Sun in an editorial, but did nothing until Washington started "once again looking out for the public's safety."

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: The tiny star of a reality show focusing on the mating habits of young Italian Americans causes a big uproar when it's revealed that she isn't actually Italian but rather South American. "Italians everywhere are rejoicing at this," says a gossip blog. (Watch an MSNBC discussion about Snooki's heritage)

March
TEA PARTIERS DENOUNCE "OBAMACARE"
President Obama and the Democrats score what many consider a huge victory by passing the Affordable Care Act over strong GOP objections. The new law unleashes a furious backlash from the right, especially Tea Party conservatives, including "venomous slurs" directed at gay and black congressmen, "death threats and vandalism" aimed at Democrats, and an "unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric." Surely, says Frank Rich in The New York Times, this "middle-of-the-road," GOP-inspired health care law is not the sole impetus behind the outrage. Think again, says Mark Steyn at National Review. Thanks to Obama's monstrosity, Americans can now look forward to "longer wait times, fewer doctors, more bureaucracy, massive IRS expansion, explosive debt... and global Armageddon."

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: America's cinematic sweetheart wins an Oscar and loses a husband, when his tattooed mistress drops a dirty "Bombshell." The world wonders if there's something to the "Best Actress Curse" after all. (View a report about Sandra Bullock's marital trauma)

April
ARIZONA PASSES A "POLICE STATE" IMMIGRATION LAW

Latinos, Democrats, civil rights groups, and even some Republicans are up in arms after Arizona passes the nation's toughest immigration law, ordering police to challenge the immigration status of anyone they think is in the country illegally and arrest those who can't prove their legal status. "In the absence of federal enforcement" of immigration laws, says the conservative group Judicial Watch, Arizona has few other options. "Lawmakers in Arizona are fed up with the enormous toll that illegal aliens are having on their state." For my part, says Linda Greenhouse in The New York Times, "I'm not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state." Thanks to the law, "breathing while undocumented, without a civil liberties lawyer at hand, is now a perilous activity anywhere in Arizona." 


 

Top tabloid scandal: A talk show queen has little to say when alleged "secrets" about her diva-like ways and previously unidentified father are spilled in an unauthorized tell-all biography. It seems like the cat got her tongue. (See biographer Kitty Kelley dish on Oprah)

May
THE BP OIL SPILL... "OBAMA'S KATRINA"?

Although BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana explodes and sinks in late April, it's May before Obama calls the Gulf of Mexico spill a "potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." Make that a "political disaster," too: Obama team's inability to stop the gushing oil and ever-growing estimates of the spill take their toll on the president's approval ratings. Karl Rove in The Wall Street Journal, noting Obama's "lethargic" and buck-passing response, calls the spill "Mr. Obama's Katrina." Legally, says Tom Cohen at CNN, "President Obama can effectively fire BP and have the federal government take over efforts to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill ," but it's questionable whether the Feds would succeed where BP's experts and technology at BP have failed. The leak isn't plugged until mid-July, after 86 days. 


 

Top tabloid scandal: When a Muslim American becomes a beauty queen, conservatives dismiss her as "a politically correct 'affirmative action' pick." The following month, pole-dancing pics of the winner emerge, proving she's not all that different from past title holders. (Meet Miss USA, Rima Fakih)

June
ROLLING STONE PROFILES GEN. MCCHRYSTAL... AND GETS HIM FIRED

After a Rolling Stone article, "The Runaway General," debuts online, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is summoned to the White House to explain what commentators call "insubordinate" remarks attributed to him and his staff. He is relieved of duty as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan after a 30-minute meeting with Obama, and replaced with Gen. David Petraeus. It's "so unObama to be this badass," says Matthew Yglesias on Twitter. He did "split the baby rather adeptly here," says Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, "softening the blow of losing McChrystal by arguably trading up for the legendary Petraeus." But Petraeus won't have any better luck than McChrystal at managing "an impossible and contradictory war," says Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic.

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: A woman claims Citibank fired her for being "too sexy" and files suit. She says bosses told her to "refrain from wearing certain items of clothing" to avoid "distracting" male colleagues. Citibank says the real distraction is her poor performance. (See the "too hot" banker, Debrahlee Lorenzana, give her side)

July
RUSSIAN SPY RING CAPTURED

The FBI reveals it has apprehended 11 secret agents from Russia masquerading as ordinary Americans. The spies had been under deep cover since the 1990s, and reportedly used "techniques both worthy of a James Bond villain... and too primitive to believe" to collect and exchange information, extracting "little of value" in terms of U.S. intelligence. One of the agents, Anna Chapman, becomes a minor tabloid celebrity when racy photos of her taken by an ex-boyfriend emerge. The U.S. and Russia later agree on a Cold War-style "spy swap." The agents captured by the FBI are exchanged for imprisoned Russians accused of spying for the U.S. Bad deal, says Jen Doll at The Village Voice. They get a sexpot spy back, and we get some "pot-bellied scientist geek spy named Igor."

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: An Oscar-winning actor/director finds himself in hot water, again, when phone recordings of him obscenely hectoring his ex-girlfriend are leaked. His agents fire him, the local sheriff launches a domestic violence investigation, and the fallen star says "my career is over." (Listen to Mel Gibson's alleged rant)

August
GLENN BECK HAS A DREAM

The reliably provocative Fox News host incites liberal outrage when he announces plans to hold his mysterious "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28 — the date that Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream speech" at the same location in 1963. Initially, Beck dismisses the scheduling as a coincidence, but later embraces Dr. King's legacy, inviting King's niece Alveda to speak at the rally. The day itself passes without "placard-waving rightwing extremists nor racially-charged counterprotests," and conflicting crowd estimates become the main focus of media dispute. Beck's rally inspires a parody: The "Rally to Restore Sanity," hosted by Comedy Central satirist Jon Stewart in October.

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: A fed-up flight attendant becomes a "working class hero" when he abruptly quits his job, dramatically exiting a grounded plane via its emergency slide with some beverage-cart beers in hand. (Watch a report about Steven Slater's de-planing)

September
THE "GROUND ZERO MOSQUE"

Approved plans
to build an Islamic community center a mere two blocks away from the Manhattan site of the September 11 terrorist attacks sparks an enormous feud which begins in August and runs well into September. While conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich say the building — which includes a mosque — could become a monument to jihadism, other critics accuse the center's main backer, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, of "stealth extremism." Florida pastor Terry Jones threatens a mass Koran-burning until widespread condemnation forces him to cancel the anti-Islam stunt. It's the "virulent... Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right" that's to blame for all this, writes Frank Rich at The New York Times, abetted by the "useful idiocy" of the Democrats.

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: An Oscar-nominated actor and his wife are arrested for burglary and illegal squatting. While bad enough, this turns out to be merely the first chapter in their epic, insane fall from grace. (View Randy Quaid's address to the press)

October
TEA PARTY LIGHTNING RODS

As midterm-election fever builds, the media fixates on controversial candidates endorsed by the Tea Party. After archive footage reveals that Christine O'Donnell once admitted to "dabbling in witchcraft," the Delaware's Republican senate candidate is forced to clarify that she's "not a witch." She will go on to lose. Sharron Angle, the GOP's senate candidate in Nevada, goes neck-and-neck with Democrat Harry Reid after telling him to "man up" during a televised debate. She will also go on to lose. When Tea Party star Rand Paul debates his Kentucky senate rival Jack Conway, a MoveOn.org protestor is "stomped" on the head by a Paul supporter. Paul will go on to win.

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: Parents groups are enraged when a family TV show's female stars ditch their "reasonably chaste cast personas" and pose scantily clad for a men's magazine. The network says the starlets, who play high-schoolers but are both 24, are "old enough to do what they want." (See a report about the "Glee" GQ spread)

November
TSA vs FLIERS: "DON'T TOUCH MY JUNK"

Air rage explodes when the Transportation and Security Administration introduce new security procedures that require travelers to submit to either a full-body X-ray or an intrusive "pat-down." As unsavory tales emerge of a cancer survivor forced to remove her prosthetic breast and pre-teens made to strip for TSA officers, John Tyner becomes a folk hero for forbidding an agent to "touch my junk" during a pat-down; his phrase becomes a rallying cry for anti-TSA protestors. These whiners should "shut up and be scanned," says an unsympathetic Los Angeles Times editorial. The new measures "keep passengers safer. If you can't handle such a minor inconvenience, perhaps you should stay on the ground."

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: When a prominent politician's daughter shimmies into the finals of a competitive TV reality show despite an evident lack of talent, "conspiracy" theories quickly emerge. In the end, good old fashioned "Dirty Dancing" prevails. (Watch Bristol Palin's first "DWTS" performance)

December
WIKILEAKS: THE MOST EXPLOSIVE DUMP YET

WikiLeaks, the world's forum for disgruntled political whistleblowers, releases a treasure trove of leaked diplomatic cables. The contents include sensitive information about U.S. relations with allies and enemies in Asia, Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, as well as gossipy tales of drunken politicians and eccentric world leaders. The Obama administration announces its intent to prosecute Julian Assange, the group's shadowy Australian founder, for broadcasting official secrets, while some Republican leaders call for his head. Assange is arrested in the U.K. on charges of rape in Sweden that may or may not be "trumped up." As he is released on bail, evidence emerges that Private Bradley Manning, the young private accused of leaking the cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in "inhumane" conditions in a U.S. facility.

 

 

Top tabloid scandal: A barely legal pop star is caught on camera allegedly taking bong hits of a barely legal substance. A certain, tall, loofah-lovin' conservative talk show host calls her "pathetic" and says "her days of being a positive role model for young women are long gone." (See Miley Cyrus holding the much-debated bong)

 

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