2013: The year's 10 biggest culture war battles

2013: The year's 10 biggest culture war battles
Food Network chef Paula Deen found herself in hot water this year. (Carlo Allegri / Associated Press)

The raging controversy over comments made by "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson in GQ magazine and A&E's decision to suspend him from the remaining episodes of the upcoming fifth season arrive at the end of a year that has no shortage of culture war dust-ups.

Every week, it seemed, brought another polarizing media moment, from Baldwin to black Santa and from Piers to Paula. Here's a chronological look back at a year in television that offered Americans no shortage of things to fight about. 

1. Alex Jones vs. Piers Morgan

In January, CNN's Piers Morgan welcomed radio host and prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his show for what was supposed to be a conversation about gun control but quickly went off the rails. Asked about the gun murder rate in England, Jones responded with a tirade about everything from the danger of “mass murder pills” like Prozac to the New World Order. Morgan, not usually one for keeping quiet, sat back and let Jones do the shouting.  In a follow-up interview with Politico, Morgan said it was "the best advertisement for gun control you could wish for.”

2. Adam Levine vs. America

When two of his team members on "The Voice" were eliminated back in May, a frustrated Adam Levine responded by muttering "I hate this country." The clumsy sarcasm provoked outrage online. (Sample tweet from Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich: "Hey @adamlevine, why don't you ask the Dixie Chicks how "hating America" turned out for them. Hint: not well.") 

Levine defended himself by tweeting the dictionary definition of "humorless" and "joke" and released a statement reassuring viewers he did, in fact, love his country and that his comments were "made purely out of frustration." The apology seems to have worked: the mini-controversy was long forgotten by November, when People crowned him the "Sexiest Man Alive," a decision that at least in some corners of the Internet, was far more troubling than his on-air gaffe.

3. Paula Deen vs. racism charges

Until this past summer, celebrity chef Paula Deen was primarily known for her artery-clogging recipes, but when the National Enquirer obtained a deposition in which the former Food Network star admitted to past use of the N-word, she was lampooned widely on Twitter and "The Daily Show." 

As her lucrative endorsement deals dried up, Deen's fans (including Glenn Beck) rallied behind her, arguing that her use of an epithet decades ago did not make her a racist.  Unfortunately, Deen didn't do much to help her cause, posting and promptly removing an awkward statement, then abruptly canceling a "Today" appearance.

When she finally did sit down with Matt Lauer, Deen was defensive and tearful. The lawsuit that sparked the controversy was eventually dropped and in the end, the incident probably taught Americans more about public relations than race relations.

4. Reza Aslan vs. Fox News

In July, author and academic Reza Aslan sat down with host Lauren Green for what Buzzfeed would later call “the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done.” Though Aslan was there to discuss the contents of his book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Green was more interested in asking — repeatedly — why a Muslim scholar would write a book about the founder of Christianity. 

Though it was only broadcast online, the interview went viral. It also turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Aslan: Shortly after it aired, his book rose to the top of the Amazon bestseller list.

5. Miley Cyrus vs. the media

No one who watched Miley Cyrus' performance at this year's VMAs will ever be able to "unsee" the former Disney star twerking with crooner Robin Thicke and jabbing her crotch with an enormous foam finger while obsessively thrusting her tongue. The performance was that rare event that brought together forces on both the left and the right in widespread horror, though the criticisms varied.

The conservative Parents Television Council blasted MTV for sending "sexually charged messages to young children using former child stars," while "Morning Joe" host Mika Brzezinski declared it "really, really disturbing." Other critics were less concerned by the overtly sexual nature of the performance than by its racial connotations, and accused Cyrus, who was flanked by African American dancers dressed as enormous teddy bears, of offensive cultural appropriation.  

6. "60 Minutes" report on Benghazi vs. what probably happened

On Oct. 27, CBS' esteemed "60 Minutes" aired a report critical of the Obama administration's response to the 2012 attack on the U.S. special mission in Benghazi, Libya, prompting cheers from conservative pundits and politicians.

Though questions quickly arose about the veracity of the report, which correspondent Lara Logan claimed to have worked on for more than a year, CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager initially defended his team. But Logan was forced to beat a hasty retreat when it emerged that the primary witness for the piece, a security contractor named Dylan Davies, was not actually at the mission compound as he had claimed.

The correspondent issued a brief apology at the end of the show's Nov. 10 broadcast, but the mea culpa failed to quell some critics who argued that given the enormity of Logan's blunder, someone at the show should be disciplined, as they were following the so-called "Rathergate" scandal in 2004. (Nor did it help that Davies' book was published by an imprint owned by CBS, and that Logan had been vocal about her own opinions on Benghazi in the past.)

After an internal review, Logan and her producer Max McClellan agreed to take a leave of absence. Politico recently reported that they will return to the program early next year, despite the alleged objections of some at the long-running magazine show. Stay tuned.

7. Alec Baldwin vs. a photographer

It's safe to say that 2013 was a roller-coaster year for Alec Baldwin, who ended his run on "30 Rock," became a father again, faced off in court against an alleged stalker, landed a job at MSNBC and then quickly got fired from it — all in the space of 12 months. Despite a homophobic Twitter rant directed at a tabloid reporter who (inaccurately) accused his wife Hilaria of tweeting while at James Gandolfini's funeral, the liberal star was given a Friday-night show on MSNBC.

The low-rated "Up Late" probably would not have been long for this world anyway, but Baldwin hastened its cancellation by allegedly hurling a gay slur at a paparazzo in New York. MSNBC quickly suspended him for the incident, which some suggested was in inadequate punishment and an embarrassment to the supposedly progressive network. Under mounting pressure, MSNBC finally announced it was parting ways with the star.

8. Martin Bashir vs. Sarah Palin

MSNBC has been handing out a lot of pink slips this year. Barely a week after Baldwin got the axe, host Martin Bashir was sent packing for lewd comments he made about Sarah Palin. Unlike Baldwin, however, Bashir did not make his remarks in the heat of the moment, but in a scripted segment during the 4 p.m. broadcast of his show.

It all began in November when Palin compared the national debt to slavery during a speech at a conservative fundraiser in Iowa. The remarks prompted a fierce rebuke from many on the left, but Bashir took his response to a vulgar extreme by suggesting the former vice presidential candidate ought to be subjected to a a vile scatalogical punishment used on slaves in the antebellum South. (Video below includes strong language.)

Bashir apologized for the remarks, but following widespread outcry, MSNBC eventually sent him packing anyway. At least one person was sorry to see him go: fellow "30 Rock" outcast Alec Baldwin.

9. Megyn Kelly vs. black Santa

Fox News' annual coverage of the supposed "War on Christmas" has provided writers on "The Daily Show" with fodder for years. But this December the network's biggest star, Megyn Kelly, took the debate to a new height (or maybe it was a low?) by convening a three-person panel to discuss a Slate column written by a black journalist who argued against the prevailing depiction of Santa Claus as a jolly old Caucasian. 

"For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly told viewers. "Santa is what he is.... I wanted to get that straight." She also rehashed the debate over Jesus' ethnic identity, declaring that it's a  "verifiable fact" that he was a white man. 

The "black Santa" debate dominated the cable news cycle and late-night talk shows for several days, with some critics accusing Kelly of race-baiting while others simply wondered why the entire news media was debating the ethnic background of a (spoiler alert!) mythical figure. In the end, Kelly insisted that the her comments about Santa were an "offhand jest"  and that her critics were being humorless.

10. A&E vs. 'Duck Dynasty'

Do you really need us to remind you?

Any contentious media moments that we've forgotten? Or that you'd like to forget but can't? Please share in the comments.



Twitter: @MeredithBlake