(Or, People Who Grabbed Our Attention This Year, Written While Flying To Denver).
The other day while on the way to the airport, we blogged about the events of 2K8 that grabbed our attention. Today we thought we'd pass the time on the first leg of our flight back blogging about the people (in the news) who came to dominate our attention this year. We're doing this on the fly, literally -- rim shot! -- so we'll miss some people. And naturally there will be some overlap from our list from earlier in the week. But here goes (and in no particular order).
1. The People Behind the Planet Money Podcast. Planet Money is a blog/podcast put out by NPR (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money). It is only a few months old, but consistantly put out what we thought was the best reporting of the financial meltdown in both its weekday podcast and in particular it's two, hour-long episodes produced in conjunction with This American Life. One of the things we find annoying about a lot of traditional journalism is the amount of assumed knowledge contained in a typical story. What we love about Planet Money is that takes on big economic issues and unpacks them in a manner that is digestable for a non-economist listener, but without dumbing down the content. The show doesn't assume you know what a CDO is. In fact, the reporters admit they're not really sure what certain things are (in fact, they often get the experts to admit that they aren't always sure what's going on -- simple enough definition of a bubble or a dubious scheme, we'd say). So they go hunt down the story and present it link by link. Clearly and systematically explaining each link and linkage. For our money, Adam Davidson is the star of the show.
2. Paul Krugman. We were first exposed to Krugman -- and hence to his enormous impact on the field -- as econ undergrads back in the late 90s-early 00s, before he started his stint as a NYTimes columnist. We mention this time frame because today some people view him as purely a political or partisan voice. While we've agreed with almost all of his critiques of the Bush Administration, particularly over the past three plus years (during which he increasingly took off the gloves, and was often alone in the wilderness as one of the lone, legitimate, mainstream voices doing so), we were never really convinced it took a first-rate, world-class -- indeed, 2008 Nobel Prize winner -- Economist to point out the failings of the Bush Administration. But as the financial crisis began unfolding in front of us this year, suddenly all the pieces that Krugman has been presenting over the years fell into place. During his time at the Times you arguably could have been forgiven for thinking he was just another member of the liberal elite ego machine, but in 2008 you simply couldn't say you were serious about understanding what was going on in the world financial markets without reading Krugman's column (and perhaps re-reading some of those 2004-06 wilderness era columns) and blog, and listening to him lecture.
3. Barack Obama. It's a funny paradox. The pace of Obama's meteoric rise has been perhaps unprecedented. But the length of the campaign was also perhaps unprecedented. Which made it easy to occassionally lose site of how inspiring we found Obama. After he gave The Speech in 2004 we -- along with most of our family and friends -- instictively knew he would win the 2008 election -- he hit a nerve that was so raw, so exposed, so waiting, yearning to be hit. 2008 was the year that instinct became reality. It'll be a year that history books will both, to paraphrase Lincoln, significantly note and long remember. And it's because of Obama.
4. David Plouffe. We both detested yet were inspired by Plouffe's incessant emails. Detested because the role of money in politics gives us the heebie-jeebies. But inspired because every time he asked he received so much goddam money. There is a fine line between money corrupting and people who normally don't care pitching in because they finally give a damn. Plouffe made us feel it was the latter that was happening. Plus, those "homemade strategy videos" he would sent out were pretty sweet, right?
5. Nate Silver. If you seriously followed this election, between September and November 04 you spent more hours at work checking FiveThirtyEight.com than working. The week after the election, you checked it like a man who loses his leg in war reports being able to feel his amputated leg. We're only now getting over it. We all know these three things to be true.
6. Shepard Fairey. 2008 was the year he went from being known as the guy who created an image that was widely influential in certain cultural circles, to creating the defining imagine of an historic election. There's no need to attempt to overstate Fairey's role in getting Obama elected, but there's no question that his iconic-imaging of Obama will go hand-in-hand with history's recounting of the election.
7. The Pirates. First we thought the stories were just kind of funny and odd and seemed out of place. Then we thought the Pirates were making a brave, populist stance against foreign overfishing. Then we feared that the world economy was certainly going to collapse and we were headed to a life based on the movie Water World. We still have a few more days in '08 to come up with a new story line. But the fact is we were glued to pirate stories this year.
Plane is landing. Perhaps more later.