Top 10 Political Scoops of 2008

As the curtain comes down on 2008, it’s hard to let go. Political junkies couldn’t have asked for a better year — even news veteran David Broder dubbed the 2008 election the best he ever covered.

Game-changing moments came from mainstream and new media outlets, traditional newsmaker interviews, and off-the-cuff remarks captured by amateurs.

So herewith, Politico’s take on the top ten political scoops of 2008. There’s no accounting for tastes, so we welcome your picks, too. What stories turned your engine?

1. Couric and Palin (CBS News): Charlie Gibson scored the first Sarah Palin interview, now remembered mostly for the ABC anchor’s professorial manner and his question about the 6-year-old “Bush Doctrine” of military preemption, on which Palin effectively drew a blank. But rival anchor Katie Couric proved even tougher for the vice presidential candidate, who was unable to answer such simple questions as what newspapers and magazines she regularly read. Palin’s stumbling responses were spoofed verbatim by her comedic doppelganger, Tina Fey.

2. McCain’s houses (Politico): John McCain answered several questions from Politico’s Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin in an August interview, but it was the one he couldn’t answer that grabbed the headlines — how many houses he owned. Not surprisingly, Democrats pounced on the notion that the Republican nominee was out of touch, and Obama supporters donned buttons at the Denver Democratic convention reading: “Ask me how many houses I own.”

3. Obama on “bitter” small-town Americans (Huffington Post): Obama committed few major gaffes during his nearly two-year run for president, and his worst verbal misstep wasn’t caught by a big-time media outlet, but by citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler. At a San Francisco fundraiser, Obama talked about small-town voters who “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion.” Aside from the political fallout, the Huffington Post report showed how citizen journalists — using their own cell phones, cameras and laptops — can scoop the boys on the bus.

4) Palin’s shopping spree (Politico): Palin’s folksy public persona was put to the test when Politico’s Jeanne Cummings reported that the Republican National Committee had shelled out $150,000 to upgrade her and her family’s wardrobe. The campaign tried to brush off the Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus tabs by claiming the clothes would be given to charity after the campaign. But by that time, late-night talk show hosts and "Saturday Night Live" writers were already busy at work.

5) Clinton camp turmoil (Washington Post and The Atlantic): Just two days after Hillary Rodham Clinton chalked up wins in Ohio and Texas, the Washington Post's Peter Baker and Anne Kornblut revealed bitter squabbling among her top advisers, including Harold Ickes and Mark Penn. The behind-the-scenes tension was captured by the reporters in one memorable exchange: "'[Expletive] you!' Ickes shouted. '[Expletive] you!' Penn replied. '[Expletive] you!' Ickes shouted again." Months later, The Atlantic’s Joshua Green returned to the theme armed with a treasure trove of top staffer memos.

6) Jeremiah Wright tapes (ABC News): ABC’s Brian Ross first aired snippets of the fiery sermons by Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that became YouTube staples, including his “God Damn America!” outbursts and his post-9/11 comments about how “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Dogged by Wright’s remarks, Obama — who until then had avoided openly discussing race — was forced to give a major speech on the subject. Although McCain refused to exploit Wright’s comments in advertisements, the sermons continued as hot topics through Election Day on right-wing radio and blogs.

7) Network TV’s military analysts (New York Times): The Times’ David Barstow exhaustively reported on lucrative ties between TV’s military analysts, the Pentagon and lobbying firms. While broadcast and cable news networks largely ignored the front-page scoop, bloggers kept on the story. Last month, in a story headlined “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” Barstow followed up with a lengthy look at NBC analyst and retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who’s profited from deals with private military contractors.

8) McCain’s inner circle (New York Times Magazine): Although it was published before Election Day, Robert Draper’s deeply reported profile of McCain’s inner circle read more like a post-mortem. In “The Making (and Remaking) of John McCain,” Draper used his extraordinary access to provide both a tick-tock of events and overall portrait of a campaign struggling relentlessly, and often fruitlessly, to craft an effective message against Obama.

9) Edwards’ extramarital affair (National Enquirer): Even after mainstream outlets ignored the National Enquirer’s initial reports on John Edwards’ affair, the tabloid kept digging. Their efforts culminated in July with a successful stakeout of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles — where Edwards met with the woman — and Edwards’ subsequent admission of an affair in an interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff. Of course, the news would have been bigger if Edwards had still been in the race, but the story likely kept the former senator off short lists for top jobs in Obama’s administration.

10) Powell’s endorsement (NBC): Despite the absence of Tim Russert, who passed away in June, “Meet the Press” and other Sunday shows continued to be the favored weekly pit stop for candidates, supporters, and public figures needing to get an announcement off their chests. With the campaign winding down, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose support would benefit either candidate, told Tom Brokaw on Oct. 19 that was he was bucking the Republican Party and backing Obama.

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