The National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) created the Sitting Duck Award, an honor bestowed each year on the crème de la crème of the most ridiculed newsmakers in America. A time-honored tradition within the Society, the award provides columnists with the opportunity to give back to those public figures who have given so much to the newspaper media, and yet asked for so little in return.
The award’s title originates from the fact that these figures are easy targets — sitting ducks — during the most perilous of times a columnist can face: the slow news day. The award may be given to a person, animal, group or thing, but the point is to poke a little fun.
“The Sitting Duck Award is an important and beautiful recognition of someone whose world-class folly, villainy or obnoxiousness is a boon to columnists everywhere,” 2008-10 NSNC President and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Samantha Bennett said. “Being a prominent jerk or cretin is often a thankless job. This is our way of saying thanks for the low-hanging fruit.”
Notable past honorees have included novelists and cabinet secretaries, sports figures and canines alike. In 2006, political pundit Ann Coulter was recognized for “cheapening political discourse in America.” Past winners have also upheld the dubious distinction of the award. Kato Kaelin was recognized in 1995 for his clueless demeanor and infinitely column-worthy actions during the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have also received their due, in 2002 and 2004 respectively. Joe Klein was honored in 1996 for confessing to penning the widely-panned and eventually-adapted-for-the-big-screen novel “Primary Colors.”
Former first lady Barbara Bush’s dog Millie could not escape the gratitude of columnists across the country in 1992, when she was named the author of “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush,” and earned $889,176 in royalties in 1991, yet never saw a penny of it.
Even newspaper columnists themselves have been recipients, having been recognized as a whole in 2005 for certain ethical lapses.
1991 – Roseanne Barr, for her screeching rendition of the National Anthem
1992 – Millie, Barbara Bush’s canine book author “that earned $889,176 in royalties, yet never saw a penny of it.”
1995 – Kato Kaelin, O.J. Simpson’s often clueless houseguest, was named the best subject for a newspaper columnist without a clue on what to write.
1996 – Joe Klein, who confessed to writing “Primary Colors.”
1997 – Joe Camel, who was banished from the advertising world a few days after the conference ended.
2000 – Baseball’s John Rocker
2001 – The FBI
2002 – Attorney General John Ashcroft
2003 – Martha Stewart
2004 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
2005 – Columnists in general for ethical lapses
2006 – Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter “for cheapening political discourse in America”
2007 – U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — “We gave it to him, but we can’t remember why”
2008 – Former President Bill Clinton, spouse of one of the presidential candidates
2009 – Presidential Candidate & Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “for showing it’s hard to put your best foot forward when it’s in your mouth”
2010 – BP executives, who made up more unbelievable stories than a newsroom full of columnists on a slow news day
2011 – The Body Politic — rather, the consider attention that some politicians (and most of the public) devote to their bodies’ wants
2012 – The U.S. economy — Nobody likes it, and you can find statistics to back up anything you want to say about it
2013 – Privacy — with authorized federal “data mining,” the government already knew that
2014 – Drones — columnists could run or totter but ultimately not hide from such unmanned craft, the Predator to Amazon’s promised delivery vehicle
2015 – Donald Trump — Like a politically ambitious four-year cicada, the mogul not only passes but surpasses the duck test quadrennially.
Gaps are years when, for whatever reason, we didn’t pick one.