The Ten Worst Augusts of the Last Ten Years

by Matt Langer

Anyone who lands his or her first desk job very quickly learns the three most important lessons about desk jobs: 1) the best thing about desk jobs is the Internet; 2) the harder one works at his desk job the faster he’ll climb the corporate ladder (therefore the sooner he’ll land a desk where nobody can see his screen); and 3) alt-tab is your friend!

But nowhere in the employee training manual does it say a word about how insufferable the Internet becomes in August — and it really should! Because year after year, the entire workforce endures a month-long occupational hazard as it dutifully tries to go about its day-to-day work of having a desk job and going on the Internet, and that’s because year after year the media cooks up a single infuriatingly awful storyline to spend the entire month hammering away at until everyone has gone completely mad. And yet even despite the clockwork regularity with which the Internet goes crazy the workers of the world still manage to never see August coming until August has already sneaked up from behind and shouted “Hi! We’ll now be spending the next thirty-one days freaking out about the 9/11 Ground Zero Terror Mosque!”

Now why is August so awful? Nobody knows! Could be that a few months of stifling heat have finally taken their toll, or it could be that the congressional recess leaves a gaping hole in the 24-hour news cycle that has to be filled by something. Could also be because all the rational, sensible people (and their psychiatrists) are away on vacation. But this much is certain: August has always been awful, August will always be awful, and somehow — paradoxically — every August manages to be even worse than the last. So as August again fast approaches and a brave nation steels itself against the impending onslaught, it’s wise to take a solemn look back at a decade of terrible Augusts.

From this history, we can take two more very important lessons about desk jobs: 1) come Labor Day everyone will fondly look back at the formal announcement of the presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin as being some of the better news the month had to offer; and 2) actually, close-tab is your friend!

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2001

Bayer tried to kill everyone with a deadly cholesterol drug; Mayor Giuliani’s “Decency Panel” tried to rid New York City’s museums of boobs; a group of crazy congressmen trotted out the human cloning bogeyman and gave President Bush the space he needed to look like a moderate when he banned stem cell research; Aaliyah died; George Bush apparently slept through a rather important morning meeting on August 6th on the subject of “Bin Laden determined to strike in US.”

What We Paid Attention To Instead

Gary Condit was battling for his political life four months after the disappearance of Chandra Levy, a Washington intern from Condit’s home district. In a widely anticipated interview with Connie Chung in late August, Condit bobbed and weaved his way through the interview before finally confessing he and Levy had been “very close.” Yet despite all the attention he received, Condit was never implicated by police in Levy’s disappearance, and just a few weeks later he had completely vanished from the public spotlight following the World Trade Center attacks. He would spend another three years in Congress, earning himself no other distinction besides being the only guy who didn’t vote to convict the really very corrupt Ohio congressman James Traficant.

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2002

The Senate killed prescription drug benefits for Medicare; a steady torrent of new revelations emerged about multi-billion dollar accounting fraud at Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, and Qwest; Arthur Anderson collapsed; the stock market tanked; baseball tried really hard to go on strike again.

What We Paid Attention To Instead
The White House had already spent months steadily ramping up its rhetoric on Iraq, but Dick Cheney took it to the next level during a speech at a VFW convention when he claimed Saddam Hussein was “fairly close” to a nuclear weapon. “The risks of inaction were greater than the risks of action,” he said, and by the end of the month that rationale had morphed into one of the war’s most unforgettable memes: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2003

A devastating car bomb killed scores at a Marriott hotel in Jakarta; a number of dioceses voted to split from the Episcopal Church because of a gay bishop; Mel Gibson started screening The Passion of the Christ; 45 million people across the Northeast were affected by the worst blackout in US history.

What We Paid Attention To Instead
The recall election of California governor Gray Davis had long since become a political punchline after more than a hundred candidates joined the fray — including child actor Gary Coleman and the porn star Mary Carey — but the race descended into utter farce in August upon the entry of Arnold Schwarzenegger and (wait for it) Arianna Huffington. (True story!)

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2004

Roughly four hundred U.S. states passed ballot measures banning gay marriage (okay, 13, to be exact); Hurricane Charley, the strongest storm to hit the US since Andrew, made landfall in Florida (to a total cost of $15.4 billion); Julia Child died; Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper was held in contempt of court in the ongoing investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame; New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey famously told the nation he was a “gay American”; the entire Republican party descended upon New York City to renominate George Bush from as close as humanly possible to Ground Zero.

What We Paid Attention To Instead
Three television ads were aired by an elusive political action committee making the claim that presidential candidate John Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam war, had distorted his service record and later dishonored his country when he ultimately returned home and protested the war. That these ads were patently false didn’t stop the media from obsessing over the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and it was apparently without a single ounce of self-awareness that by the time of the next election cycle rolled around — a mere two years later — these very same media personalities who had helped parrot these lies in the first place unironically adopted the phrase “swiftboating.”

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2005
George Bush bypassed the Senate to send John Bolton to the United Nations by way of a recess appointment (despite the fact that John Bolton didn’t even very much like the United Nations); the President formally endorsed intelligent design, expressing his desire to see it taught in public schools; the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank didn’t exactly go well; one of Tom DeLay’s “oldest and dearest friends,” Jack Abramoff, was indicted on wire fraud charges; U.S. forces endured their highest monthly casualty rate of the four years in Afghanistan; a crazy person named Jean Schmidt won a hotly contested congressional special election in Ohio; a crazy person named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election in Iran; George Bush vacationed in Crawford while a category 3 hurricane named Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people, causing more than $80 billion in damage and dislocating over a million residents.

What We Paid Attention To Instead

On August 3rd, the grieving mother of a dead soldier pitched a tent outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, TX, and promised to sit patiently for the entirety of the President’s five-week vacation until the latter afforded her a (second) meeting on the question of why her son Casey had died in Iraq. The media became quickly enamored of Cindy Sheehan and her demonstration at the newly dubbed “Camp Casey,” while war supporters responded by setting up a competing camp — and the Washington press corps spent the rest of the month filing live televised segments in khaki cargo shorts.

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2006

Israel and Lebanon went to war; Joe Lieberman lost the Connecticut Democratic primary to Ned Lamont before becoming the founding member of the upstart Connecticut For Lieberman party; Mel Gibson had a few too many drinks and got a few things off his chest about the Jews; the solar system lost a planet after Pluto was demoted to a “trans-Neptunian object”; news continued to break following Dana Priest’s Pulitzer-winning reporting earlier in the year on the CIA’s secret prison camps until the President ultimately acknowledged the US practice of “extraordinary rendition”; everyone almost died of the bird flu.

What We Paid Attention To Instead
Twenty-four people were arrested in a series of nighttime raids in London on August 9th, and the United States promptly went “red” on the color-coded threat level scale after Tony Blair triumphantly foiled “the greatest terrorist plot since 9/11.” The suspects were said to be planning to bring down “ten to fifteen” transatlantic flights using liquid explosives disguised as bottles of Gatorade. Reports later emerged that the extent of the plot’s threat had been wildly overblown (the British government preferred the phrase “speculative and exaggerated”), but nonetheless, the TSA still requests that you kindly limit your travel toiletries to 3.4 ounces.

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2007
A bridge collapsed during rush hour in Minneapolis, killing 13 and injuring 145 more; Michael Vick pleaded guilty to being a horrible, horrible person; Karl Rove finally went away; New York couldn’t get it together fast enough to legalize gay marriage before Iowa did; China tried to kill all of our children with poisonous toys; a thoroughly juiced Barry Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron’s home run record; Congress approved President Bush’s request to expand warrantless wiretapping; economists started talking about this thing they were calling the “sub-prime mortgage crisis.”

What We Paid Attention To Instead

Idaho Congressman Larry Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul international airport on a disorderly conduct charge all the way back in June, but it wasn’t until August that Craig entered a guilty plea and news finally broke that the Senator’s “disorderly conduct” was something more along the lines of “attempting to solicit sex in a public place.” Other facts slowly trickled out as well, including the fact that the Senator’s first response to his arrest was to present the officer with his official US Senate business card and ask “What do you think of that?” But of course the key ingredient that sent an otherwise run-of-the-mill political sex scandal into the media stratosphere was the fact that Senator Craig — who during his first term had been one of the chief architects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — had been caught soliciting sex of the gay variety. The senator was quick to assure constituents (and other Republicans) that “I am not gay, I never have been gay,” and he swore he wasn’t using any coded pick-up signals but that he merely had “a wide stance.” Craig announced his resignation on September 1.

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2008
Russia and Georgia went to war; Facebook launched “Beacon”; unemployment rose to its highest level in four years; total U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan surpassed 500; the FBI brought charges in its seven-year-long anthrax investigation; the government readied a multi-billion dollar bailout for Fannie and Freddie; John McCain introduced Americans to an obscure Alaskan governor named Sarah Palin.

What We Paid Attention To Instead

The National Enquirer broke the story in late 2007, but it wasn’t until August 8 that former North Carolina senator and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to having an extra-marital affair with a campaign worker. There was also a love child! Which means the media unfortunately ended up spilling far more ink over the “former Vice presidential nominee had affair, love child” angle and not nearly as much about the whole “cheating on a lovely wife who at the time was terminally ill and battling breast cancer.” thing. John Edwards tried using illegal campaign donations to cover up his mistress, and he currently faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine after a recent indictment on six felony charges for doing so.

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2009
The US announced a projected $1.6 trillion budget deficit, the highest ever on record; pirates attacked off the coast of Somalia; the Los Angeles county coroner’s office declared Michael Jackson’s death a homicide; John Hughes died; Ted Kennedy died; Eunice Kennedy Shriver died; Don Hewitt died; Les Paul died; everyone else almost died of H1N1.

What We Paid Attention To Instead

With Congress out of session and 535 senators and representatives headed to their home districts, the President and Congressional Democrats tried to mobilize a counter-offensive to the insurance industry’s lobbying efforts with a series of town halls. Their plan to educate Americans about healthcare reform spectacularly backfired, however, when healthcare opponents were the first ones to get around to educating Americans about a secret clause in the proposed legislation that would mandate a series of shadowy, government-run “death panels” intended to kill all of our grandparents. Television viewers were hard-pressed to find a single nightly news broadcast during the entire month of August that didn’t feature footage of an angry mob screaming at a congressman.

Terrible Things That Happened in August, 2010

Thirty-three miners were trapped for 69 days in a Chilean copper mine; 2,000 people died in a series of devastating floods in Pakistan; Wikileaks released the “Afghan War Diary”; Pfc. Bradley Manning was thrown into solitary confinement; a jury found former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich not guilty on 23 of 24 criminal counts in a federal corruption trial; journalists spent a lot of time discussing Chelsea Clinton’s wedding; journalists spent a lot of time discussing Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston’s wedding; journalists spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether or not Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was a lesbian.

What We Paid Attention To Instead
The longest, hottest, most insufferable August of the decade began when all eyes turned to an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory building in lower Manhattan. This (newly recognized) historic landmark was to be demolished and a community center was set to go up in its place. Building permits had already been issued by the New York City planning board, however, when the community center’s true intentions finally came to light, and so the rest of the country valiantly rushed to New York’s defense against The Great Muslim Menace that sought to Dance On The Grave Of Every 9/11 Victim by building a Victory Terror Mosque At Ground Zero. Pamela Gellar even organized a march! And protesters came from far and wide (Kansas, mostly). And it was the worst August any of us have ever lived through.

Matt Langer doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the U.S. is likely to default on its debt on August 2nd, 2011.