Here at TPMMuckraker, we’ve published hundreds of posts covering dozens of storylines over the last year. But not all muck is created equal. Some muck is more compelling, weirder, sadder, more outrageous, and flat more fascinating than other muck. Below, a look at some of the muck that stood out for us in 2012.1. The Year In Arizona
No other state (sorry, Florida) can compete with Arizona’s record of weirdness, extremism, outrage, and controversy. In the past year alone, the state’s governor stuck a finger in the president’s face, and controversy ensued. The state’s secretary of state stuck his toe into the turbid waters of birtherism, and controversy ensued. And Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio continued to stick his face in front of any camera or camera-looking object he could find, and, as always with Sheriff Joe, controversy ensued.
2. Muck In The House
The House of Representatives is never lacking for muck. But three members of the House had a particularly rocky year in 2012.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), a former FBI agent, had the FBI poking around his campaign finance practices, a former fundraiser arrested, and, oh yeah, his office vandalized in an attack Grimm deemed “politically-motivated” before finding out that the perpetrators were eighth graders. Hurricane Sandy hit Grimm’s Staten Island, N.Y. district hard, and prompted Grimm and his challenger to suspend their campaigns in the late days of October. But that agreement didn’t change Grimm’s opinion of Mark Murphy, the Democrat who ran against him. On election night, Grimm told a reporter that Murphy had “disgraced himself and his family.”
Grimm held onto his seat in Congress, which can’t be said for soon-to-be-former Rep. David Rivera (R-FL). A former Florida House member and one-time housemate of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rivera has been dealing with rumors and reports of investigations into his campaign finances since his election in 2010. But even for Rivera, 2012 was eventful. There was a scathing report from the Florida State Attorney’s Office, a fake Democratic primary candidate, and a disappeared “Conservative bad girl.” In the end, Rivera lost on election day to Democrat Joe Garcia.
It wasn’t election day that forced Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) to give up the Congressional seat he had held since the 1990s. Jackson won in November, but ended up resigning his seat weeks later, citing both his health — he had been on medical leave since June, and received treatment for bipolar disorder — and the federal investigation into his activities. According to reports in November, Jackson was in plea deal talks with authorities over the alleged misuse of campaign funds. But hardly a peep has been heard from Jackson or the feds since then.
3. The Low-Budget, No Good Film That Shook The World
It was put together on a shoestring by a financially struggling, anti-Islamic ex-con with a rudimentary understanding of filmmaking and sound editing, and it was shown in its entirety exactly once, in a nearly empty theater in Los Angeles. But thanks to the Internet, it made its way around the world — in the form of a 14-minute “trailer” uploaded to YouTube — and eventually sparked protests and violence in a number of Muslim countries. The story behind “Innocence of Muslims” was almost as unlikely as the widespread and angry reactions it inspired.
4. The Obama Mega Donor That Got Lost In The Crowd
In October, TPM took a long look at Kareem Ahmed, a California businessman who came out of nowhere to become one of Obama and the Democrats’ biggest financial backers this election year. Ahmed’s seven-figure donation to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action put him among elite company as a political benefactor. But neither Ahmed nor Priorities was interested in receiving any attention based on that fact. And, a TPM investigation found, Ahmed’s business concerned a complex and contentious wedge of the workers’ compensation system in California.
5. That Time Voter Fraud Hysteria Blew Up In The GOP’s Face
Republicans across the country spent much of the year talking up the specter of voter fraud, in many cases to justify voter ID laws being pushed in a number of states. So even though there’s a big difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud, it was hard to ignore the irony when the Republican National Committee had to end its relationship with Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm it paid millions of dollars to register voters, after investigators started looking at registration forms submitted by the company.
6. The Sad, Violent End Of JT Ready
Longtime white supremacist and border vigilante JT Ready was running for sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz. this spring, when he killed four people, and then himself, in a a suburban home just east of Phoenix. His victims: his girlfriend, her daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend, and the daughter’s 18-month-old baby. Three months before that final rampage, Ready had sent a missive to TPM. “I was not born with a Klan robe on,” he wrote. “Contrary to popular belief, my mother did not Sieg Heil! a bottle into my chubby cherub face with Nazi zeal. I was actually raised pretty liberal and in a democrat home with multiculturalism all around us. Zionists even. But all was not right in Disneyland.”
7. The Secret Service’s Wild Night In Cartegena
The Secret Service isn’t an agency one normally associates with headlines, much less with scandal. But in April, a night involving a number of Secret Service agents, along with a members of the U.S. military, plus prostitutes, at a hotel in Cartagena, Colombia became national news. Before it was all over, a reporter for The New York Times had tracked down a 24-year-old escort who told of an early morning argument with an agent over a price for her services. He offered her 50,000 pesos — around $30 — but she wanted much more.
“I tell him, ‘Baby, my cash money,'” the woman told the Times.
8. L’affaire Petraeus
Objectively, not that much muck was involved in the events that brought down CIA Director David Petraeus. But any story that introduces the term “Tampa socialite” to the world deserves a spot on this list.
9. The Mystery Of Bobby Thompson’s Identity
The twists in the “Bobby Thompson” saga didn’t end after law enforcement apprehended the longtime fugitive on the last day of April. Authorities knew the name Bobby Thompson was an alias but, after spending almost two years at large, Thompson, who is suspected of stealing millions from a sham veterans charity he set up, refused to divulge his true identity. He signed documents with an X, and responded to even general questions about his background with confrontational legalese.
“With all due respect to the court, the question you asked is an identity question,” Thompson told a Cuyahoga County Court judge in Ohio in May. “The state has alleged identity theft as part of their complaint. I believe, your honor, that the state has the burden of proof as to that.”
Thompson stayed Thompson until late September, when U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott, after Googling for pictures of old fugitives, made a startling discovery. “Bobby Thompson” was really John Cody, a 1972 graduate of Harvard Law School, a former military intelligence officer, and a man who himself had been wanted by the FBI since the late 1980s. Inside one fugitive had been another fugitive all along.
10. Peter King Ruins The Fun For U.S. Marshals
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is yet another pol with a penchant for being on screen. But back in March, that affinity for cameras ruined the fun for everyone, when a video posted on King’s YouTube account sparked an investigation by the U.S. Marshals. The video was an eight-minute video of King’s ride-along with a “fugitive task force” including members of the U.S. Marshals. What investigators wanted to know was why a videographer accompanying King was allowed to film inside private residences, against a federal policy. In August, a Marshals spokesperson told TPM the agency was considering banning ride-alongs altogether.