Year in Review 2015: Top scandals and controversies

1 - Duggar family 

The controversy: TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting”, about a Arkansas family that can’t stop producing offspring, is cancelled after old police reports go public showing star Josh Duggar was accused of fondling five girls – including four of his sisters – in 2002-2003.

Why we care: The syrupy-sweet “19 Kids” franchise came off as an attempt to put a normal face on hard-right regressive “Christian” values. Hypocrisy draws clicks.

More than a few people had to have been hoping for a crash-and-burn scenario for “19 Kids”, which seemed like an attempt to put a normal face on hard-right regressive Christian values. Hypocrisy draws clicks, and this whole thing had the stink of a crooked televangelist going down in flames.

What’s next: Josh Duggar is in faith-based treatment, but the Duggar family brand appears to have a Kardashianesque resiliency, with a series of specials focusing on Jill and Jessa slated to begin in December.



2 - Ashley Madison hack

The controversy: A hacker group exposes details on millions of users of Ashley Madison, the Canadian-based (go Canada!) online extramarital dating website.

Why we care: Talk about a data breach that hits close to home. Following a day in which a record-number of white-knuckled men (and yes, it’s basically just men) Googled “Ashley Madison hack” to see if their names showed up, sites popped up with crude search engines for suspicious wives, curious acquaintances, or extortionists.

What’s next: Ashley Madison appears to be still up and running, but the furor also exposed that many of the female profiles on the site were dormant or fake, existing to lure men to the site. It’s unlikely the site spawned many actual affairs, but it still looks to be a good year for divorce lawyers.

3 - Bill Cosby

The controversy: Legendary comedian, pudding-pop spokesman, and “America’s dad” Bill Cosby falls from grace after a series of sexual assault allegations, some of which had been public since 2000, finally gain public traction.

Why we care: It’s hard to imagine a more unassailable reputation than 1980’s era Cosby, and without criminal charges, it has become the ultimate ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ debate. Currently, more than 50 women accused Cosby of various crimes, from sexual battery to rape.

What’s next: It took a while, but public opinion has shifted firmly against him. “Cosby Show” reruns have been pulled, honorary degrees have been rescinded, and TV specials have been cancelled. People tend to have short memories where celebrities are concerned (as Mike Tyson and Roman Polanski can attest), but Cosby is pretty far down the drain.

4 - Volkswagen

The controversy: One of the world’s most reputable automakers is caught out programming its “clean diesel” engines to run clean during emissions tests, but then dirty up for added power during regular driving. The revelation has prompted the company to recall some 11 million vehicles, cleared out the executive suite, and has chopped tens of billions from the company’s value.

Why we care: Automakers have cut corners in the past, but it’s rare to see one in such a blatant lie. And this wasn’t some upstart maker looking to leapfrog competition; this is a storied company with a reputation for quality (that whole German thing). Oh, and anyone who actually owned one of the damn things immediately went online to see how much their resale value was going to fall.

What’s next: Volkswagen shares are already recovering, and the company will continue to ship cars to people like that smarmy guy you know who makes more than you. Trust in the brand has suffered, though, particularly on the diesel side.


5 - Tom Brady

The controversy: SuperBowl hero Tom Brady gets knocked off his pedestal after accusations that the New England Patriots partially deflated footballs to make them easier to grip and throw.

Why we care: Maybe it’s because Brady has the rep of that clutch guy that should end up on the NFL version of Mount Rushmore that this was so fascinating. It also devolved into a ridiculous soap opera, with the league suspending Brady for four games, only to have the suspension overturned in a Federal Court. Yes, a Federal Court.

What’s next: The NFL is an unstoppable train, and will continue with well-inflated balls long after Brady is gone. There’s also the matter of domestic violence and traumatic brain injury among players, but at least Deflategate’s been dealt with. Whew!

6 - Mike Duffy

The controversy: Affable newsman turned senator Mike Duffy became the lightning rod of the so-called senate expenses scandal after he was accused of improperly claiming housing expenses in Ottawa. He’s been charged with 31 offenses, including bribery in connection to a $90,000 cheque he got from the Prime-Minister’s chief of staff.

Why we care: Duffy is an old school TV journo who still commands an audience among booomers. And with the whole thing unfolding in the run-up to the election, the potential to hurt Conservative support gave it added importance.

What’s next: The trial actually resumed last week, but with the election over and the Conservatives out of power, a lot of the interest in the case (and the guy) has already dried up.

7 - Cecil the Lion

The controversy: Cecil, a 13-year-old lion, is killed by an American hunter after being lured from the game preserve where he lives and is a major attraction. The hunter, dentist Walter Palmer, reported paid about $50,000 to a profession guide to help him kill a lion.

Why we care: This one (predictably) ignited the fury of conservationists, as well as people who feel uneasy at the idea of armed-to-the-teeth Americans charging into other countries to bring back animal heads. The online backlash turned nasty in a hurry, prompting police to post guards at Palmer’s office, though he maintained he had no idea of Cecil’s importance (outside of the innate importance of being a large, glorious cat).

What’s next: Several airlines tightened their rules on transporting big-game trophies, and conservationist groups saw donations rise, but its unlikely the demand for exotic carcasses will dry up among the rifle set any time soon.

8 - Jared Fogle

The controversy: Fogle, the “Subway Guy” who lost 200 pounds eating submarine sandwiches, is busted on child porn charges, and eventually pleads guilty to distribution and receipt of child pornography, as well as travelling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. Subway severs its business ties to Fogle (duh).

Why we care: It’s one thing for a celebrity to go down for this type of thing, but Fogle was a celebrity precisely because he was supposed to be in inspiration. He’s the guy who did the thing you can’t do yourself. The whole thing is ugly, but it’s no mystery why people are riveted by it.

What’s next: A minimum of 13 years in federal prison (which was more than even the prosecutor recommended).

Leslie Roberts (Global News)
Leslie Roberts (Global News)

9 - Leslie Roberts

The controversy: Global TV anchor Leslie Roberts resigns after the Toronto Star outs him part-owner of a PR firm BuzzPR, whose clients were promoted by him on-air and on Twitter.

Why we care: As a supper-hour news anchor (catch them before they’re gone!) Roberts was one of the most recognizable journalists in Toronto. Conflict of interest in the media can be confusing (Evan Solomon peddling art to the Bank of  Canada governor, anyone?), but this one was pretty straightforward and easy to get outraged over.

What’s next: There are lots of smiling people willing to read the news in front of a camera, and Global is soldiering on. As for Roberts, his journalism crimes underscore how committed he is to his PR clients, so the future is bright.

10 - Rachel Dolezal

The controversy: Civil rights activist Dolezal resigns from her position of NAACP chapter president following allegations she had lied about her racial identity in claiming to be African-American. Dolezal eventually admits she is biologically caucasian.

Why we care: Coming on the heels of protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, the Dolezal story stirred up questions about racial identity at a time when the U.S. black experience was under the microscope. Some were outraged that she would claim a culture and experience that wasn’t hers. Others were fascinated at the idea of someone rewriting her own personal narrative.

What’s next: Having also lost her lecturing position at Eastern Washington University, at last count, Dolezal was working at a hair salon doing hair weaves and braids.