Year End Awards: The Best Notable Quotables of 1989

First under each award heading is the winner, followed in order by the top runners-up. Notable Quotables thanks the judges for determining the most outrageous and/or humorous utterances from the media over the past year.

Quote of the Year

Lewis Lapham

"For the most part, the Nicaraguan Contras burned villages and murdered civilians. On behalf of their cause, Reagan sold out his oath of office and subverted the Constitution....

"Oliver North presented himself as the immortal boy in the heroic green uniform of Peter Pan. Although wishing to be seen as a humble patriot, the colonel's testimony showed him to be a treacherous and lying agent of the national security state, willing to do anything asked of him by a President to whom he granted the powers of an Oriental despot."
Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham narrating his PBS series America's Century, November 28.
See the Runners-Up for the Quote Of The Year
Award for the Silliest Analysis

Linda Ellerbee

"'These boat people,' says the government of Hong Kong, 'they all want to go to America.' Well, I swear I don't know why, do you? I mean take Vietnam. Why would any Vietnamese come to America after what America did for Vietnam? Don't they remember My Lai, napalm, Sylvester Stallone? Clearly they have no more sense over there, than say, Mexicans who keep trying to get into this country even though this country stole large parts of their country from them in the first place."
Linda Ellerbee, CNN PrimeNews, June 2.

Melinda Beck

"Sadly, many home remedies could damage a fetus instead of kill it."
Newsweek Senior Editor Melinda Beck on self-performed abortions, July 17 issue.

Linda Ellerbee

"Well, am I a liberal, a conservative, or what? What...I believe in sunny summer mornings when the grass is sweet and the wind is green with possibilities. I believe in chili with no beans and iced tea all year round....I believe music is too important to be left to musicians, and that Ella Fitzgerald is the best American singer ever, and that Beethoven would have liked Chuck Berry....And so it goes."
Linda Ellerbee in her first commentary on CNN, March 20.

John Cochran

"But certain times with George Bush there seems to be an irrelevancy, or he gets something wrong. We pointed out yesterday he referred to Benjamin Harrison dying of pneumonia after a chilly inauguration day, and of course it was William Tyler Harrison who died."
NBC's John Cochran on William Henry Harrison, January 20.

Steve Hurst

"The [Afghan] army has controlled this beautifully rugged landscape with the help of women right from the revolution. It's the women of this country who have the most to lose if this Marxist revolution fails, if the government falls to the fundamentalist Muslim rebels. A woman's place in such a society would be back under the head to toe covering of the chaterra, cooking and bearing children."
Reporter Steve Hurst on CNN PrimeNews, February 9.
The Good News Is Bad News Award

Charles Kuralt

"Some analysts said that the country's now close to full employment, the point at which the available labor pool dries up. That's not the same as saying that everyone who wants a job has a job. But business correspondent Ray Brady reports the high employment rate is causing problems."
CBS Evening News Anchor Charles Kuralt, March 10.

Irving Levine

"The danger is that as the economy picks up, it could become too much of a good thing. Borrowing and buying by consumers could become excessive. Prices and interest rates could take off. The problem would again become how to avoid a hard landing."
Irving R. Levine on NBC Nightly News, same night.
Which Way Is It? The Economy

Dan Rather

"Good evening. A double dose of worrisome economic statistics tonight from the government: inflation, with its highest quarterly gain in two years; home building, sharply down. That left some economists alarmed."
Dan Rather opening the April 18 CBS Evening News.


Tom Brokaw

"This country's economic expansion has now entered its seventh year and the Joint Economic Committee of Congress says still more growth can be expected. It warned, however, that this growth could be threatened by huge budget deficits and renewed inflation. But, the inflation news today is reassuring."
Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News, same night.

Washington Times

"Economy expanding, slightly stronger"
Washington Times, June 23

Washington Post

"GNP Figures Indicate a Slowdown"
Washington Post, same day

Washington Post

"Poverty Level Stabilizes at 31 Million"
Washington Post, October 19

New York Times

"Number of Nation's Poor Remains at 32 Million for a Second Year"
New York Times, same day

Chicago Tribune

"Per capita income up, but experts say poor get poorer"
Chicago Tribune, same day

Washington Times

"Number of poor fell, Census Bureau says"
Washington Times, same day

Boston Globe

"Economic expansion skips the poor"
Boston Globe, same day

New York Daily News

"New method to count poor: Census report makes 'em disappear"
New York Daily News, same day
Blame America First Award

Bob Faw

"As rockets made in the U.S.A. keep falling here and flares to deflect those rockets keep burning small children, resentment towards the United States grows...For the Russians, Afghanistan may no longer be what Gorbachev called, 'a bleeding wound.' But for many here what is bleeding now is America's image."
Reporter Bob Faw on the May 1 CBS Evening News.

Ed Rabel

"Latins do not believe the Soviets want any more bases in this hemisphere: Cuba is enough, they say. Their hope, as it has been for a long time, is that the U.S. will disband the Contras once and for all, and then, maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance for peace."
Reporter Ed Rabel on NBC Nightly News, October 28.

Ronnie Lovler

"The latest incident of alleged Contra violence in south central Nicaragua killed whatever chances there might have been for the 19-month-old ceasefire agreement to be extended....The Sandinistas argue that they've given the Contras ample opportunity to meet their obligations under terms of the regional peace plan. Now they say the time has come for the rebels and the Bush Administration to do their part if there is to be peace in Nicaragua."
Beginning and end of story on CNN PrimeNews by Ronnie Lovler, November 1.

J.D. Gannon

"Sandinista critics' direct predictions of totalitarianism have also failed to come true...Nicaragua today is neither a classless social democracy nor a communist dungeon. Opposition parties and media thrive, despite Sandinista harassment and their own incompetence....And a government socially committed to the needs of the poorest has seen its education and health projects plummet due to a lack of resources and the Contra war."
Christian Science Monitor reporter J.D. Gannon, July 18.
Media Hero Award

Ted Koppel

"A testament to courage: the courage of some unabashed trade unionists and civil rights workers, Leftists and yes, American Communists, who fought for principles that we now take for granted."
Endorsement of Carl Bernstein's book Loyalties, from Ted Koppel.

Marc Fisher

"Ralph Nader is a legend, perhaps the only universally recognized symbol of pure honesty and clean energy left in a culture that, after being shot through with greed, cynicism and weariness, is oddly proud of its hardened self. Two decades after he slew General Motors, Nader, the young dynamo who could not be bought, is a reminder of what we once hoped to be."
Washington Post Magazine writer Marc Fisher, July 23.

Stephen Cohen

"What does realistic mean with Mr. Gorbachev any more? We used to know what realism was in world affairs, but we have a Soviet leader as bold as we, I think, have ever seen, and a man who seems to be some kind of dreamer. He dreams new dreams. I think he's saying 'Match me in boldness and we'll create a new world.'"
"CBS News consultant" Stephen Cohen on the CBS Evening News, October 24.

Robin Toner

"He [George Mitchell] talks about the record of legislation the Senate Democrats are building, the substantive progress on issues from oil spills to rural development, which so often gets overlooked in the day-to-day political analysis of 'up or down, winner or loser.' His logic is crisp, unassailable, his manner far removed from the thrust and parry of contemporary politics. He is the soul of judiciousness, highminded in his concern for governance. But some in his party would like for a bit more of the street fighter."
Reporter Robin Toner in The New York Times, October 17.

Barry Petersen

"For Gorbachev at the end of four years, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. There was triumph at the Moscow summit, when cold warrior Ronald Reagan said the Evil Empire belonged to a time now past. Bittersweet triumph when the Soviet troops came home from Afghanistan. The Soviets did not win, but Gorbachev did. He had the courage to end Soviet involvement."
CBS reporter Barry Petersen on the March 11 Evening News.
Which Way Is It? Foreign Affairs

Richard Threlkeld

"These days Cuba doesn't count for nearly as much in the Soviet military scheme of things....Much of the old and obsolete. Although with its militia the Cuban armed forces are the largest in Latin America, this Soviet weaponry is years behind the times."
ABC's Richard Threlkeld on World News Tonight, April 3.


Barry Petersen

"The Soviets have spent billions of dollars keeping Fidel Castro supplied....The equipment, the best the Soviet Union can supply....Fidel Castro still believes in the Mao adage that power comes from the barrel of a gun. And his island bristles with some of the most modern, such as these advanced MiG 23s."
Reporter Barry Petersen on the CBS Evening News, same night.

Washington Times

"Supposedly neutral tribunal stacked to favor Sandinistas"
Washington Times, June 9

Washington Post

"Managua Forms Election Panel Containing Opposition Members"
Washington Post, same day

Connie Chung

"U.S. officials in Moscow said today they have been unable to determine, after meetings with patients in Soviet mental hospitals, whether they are being held because of their political beliefs."
NBC Nightly News Anchor Connie Chung, March 11.

New York Times

"U.S. PSYCHIATRISTS FAULT SOVIET UNITS: Team Finds Inmates Are Still Held for Political Reasons"
New York Times, next morning
Joe Isuzu Award

Andy Rooney

"Communism got to be a terrible word here in the United States, but our attitude toward it may have been unfair. Communism got in with a bad crowd when it was young and never had a fair chance...
The Communist ideas of creating a society in which everyone does his best for the good of everyone is appealing and fundamentally a more uplifting idea than capitalism. Communism's only real weakness seems to be that it doesn't work."
60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney in The New York Times, June 26.

J.D. Gannon

"Indeed, most observers and politicians here agree that the election is just one part of a larger process involving squaring the revolutionary side of Nicaraguan society -- the meshing of the Sandinista party with the government and Army after 10 years of rule -- with a trend toward establishing a liberal democracy. That is a long process fraught with contradictions that an opposition victory could force to a conclusion too soon."
Reporter J.D. Gannon in The Christian Science Monitor, October 26.

Ronnie Lovler

"The latest incident of alleged Contra violence in south central Nicaragua killed whatever chances there might have been for the 19-month-old ceasefire agreement to be extended....The Sandinistas argue that they've given the Contras ample opportunity to meet their obligations under terms of the regional peace plan. Now they say the time has come for the rebels and the Bush Administration to do their part if there is to be peace in Nicaragua."
Beginning and end of story on CNN PrimeNews by Ronnie Lovler, November 1.

David Remnick

"The incident is now known throughout the country as 'Bloody Sunday' and marked a desperate moment in the leadership's attempts to win public confidence in its movement for democratic change."
Washington Post reporter David Remnick on Soviet troops killing peaceful protesters in Georgia, October 12.

Peter Jennings

"Medical care was once for the privileged few. Today it is available to every Cuban and it is free. Some of Cuba's health care is world class. In heart disease, for example, in brain surgery. Health and education are the revolution's great success stories."
ABC's Peter Jennings on the April 3 World News Tonight.
Damn Those Conservatives Award

Tom Oliphant

"I've known Barney Frank since was in college. He's a man of surpassing integrity that I've never known to be questioned. I think he's a master politician, which people forget. He's also a magnificent Congressman, and above all, there is nothing in this episode that counters any of those other images, and I would expect him to survive this smear in good standing."
Boston Globe Washington Bureau reporter and columnist Tom Oliphant on Inside Washington, August 26.

Jim Wooten

"And if his moving speech today does not restore those decencies he so wistfully remembered today, then perhaps history will remember that at least he tried."
Reporter Jim Wooten on Jim Wright's resignation announcement, ABC's World News Tonight, May 31.

Bryant Gumbel

"You two fill the voids left by those who were casualties of an ethics war Republicans started."
NBC Today show co-host Bryant Gumbel to Rep. Richard Gephardt and Rep. William Gray, June 15.

Eric Engberg

"Politics didn't just turn ugly. It evolved from a nasty presidential campaign that featured the GOP's famous Willie Horton ad."
Reporter Eric Engberg on the CBS Evening News, May 29.
Which Way Is It? American Politics

Jamie Gangel

"Polls show that more than 70 percent of Americans support a woman's right to a legal abortion."
NBC reporter Jamie Gangel, on the April 9 Nightly News.

Boston Globe

"Most in US favor ban on majority of abotions, poll finds"
Boston Globe front page, March 31

USA Today

"47 Wright charges dropped"
USA Today, April 18

Los Angeles Times

"Wright Violated Rules 69 Times, Ethics Panel Says"
Los Angeles Times, same day

Washington Times

"SEX SCANDAL PERILS FRANK: Back home, constituents reconsider"
Washington Times, August 31

Washington Post

"For Now, Constituents Supporting Rep. Frank"
Washington Post, same day
Award For The Most Honest Confession

Mike Wallace

"I read Mother Jones carefully and look forward to every issue. After all, stories that started out in Mother Jones have wound up on 60 Minutes."
CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace as quoted in subscription letter for the far-left magazine.

Lesley Stahl

"I predict historians are going to be totally baffled by how the American people fell in love with this man [Ronald Reagan] and followed him the way we did."
CBS News White House reporter Lesley Stahl on NBC's Later with Bob Costas, January 11.
The Real Ronald Reagan Award

Kathleen Sullivan

"In just seven weeks, the '80s will be behind us. It was a decade dominated, in politics and in style, by the Reagans....While the wealthy got most of the attention, those who needed it most were often ignored. More homeless, less spending on housing. The gap between the top and the bottom grew in the '80s....The AIDS crisis began in the '80s. Some say the decade's compassion gap made it worse."
CBS This Morning co-host Kathleen Sullivan, November 13.

Bryant Gumbel

"Largely as a result of the policies and priorities of the Reagan Administration, more people are becoming poor and staying poor in this country than at any time since World War II."
Today co-host Bryant Gumbel, July 17.

Abigail Trafford

"The Reagan Legacy: A Swelling Medical Underclass in a Land of Plenty"

"An unfortunate legacy of the Reagan revolution is a swelling medical underclass: alcoholics and drug addicts who deluge emergency rooms and fill prisons, AIDS babies and crack newborns in overwhelmed pediatric wards, homeless children with anemia, schizophrenics and other mental patients in shelters and jails and on the streets...While Ronald Reagan did not cause the medical underclass, his laissez-faire approach to social problems exacerbated the trend."
Abigail Trafford, Editor of The Washington Post "Health" section, in a January 24 article under headline above.

Terence Smith

"But analysts will also recognize that Ronald Reagan presided over a meltdown of the federal government during the last eight years. Fundamental management was abandoned in favor of rhetoric and imagery. A cynical disregard for the art of government led to wide-scale abuse. Only now are we coming to realize the cost of Mr. Reagan's laissez-faire: the crisis in the savings and loan industry, the scandal in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the deterioration of the nation's nuclear weapons facilities, the dangerous state of the air traffic control system -- not to mention the staggering deficit."
CBS News reporter Terence Smith, in a November 5 New York Times op-ed.

Richard Threlkeld

"After eight years of what many saw as the Reagan Administration's benign neglect of the poor and studied indifference to civil rights, a lot of those who lived through this week in Overtown [rioting in a section of Miami] seemed to think the best thing about George Bush is that he is not Ronald Reagan....There is an Overtown in every big city in America. Pockets of misery made even meaner and more desperate the past eight years."
Reporter Richard Threlkeld on ABC's World News Tonight, January 20.
The Real Jimmy Carter Award

Margaret Carlson

"Perhaps the Democrat who best personifies this republic of virtue is former President Jimmy Carter. His reputation burnished by the elevated tone of his retirement, Carter would actually bring to the task energy, integrity and his legendary distaste for congressional business as usual. He could even boast a made-to-order campaign slogan: 'After the Wright stuff, why not the best?'"
Time Senior Writer and former Carter Administration official Margaret Carlson recommending a new House Speaker, June 5 issue.

Stanley Cloud

"While Reagan peddles his time and talents to the highest bidder and Gerald Ford perfects his putt and Richard Nixon struggles to gain a toehold in history, Carter, like some jazzed superhero, circles the globe at 30,000 ft., seeking opportunities to Do Good."
Stanley Cloud, Time Washington Bureau Chief, September 11 issue.

Peter Jennings

"The person we have chosen this week [as "Person of the Week"] has continued his life with distinction, considerable grace, and with a very strong commitment to peace and justice...In the public's mind, the scales were never balanced. Carter's successes in foreign affairs, peace between Egypt and Israel, renewed respect for the United States in Latin America, have always been outweighed in the public mind by the hostage crisis."
Peter Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight, May 12.
The No Agenda Here Award

Laurence Barrett

"Atwater's fouling the civic atmosphere with vicious misinformation is bad enough; compounding that with the White House hypocrisy is too much. If Bush really wants to prove himself a political environmentalist in search of a kinder, gentler America, he should sack Atwater."
Time's Laurence Barrett in sidebar to a June 19 article on the "Foley memo."

Jacob Lamar

"At the same time, Atwater -- who cut his political teeth as a protege of South Carolina's once segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond -- downplayed his role in devising the crypto-racist Willie Horton ads that helped Bush win the White House. 'That's in the past,' he insisted."
Time reporters Jacob V. Lamar and Alessandra Stanley in the March 20 issue.


"Support Family Planning. In 1984 the Reagan Administration cut off U.S. aid to the two major international family-planning organizations...Unless the growth in the world population is slowed, it will be impossible to make serious progress on any environmental issue. The U.S. should immediately restore the aid it withdrew."
Time's recommendations on how to save the Earth, in the January 2 "Planet of the Year" issue.


"Propose deep mutual cuts in military forces and expenditures going well beyond those under consideration in START and conventional-arms talks."
"Offer most-favored-nation status, allowing the U.S.S.R. the same trading arrangements provided to most industrial nations, including Hungary."
"Relax technology-transfer regulations to allow sales of such items as personal computers and communications equipment that could spur autonomy."
Policies recommended by Time, November 6.

Bill Moyers

"The documentary has held up as both true and sadly prophetic. While Congress restored some of the cuts made in those first Reagan budgets, in the years since, the poor and the working poor have borne the brunt of the cost of the Reagan Revolution. The hardest-hit programs have been welfare, housing and other anti-poverty measures. Even programs that were not cut have failed to keep up with inflation. Meanwhile, rich people go big tax breaks. And the middle class kept most of their subsidies intact. As a result, the Reagan years brought on a wider gap between rich and poor."
Bill Moyers after PBS re-airing of 1982 CBS Reports "People Like Us," June 20.
Walter Mondale Award For Tax Hike Insistence

Lesley Stahl

"We have this drug problem, we have an education problem in the country. All we keep doing is cutting the domestic budget because taxes aren't being asked for. When does it become necessary to start investing in our future by fixing these problems, and when you do decide it becomes necessary, won't it become necessary to raise taxes? And just isn't that a bald truth?"
Lesley Stahl to OMB Director Richard Darman, July 23 Face the Nation.

Sam Donaldson

"If we don't find some way to raise new revenues, that means taxes, we're going to continue this self-deception, we're going to continue to add to the national deficit, we're going to continue to cause this country to head toward an economic abyss."
Sam Donaldson on This Week, September 24.

Mark Phillips

"Returning from his foreign travels, George Bush came home to domestic economic realities today. To the stubborn budget deficit that most economists say will never be seriously reduced without the new taxes to which the President remains opposed."
Reporter Mark Phillips on CBS Evening News, July 18.

Michael Duffy and Richard Hornik

"The borrow-and-spend policies that Ronald Reagan presided over have bequeathed to his chosen successor a downsized presidency devoid of the resources to address long neglected domestic problems. The Bush campaign strategists -- with the candidate's active complicity -- burdened the new President with an obdurate stance on taxes."
Reporters Michael Duffy and Richard Hornik in Time, February 20.
Award For The Most Inane Comparison

John Chancellor

"Thousands may have been gunned down in Beijing, but what about the millions of American kids whose lives are being ruined by an enormous failure of the country's educational system...We can and we should agonize about the dead students in Beijing, but we've got a much bigger problem here at home."
John Chancellor's commentary on NBC Nightly News, June 20.

Judd Rose

"In a way, you might say that David Duke is the son of Willie Horton. Duke is more overt, of course, but he's really just pushing the same buttons and sending the same coded messages that the Horton ads did so effectively for the Bush campaign last year."
Reporter Judd Rose on ABC's Prime Time Live, November 2.

Eric Engberg

"Will the military leaders there b embarrassed by this, will this be something like Kent State was for our military?"
CBS reporter Eric Engberg referring to China on Nightwatch, June 7.

Steven Roberts

"Like North, Castro has always portrayed foreign policy as an endless struggle between darkness and light, and the Fidels and Ollies of the world desperately need each other. 'Great Satans,' observes Hunter, [of the Center for Strategic and International Studies] 'always come in pairs.'"
U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven Roberts, April 17.
Quote of the Year

Lewis Lapham

"For the most part, the Nicaraguan Contras burned villages and murdered civilians. On behalf of their cause, Reagan sold out his oath of office and subverted the Constitution....

"Oliver North presented himself as the immortal boy in the heroic green uniform of Peter Pan. Although wishing to be seen as a humble patriot, the colonel's testimony showed him to be a treacherous and lying agent of the national security state, willing to do anything asked of him by a President to whom he granted the powers of an Oriental despot."
Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham narrating his PBS series America's Century, November 28.
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