After releasing a pretty inclusive list of the Top 25 Right-Wing Journalists in America, Daily Beast columnist Tunku Varadarajan took on the other half of the aisle, putting together a list of the most powerful and influential American liberals. In many ways, The Top 25 Left-Wing Journalists list is much more eclectic than it’s conservative counterpart, and includes a much larger number of personalities that toe the line between entertainers/commentators and journalists– many, in fact, that are solidly in the entertainment or commentary camp.
Preempting the criticism that many of these individuals – most notably Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who holds the top spot – are not journalists, Varadarajan presents his own definition of “journalist”: “anyone whose primary vocation is to supply, edit, host, or curate information, news reporting, criticism, or opinion.” A healthy base-covering word salad, but does this mean that anyone whose job it is to “host” “information” (Alex Trebek) or “supply” “opinion” (SNL’s Seth Meyers) is eligible? Perhaps they were simply not influential enough, since the list is replete with print journalists and bloggers, from Markos Moulitsas to Arianna Huffington, leaving many TV personalities by the wayside.
Unlike the conservative list, there are two glaring omissions on this list: MSNBC stars Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. While they are most definitely not journalists in the conventional sense, they certainly host and edit information and opinion, and no one dishes out more criticism than Olbermann. Their equally partisan colleague Rachel Maddow makes an appearance on the list at number 11 (an incredibly low ranking if it’s true she is feeding the DNC talking points), so why not them? Perhaps they are intentionally excluded to make a statement about how much respect they have lost as commentators for their outlandish behavior. Matthews (but not Olbermann) was included in a 2008 list Varadarajan compiled for Forbes, although that list is mostly discredited by the inclusion of Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan as a liberal (!).
For the right-wing list, I noted that “whether the list is accurate in its depiction of journalist depends more on the reader’s personal definition of the word than anything inherent in the list’s structure.” Now that we have a definition to work with, it’s not the inclusions that are perplexing, but the exclusions. How Jon Stewart is any more of a journalist than Keith Olbermann is anyone’s guess, and the implication that Stewart is vying for journalistic supremacy with the right-wing #1, Wall Street Journal editor Paul Gigot even more far-fetched. But working with what we’ve got, let’s see how the top five on the Daily Beast’s list fare on the Mediaite Power Grid:
Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt ranks at number 5 on the Beast list, but all the way down at #92 on the Power Grid. Even ignoring the fact that many consider him to be a neo-conservative, ranking him as more influential over Maddow among liberals, or even less opinionated but more influential journalists like Christiane Amanpour, when his job is to maintain the page that regularly publishes Charles Krauthammer is confusing, to say the least. His much more liberal New York Times counterpart David Shipley comes in at #4, but is absent from the Power Grid. He meets both the political requirement and the influence one, though how much influence print journalism has anymore is also a question. Huffington comes in at #3, a spot behind her Power Grid #2 rank. No controversy on the ranking here, though the Huffington Post is unfairly described as “the first unquestionably successful online aggregator” (Drudge Report, anyone?).
Proving that the New York Times editorial page is only as powerful as its writers, Paul Krugman takes the #2 spot for being the “leading liberal political economist.” The Power Grid agrees, ranking him at #1 among columnists (and with the runner-up being Michelle Malkin, he has little competition to worry about). And, finally, Jon Stewart, inexplicably at #1, ranks among TV hosts only at #34 (behind Rachel Maddow!) on the Power Grid.
While the list is fair to the field and The Daily Beast does take special care to keep it fair and balanced compared to the right-wing list, they choose to redefine journalism so they get the pick of the litter in ranking, rather than just narrowing the field or not using the word journalist at all. Or maybe it’s best if they keep their rankings to the right.