Viewers could not get enough of TV news during the 2016 presidential election, spelling a windfall for the top news outlets. Needless to say, Donald Trump’s move to the White House has helped keep the ratings robust. Viewers look to the journalists they most respect to assess our nation’s new leadership and the sizzling issues that divide us, and to break down the latest developments in a coherent, and appealing, manner.
We spotlight 10 of the most influential figures in TV news today. Whether they’re network brass or on-air talent, on broadcast or cable, or focused on morning or evening news, we highlight who is making the most of their perch in the news game, and leaving the largest mark on the industry. Among the top anchors, one thing becomes clear: The stoic demeanor that has long defined the role is anything but required.
Who is most masterfully using newer media platforms? Who is doing the best job of tackling Trump? Who is leaving the concept of fake news far, far behind?
Our top TV news players make a case for the answers.
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CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent; Host, Face the Nation
Dickerson had a tough act to follow when he succeeded Bob Schieffer as Face the Nation host two years ago. But he has done a bang-up job, with an expert’s knowledge of the hot political issues, and a knack for knocking power players off their script with incisive questions.
“He stepped into giant shoes, and I think he filled them well,” former CBS News president Andrew Heyward said.
Dickerson put in a dozen years covering politics at Time, and then did a memorable stint at Slate.com before joining CBS News in 2009, decades after his mother was a producer there.
He has displayed a knack for maneuvering deftly on the newer platforms, hosting the podcast Whistlestop, which chronicles great moments in presidential history; running a lively blog on Tumblr; and amassing 2.17 million Twitter followers.
Dickerson showed his interviewing mettle when he pushed President Donald Trump in April on comments made about President Barack Obama tapping his phone. Trump ended up walking out during the questioning. “How delicious it is to see Trump’s protestations about ‘fake news’ come straight back in his face,” Erik Wemple said in The Washington Post. — Michael Malone
RACHEL MADDOWHost, The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC
MSNBC topped CNN in primetime among viewers 25-54 in the second quarter, and much of the credit for the major momentum goes to Maddow. The onetime Air America Radio host is now very much a full-blown TV star, averaging 2.5 million total viewers in the second quarter in her 9 p.m. slot, and emerging as a voice of reason in the key younger demo.
The Rachel Maddow Show premiered in 2008 and found its voice during the Obama administration. When Trump took over the presidency, Maddow and Co. were ready to rock. NBC News chairman Andrew Lack set out to remake MSNBC as a nonpartisan news channel, but it is liberal personalities, such as Maddow, that define the network. Her steely focus on the administration’s missteps, including its connection with Russia, is music to the ears of many Americans who disapprove of the president.
Fellow MSNBC host Chris Hayes, speaking in Rolling Stone, referred to Rhodes scholar Maddow as “a master of the medium,” with a knack for smart storytelling and a tireless work rate. — MM
Anchor, NewsOne Now, TV One
Roland Martin is unapologetic about delivering breaking news and top issues of the day from an African-American perspective — one that is often ignored by mainstream cable channels — on his four-year-old, one-hour TV One morning news show, NewsOne Now.
From topics such as health care to issues relating to gun violence, the former CNN on-air reporter and the recipient of the 2013 Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Black Journalists continues to provide African-American viewers with a forum to discuss and examine how such issues affect their lives. As a result, 2016 was NewsOne Now’s most-watched year ever.
Martin’s powerful voice on such issues has led TV One to expand NewsOne Now to two hours beginning this fall. “Since we launched the show, our audience has been clamoring for more coverage of the issues they wanted to talk about from their own perspective, so the extra hour gives us more opportunities to do more news or to go deeper into stories,” Martin said this past April during the network’s upfront presentation. — R. Thomas Umstead
Anchor, Noticiero Univision; Host, Al Punto
Ramos is a man for all platforms. He has been Univision’s Noticiero anchor since 1986, writes a weekly column for a variety of newspapers and provides daily radio commentary on Radio Univision. He is also host of the weekly public-affairs show Al Punto and the young adult Englishlanguage newscast America With Jorge Ramos on Fusion.
The Hispanic community sees Ramos as more than a journalist; he is also viewed as an advocate for their most heartfelt issues. When Ramos was ejected from a Donald Trump press conference in August 2015 after posing a question about immigration, many viewers felt they were being booted out, too.
Like his viewers, Ramos sees immigration as more than a political issue. “This is personal,” Ramos told CNN after his ejection. “When he’s talking about immigrants, he’s talking about me.”
Ramos, a Mexican-American, delivers the evening news with Maria Elena Salinas. In 2015, he made the list of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Said Christiane Amanpour in Time: “He knows he has a voice and is not afraid to use it. He shouts from every rooftop that Hispanic rights are human rights.” — MM
Co-Anchor, Good Morning America, ABC
Roberts has been a rock in morning news, and the most vital element in GMA’s total-viewers winning streak. And while NBC’s Today retains the 25-54 title, GMA this past spring seized the Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Morning Show.
Roberts has been co-anchor since 2005. Viewers respond to her genuine nature, and she’s responsible for the upbeat mood that dominates the set; absent is the wall between talent and crew one finds at other network programs. Roberts’s effusive demeanor is also essential to the chatty roundtable GMA uses to present the news.
She is, in short, “America’s broadcasting sweetheart,” said The New York Times.
If that seems like a lofty title for a morning news anchor, look at the news revenue figures. Morning news rang up $836.5 million in 2016 revenue, said Pew Research Center, nearly double evening news’s $420.9 million.
The GMA host isn’t limited to mornings. Roberts’s “intimate conversations” podcast, “Everybody’s Got Something,” recently returned for season two. Her Rock’n Robin Productions produced the ABC specials Game Changers and Thank You, America, among others. — MM
Hundreds of journalists cover the day-to-day machinations of President Trump, but few if any have the inside access to him that Ruddy does. The 52-year-old CEO of the conservative-leaning Newsmax media juggernaut arguably makes as much news as he breaks via his website, newsletter and cable news channel.
Dubbed the “Trump whisperer” by The Washington Post, Ruddy is not shy about touting his longtime friendship with the president. In early June — hours after being seen leaving the White House — Ruddy was quoted by the mainstream press as saying that Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Ruddy also made headlines two weeks ago, speaking out against Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed merger with Tribune Media, telling Multichannel News that Trump himself “warned about the concentration of media power.” Ruddy is an “outsider who has insider access and, more importantly, is willing to share it,” CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter said in a June 13 column. — RTU
President, Programming & Development, Fox News Channel
It has been a brutal year at Fox News Channel, starting with Roger Ailes’s resignation, and including star host Bill O’Reilly’s departure in April and co-president Bill Shine’s in May. But the Murdochs have said they are determined to change its culture, and Scott is well-positioned to leave a lasting mark.
A 20-plus-year veteran of Fox News, she was named executive vice president of programming last summer and president of programming in May. Scott has her work cut out for her in winning over skeptical staff. She is named in multiple lawsuits against Fox News leadership, and was seen by many as a loyal deputy to Shine and to Ailes. Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman said Scott was responsible for enforcing his dress code — miniskirts — for female talent. Fox News says Sherman is incorrect in his reporting about Scott being involved with a dress code policy.
Still, Scott is in a key position to remake the place in a less controversial public image. She moved Tucker Carlson Tonight from 9 p.m. to O’Reilly’s former slot at 8 p.m. and debuted the freewheeling Fox News Specialists in May. And with FNC retaining ratings gusto despite the loss of key players, she’s off to a promising start. — MM
Chief Washington Correspondent, CNN; Host, The Lead and State of the Union
Tapper earned a lofty description from an admiring The Washington Post earlier this year: “The conscience of cable news,” the paper wrote, giving him points for bluntly calling out President Trump for “falsehoods and other strange conduct.”
Indeed, the host of weekday show The Lead and Sunday series State of the Union readily reports on the at-times funky facts emerging from the White House. Upon accepting the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Tribute Award last month (his mother is Canadian), Tapper said he became a journalist “to hold people in power accountable, to try to tell stories other journalists weren’t telling and to try to have serious discussions about the way policies impact people’s lives.”
He’ll get another award in September, when the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) gives him its John F. Hogan Distinguished Service Award for standout journalism. But the year’s highlight for Tapper, a cartoonist before the journalism kicked in, may have been when he was asked to lend those talents to the Mad magazine book MAD About Trump.
Deborah Jaramillo, director of the graduate film and television studies program at Boston University, and author of the cable news book Ugly War, Pretty Package, said Tapper’s facial expressions on-air say almost as much as his questions. “It’s interesting that he lets his frustrations show,” she said. — MM
CHUCK TODDNBC News Political Director; Host of Meet the Press (NBC) and MTP Daily (MSNBC)
U.S. politics has no larger TV figure than Chuck Todd. Thanks to Todd’s political expertise, NBC easily topped its broadcast brethren in Election Night ratings. “He knows what’s going on inside the Beltway,” news analyst Andrew Tyndall said.
Todd took on the Meet the Press host role from David Gregory in 2014 — the show had fallen into last place — and reviews focused on his straight-talking perspective, which multiple critics said reminded them of the legendary Tim Russert. The New York Times said, “Todd may still be the substitute teacher, but he looks like he could quickly master the class.”
Tyndall suggested Todd has done so, calling him “the political scientist” among the Sunday morning hosts.
Todd is not above showing his frustration with a guest when the situation allows, Jaramillo noted. That makes him “a champion for a lot of people who feel they’re under threat,” she said. — MM
President, CNN Worldwide
With the country so divided along political lines, it’s a boon for Fox News Channel and MSNBC and their ideologically driven primetime programming. Yet Zucker sees the split as an opportunity for CNN. He told The New York Times that CNN viewers are akin to undecided voters, which President Trump is looking to “sway” because they’re not watching Fox News or MSNBC.
Zucker also told the Times that CNN is on track to earn more than $1 billion in profit this year. “He’s on a roll,” news analyst Andrew Tyndall said. “He’s the king of all cable news at the moment.”
Zucker has focused CNN on Trump ever since the Donald took that fateful glide down the Trump Tower escalator two years ago. The president’s disdain for CNN grows every day, and the network’s missteps, including the resignations of three journos after a faulty story about a Trump ally, only gave him more ammunition. But those setbacks have the hyper-competitive Zucker even more motivated to focus his 3,500 staffers on doing a standout job.
Tyndall said CNN has joined The Washington Post and The New York Times as “central players” in vital Trump news. — MM
This story was updated on July 31 to include a Fox News rebuttal.
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