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Opening Arguments

Under the influence

Forbes magazine has come up with one of the most absurd lists in recently memory. It ranked the "top 10 most influential pundits," and made some very strange choices:

CHICAGO -- Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert is the nation's most influential pundit, according to a new ranking by Forbes magazine.

To come up with its conclusions, Forbes analyzed market research from the firm E-Poll, examining more than 60 well-known pundits who specialize in opining on politics, news, entertainment, sports, or the law.

[. . .]

Comedian Bill Maher, who has a weekly talk show on HBO, was ranked second, followed by cable talker Bill O'Reilly; liberal radio host and comedian Al Franken; TV journalist Geraldo Rivera; comedian Rosie O'Donnell; film critic Leonard Maltin; legal commentator Greta Van Susteren; economics news commentator Lou Dobbs; and basketball analyst Bill Walton.

Two film critics and three comedians? A basketball analyst? Greta Van Susteren, who is seen by probably a few thousand people? The only way to come up with a list this dumb is to ignore how many people the pundits influence and in what area their influence lies. And that's just what Forbes did:

 Candidates were scored on "awareness and likeability" among respondents most prized by advertisers -- relatively high income college graduates aged between 25 and 54, Forbes said.

You don't rate pundits on whether they are "likeable" in the right demographic group.  You rate them on how they move public opinion. You might not like Rush Limbaugh, but he certainly affects the national dialogue, and he has a bigger audience -- of loyal listeners -- than any of the "top" 10. I don't care much for Anna Quindlen, but her every-other-week, back-of-the-magazine essays for Newsweek have a lot more to do with the national discussion than what Bill Walton might say, although, God knows, basketball is precious.


Wed, 09/26/2007 - 8:25pm

I am amazed and thouroughly confused as to the criteria which puts seldom-watched also rans from the cable channels ahead of Limbaugh with his 20 million listeners.

Al Franken is now a politician without a show. Geraldo? Rosie? I fail to see how there can possibly be influence without audience exposure.

Steve T.
Wed, 09/26/2007 - 9:23pm

The other odd thing is that the list comes close to a Liberal-Conservative-Liberal-Conservative-Liberal-Conservative-Liberal linear placement -- with some suspicious weight toward liberal bias (America as a whole certainly would never vote Bill Maher #2).

Ebert is understandable as he is popular and politically uncontroversial.