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5. George Stephanopoulos

If the defining interview with President Trump in 2017 belonged to Lester Holt, the honor in 2019 goes to George Stephanopoulos. ABC News’ chief anchor — who juggles gigs as the co-host of Good Morning America, the most watched network morning show in the country, and moderator of the venerable Sunday politics show This Week — scored a rare win in locking down the interview with a president not fond of entertaining outlets other than Fox News. Stephanopoulos’ interview was, well, yuge, capturing moments ranging from the weird (POTUS calling out Mick Mulvaney for coughing) to the serious (POTUS saying he would be open to receiving foreign dirt in 2020). The latter set off a whirlwind of controversy and condemnation about potential Trump actions leading into 2020 — all before the Ukraine scandal. Stephanopoulos also scored one of the biggest non-political sitdowns of 2019: Mark Zuckerberg’s first network TV interview since the Cambridge Analytica scandal came out last year. Given all of this, it’s understandable ABC News just signed Stephanopoulos to a four-year contract extension that will keep him on well past the 2020 election. The former Clinton administration advisor who continues to lead all of ABC News special impeachment related coverage, has has been a vital part of the ABC News team for close to two decades. You can expect him to remain one of the central players in the news media leading into the wild 2020 election cycle.


4. Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace

Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace are less famous than their domineering predecessor — but the network’s numbers in 2019 speak for themselves. For the umpteenth consecutive year, Fox News has dominated ratings, drawing more viewers in some hours than their competitors — MSNBC and CNN — combined. Scott and Wallace inherited a winning formula from founder Roger Ailes, who grew the network from nothing into a ratings powerhouse before leaving under a dark storm of legacy-killing sexual misconduct allegations. But it would be unfair to say Scott and Wallace have merely taken a custodial role at Fox. In 2019, the network notched record profits — in the billions — and its highest ratings ever in prime time, a testament to the line-up they assembled in the post-Ailes era. Behind the scenes, there is a constant juggling of the highest-level relationships, ad boycotts and competing opinion-news narratives that can leave principled journalists exposed and considering parting ways. And yet, Fox News programming continues to sail forward with Scott and Wallace at the helm. And with their wildly outsized influence comes big questions for the future: What will Fox News look like in a post-Trump world? But at least for now, while we’re still in the Trump era, cable news is the most influential medium and Fox News reigns supreme in homes around America and at the big White one in Washington.


3. Matt Drudge

Need evidence of the mighty power wielded by Matt Drudge? All you need to do is check out one of the many pieces in 2019 devoted to getting inside the mysterious editor’s head. Has Drudge taken a turn to the left? Is he backing Trump? Even the president himself is infatuated with Drudge’s thinking. Why? Because Matt Drudge influences — and this is not hyperbole — millions of Americans. A significant chunk of the nation consumes its news entirely through the Drudge Report, an aggregation site that boasts nearly 100 million visitors in a given month. Drudge became the target of fury in 2019, when his pro-Trump audience threw a fit over what they saw as his turn against the president. Particularly as the impeachment inquiry of Trump heated up, prominent right wing pundits complained that Drudge was highlighting too many negative headlines about the president. While nonpartisans might see impeachment coverage as simple bias towards a good story, competitors have popped up trying to outflank the Report on the right. But they stand little chance to even make a dent in the Drudge empire. Moreover, it’s nearly impossible to fathom Trump can win a second term without a little help, directly or indirectly, from his mysterious friend. There’s a case to be made that Matt Drudge is the only individual on this list who can actually swing the election.


2. Jeff Zucker

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In the seven years since Jeff Zucker took over as president of CNN Worldwide, no other cable news executive has had such a powerful handle over the direction of a news network. Ask any executive, showrunner or on-air talent at CNN, each will tell you that the editorial direction and vision of how CNN should report the news comes directly from the top — making Zucker’s vision a vital part of the public discourse during the Trump administration. Critics will note third-place ratings of CNN in the cable news race. But those who focus solely on ratings might be surprised to learn that CNN’s new parent company, AT&T, awarded Zucker with a splashy new title in 2019: chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports. That striking vote of confidence comes as CNN reaches record profits (reportedly doubling under his tenure to $1.2 billion). You can chalk some of that success up to increased relevance in the target ad demo and daring programming decisions and long form documentaries that flout expectations. CNN has treated viewers to countless town halls, many of which don’t rate but Zucker defends as valuable news assets. Amid the constant drumbeat of “fake news” from President Trump and his surrogates, CNN has not backed down. With the domestic might and global reach of its newsroom, CNN remains the gold standard for a truly international news operation, and Zucker controls the levers like no other.


1. Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow

From the wild conclusion of the Russia investigation in early 2019 to the stunning eruption of the Ukraine scandal and subsequent impeachment inquiry, the news media in 2019 has been transfixed by a partisan battle over the country’s future in the Trump era. No two figures are more emblematic of these warring factions than MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Fox News’ Sean Hannity. These two reflect the divide in America and at 9 p.m., and you will walk away with a completely different impression of the day’s news depending on whose show you watch.

The pair have traded off the No. 1 position in cable news ratings this year, though Hannity firmly reclaimed the top spot after the Russia investigation sputtered to a halt. It was a story Maddow covered obsessively, following every twist and turn as she meticulously catalogued its fringe characters and peculiar connections (regular viewers of her show could tell you the life story of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska). When Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined there no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, Maddow’s ratings dropped — and there were fears they would stay there. That didn’t happen. As one of the best and smartest broadcasters on television, Maddow’s coverage remained steadfast, and her show remained compelling. With the eruption of the Ukraine scandal, she was provided a historic political story that few could cover with the same gravitas. With her audience higher than ever during the impeachment inquiry, Maddow is clearly the most influential voice on the left.

Hannity, meanwhile, delivers a famously intense defense of the president and assault on his critics each night on Fox News. The fire breathing opening monologue of his show, which can clock in at nearly 20 minutes, is treated as gospel by loyalists of his program. It serves as a rebuttal to criticism of the president as much as an indictment of his foes, be they Democratic presidential candidates, never-Trump conservatives, members of the so-called deep state, or CNN hosts. What’s more, his show led Fox News to its highest prime time ratings ever in 2019. While Trump is in touch with several Fox News hosts, he speaks constantly with Hannity, who makes personal recommendations, advises on policy, and gossips about the cable news landscape. Hannity is the voice of Trump support in the media, Maddow the voice of the resistance. At a time when political media is hyper-partisan, there are no voices as influential in their respective camps as these two hosts.

There is an argument to be made that these aren’t just the two most influential members of the media, but two of the most important people in American politics today.


 

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