In the world of the microscopic news cycle, a year is a mighty long time. Think “dog years” on steroids. Over the course of the past year, in thousands (around 7,500 ) of articles and millions (between 3 and 4 million) of words, Mediaite has covered the ups and downs of that whizzing, ricocheting media world. In case you lost track in that sea of information, we’ve compiled a list of 2011 Media Winners and Losers that we hope will be the start of a conversation, not the end of one. Here, in no particular order, are Mediaite’s 2011 Media Winners and Losers.
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Loser: Sarah Palin
As the year began, there was no brighter star in the news media firmament than former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, but as the year winds down, Palin's relevance has dipped below the MySpace line. So, what happened? How did she go from contender to dead-ender?
Many media analysts point to her tin-eared response to the Tucson tragedy that left Rep. Gabby Giffords struggling for survival, and while that didn't help, she showed signs of recovery after that. What may have really worn out Palin's welcome, though, was her endless flirtation with a presidential run that was never going to happen. Now relegated to lesser Fox News properties and buzzless speculation about a position in another administration that will never happen, 2011 saw Palin's celebrity called before a media Death Panel.
Losers*: Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck (*rebuilding year)
Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck (*rebuilding year)
These two deserve a dual entry because their situations are so strangely similar. Both gave up much larger audiences in moves to scaled-down platforms, in exchange for freer expression, and both moves were among the year's biggest media meta-stories. While they would both claim to have been successful in their new homes, the heights from which they descended lands them on our "losers" list...for now. Think of them as quarterbacks who have gone from playing in the Super Bowl to trying out for expansion teams, or in Beck's case starting one.
Keith Olbermann shocked his audience in January by announcing that he would be leaving MSNBC...that very night. It was a huge media story that played out over the course of several months, until Olbermann announced the return of , on Countdown Al Gore's Current TV. Olbermann's profile and reach were significantly lowered, but the move was intended to make Current an instant player in cable news. 2012 will show whether Gore and new lead producer David Bohrman can get some numbers, and leverage their primetime lineup to get Current into more than the 60 million homes in which it's currently available. But numbers aside recent rumblings, and Olbermann's past history suggest that this union might be short-lived.
Glenn Beck's exit from Fox News was announced in April, but Mediaite had the scoop weeks earlier. A combination of slipping (but still-impressive) ratings and concern over Beck's inflammatory persona led to the once-mighty Beck's exit from Fox in June, and the launch of his web-based media empire. While his audience is much smaller, Beck has managed the impressive feat of getting people to pay for something on the internet. He's somewhat off the national media radar now, but 2012 will tell if being struck down has only made him stronger, like Obi-Wan, or if we'll only see him once in awhile and it really won't be the same...like Obi-Wan.
Winner: Ed Schultz
As the year began, Ed Schultz was a radio host-turned-TV host struggling to distinguish himself in MSNBC's 6pm timeslot. Keith Olbermann's departure saw The Ed Show move into primetime at 10, and later in the year, right into Countdown's old 8pm slot. While Schultz is still a distant second or even third banana to MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, that changing of the guard just happened to coincide with history's arrival in Ed Schultz's wheelhouse. Beginning with the Wisconsin protests in February, Schultz's years as the working-man's liberal paid off in a big way, as he was the man on the scene all year at protests that now look like the forerunners to the defining Occupy Wall Street movement. Along the way, Schultz has taken liberalism back from the eggheads, and put it in the hands of the American worker.
Loser: Michael Moore
Filmmaker Michael Moore started out the year in hot water, under siege by a social media campaign that cast him as a rape apologist. He extricated himself from that mess with a down-low apology, but went on to embarrass himself with a series of uninformed rants about foreign policy. What sealed the deal, though, was his involvement with Occupy Wall Street. Instead of being transparent while challenging the premise that a rich guy can't also believe in fairness, Moore reacted foolishly to questions about his own personal wealth. In one fell swoop, he managed to undercut his own credibility, while distracting from the Occupy movement's message.
Winner: Eric Bolling
Fox Business Channel's Eric Bolling has emerged as the person who has most benefited from Glenn Beck's exit from Fox News. His regular gig on The Five, which replaced Beck's show at 5pm, has significantly upped his profile, as has his fill-in duty on The O'Reilly Factor. Like Beck, Bolling has shown a propensity for riling people up, which can be a powerful currency in the cable news realm.
Loser: John King
The host of John King, USA had a rough year that saw low ratings boot him out of his 7pm timeslot, back to 6 o'clock, where he still has yet to catch fire. His timeslot replacement, Erin Burnett, hasn't exactly taken off either, so King's ratings struggles could be more of a sign that the CNN "neutrality" model can't compete with leaners like MSNBC and Fox than a statement about King himself. But as one of CNN's lead political names, if he can't pick up some numbers in the months to come, his days as a host could be numbered.
Winner: Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan stepped into some mighty big shoes, and if ratings are any indication, has filled them admirably. Piers Morgan Tonight has improved on Larry King Live's ratings by 26%. Certainly far from groundbreaking numbers but perhaps more importantly, Morgan became a relevant figure in a tough and crowded market -- his bookings were among the most timely ( Charlie Sheen and Ricky Gervais stand out). He has also, thus far, been unharmed by any connection to the British tabloid hacking scandal. In 2012, Morgan will devote more time to the show, having quit his gig judging for America's Got Talent.
Winner: Ed Henry
Fox News is the co-winner in this situation, as they poached to fill its newly-acquired front row seat in the White House briefing room. Press Secretary Ed Henry from CNN Jay Carney welcomed Ed to the Fox fold in somewhat prickly fashion, but the move to Fox really just means that Henry is getting credit for being the cherubic bulldog he's always been, and with a much larger audience.
Loser: Christiane Amanpour
Globe-savvy Christiane Amanpour was always an odd pick to head ABC News' This Week, and while the huge international stories that marked 2011 seemed to validate that choice, the show continued to be a critical and ratings disappointment. The result has been a hasty end to the Amanour era at This Week. The Challenge for ABC News here is that crackerjack White House correspondent Jake Tapper was the favorite of some, and yet they still gave the job to former host George Stephanopoulos, who already has a full-time gig hosting GMA. Rather than just allowing Stephanopoulos to focus on GMA, which has seen significant ratings gains under his tenure, ABC News may find itself in a "play me or trade me" situation with the talented and versatile Tapper.
Winner: Anderson Cooper
While Anderson Cooper's ratings haven't exactly set the world on fire, CNN's silver fox made things interesting at 10pm, and continued to turn out quality journalism™. In addition to that, Cooper launched a syndicated talk show, Anderson, that could very well be the next step toward a media empire.
Loser: Rep. Anthony Weiner
The strangest of all of 2011's ups and downs was a sex scandal that didn't actually feature any actual up and down. Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner's bulging underpants became the center of the media universe for a few strange weeks this year, and provided a cutting-edge cautionary tale for the Twitter/sexting age. A mini-win goes to Andrew Breitbart, whose Big Government broke the story, and who pulled off the most audacious media move of the year, jacking the mic at a Weiner press conference.
Winner: Rep. Christopher Lee
The so-called "Craigslist Congressman" would be a definite loser in any other year, but Rep. Chris Lee's resignation in disgrace after trolling the interwebs for extra-marital action was effectively blotted out by Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter scandal. Call it a stroke of luck, if you will, but Lee's misdeeds just can't compete with the long shadow cast by Weinergate.
Winner: Fox News Debates
Fox News Debates
More broadly, the Republican presidential debates have been a magical endless pinata of joy for the media, but Fox News' debates have consistently outclassed the network's rivals for sheer substance. Perhaps it should have been a sign of things to come for Newt Gingrich when he found himself lashing out at his former employer's debate moderators. Who would have thought that Fox News would be such unfriendly territory for the GOP's leading lights?
The Fox News moderators' sharp questioning and absence of silliness like CNN's "this or that?" gimmick were more than enough to make up for their annoying use of the Google G-Chat sound to keep time.
Loser: 1/3 Of CBS News’ Republican Debate
1/3 Of CBS News' Republican Debate
This year's Republican presidential debates have been an embarrassment of riches for political commentators, but they have also delivered huge ratings. CBS News was all set for a smashing success of a debate, co-moderated by Scott Pelley and National Journal's crack policy wonk Major Garrett, on the revealing subject of foreign policy and national security. Instead, the network inexplicably decided to simultaneously subvert its own commercial interests and its public service obligation by shunting the last half hour of the debate to a web-only stream. Must've been a really great rerun of Numb3rs/ Ghost Whisperer/whatever the hell it is they're showing at CBS on Saturday nights.
Loser: Republican Debate Audiences
Republican Debate Audiences
While there have been candidates who screwed up badly during the debates (*sneezing noise*RICK PERRY!), the biggest embarrassment to emerge from the Republican presidential debates has been the frequently disturbing reaction of the live audiences to things like record numbers of executions, leaving the uninsured to die, having a heart on immigration, torture, and a gay US soldier serving in Iraq.
It may be fair to say that these were just a few rotten apples, but it didn't help their own candidates that the reactions of those on the stage became news. Something has gone wrong if there is a perception that your party is trying to appeal to a crowd that would make the concessionaires in Thunderdome nervous.
Winner: Red Eye
While they began topping CNN's primetime lineup in the ratings in 2010, it was truly in 2011-- in the midst of the programming change that would bring host Greg Gutfeld into daytime programming and provide endless comedic fodder in the form of 2012 election news-- that Fox News' early morning talk show Red Eye became one of the network's dominant brands. With biting wit that often transcends policy and politics and a loyal following on Twitter, Gutfeld, co-host Bill Schulz, and ombudsman Andy Levy saw their highest ratings quarter during the summer, and scored a huge cultural victory when Levy inadvertently exposed the seedy underbelly of Twitter Chris Brown fandom in the fall. With an election on the horizon next year, the cast of Red Eye leaves the year as one of its biggest winners.
Winners: NBC'S Savannah Guthrie and ABC'S Josh Elliott
Savannah Guthrie and ABC'S Josh Elliott.
While these two come from totally different backgrounds, and work for different networks, they are almost without question the two biggest up-and-comers at the top two network morning shows. Guthrie, a longtime Court TV correspondent, exploded onto the NBC scene, leapfrogging over many NBC veterans to nab a regular hosting gig in the 9 am hour of The Today Show, and now regularly fills in for host Ann Curry.
Elliott was plucked from ESPN to be the newsreader at Good Morning America, but has quickly become an ABC darling, seamlessly subbing for George Stephanopoulos, which has led to speculation that he will eventually take over the job.
Winner: Seth Meyers
In addition to pouring several gallons of jet fuel onto an already-immolating Donald Trump at this year's White House Correspondents Dinner, Seth Meyers has filled the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchor chair during a time of resurgent cultural and creative relevance for the long-running sketch comedy show.
Loser: Donald Trump
This was a tough call, because the amount of attention paid to Donald Trump in 2011 was all out of proportion to his worth as a human being, so by that measure, you could call him a winner. Early this year, Republican voters beclowned themselves by rocketing The Donald to the top of early primary polls, mostly on the strength of Trump's co-opting of the fringe Birther movement. Alas, all of that was simply a set-up to the most crushing humiliation ever doled out on C-Span, where President Obama folded his long-form birth certificate into a funny hat and made Trump wear it at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Not to be held down, Trump later emerged as a would-be GOP kingmaker, but was humiliated again when most of the Republican field refused to attend a debate that he planned to moderate, and was forced to cancel. Every finger on every media producer in the world is crossed that Trump makes good on his threat to mount an independent run for president.
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