So Forbes has put out the latest of its low-content-but-high-publicity lists, this one highlighting “the 25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media.” The list includes most of the expected folks (Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Stewart) with a few wild cards thrown in (Kurt Anderson, James Fallows, Dave Shipley, the NYT’s op-ed page editor). But there’s one selectee whose presence on the list strikes me as a tad odd: Oprah.
I mean, yes, she campaigned for Obama…but has she done anything else to classify her as a “liberal”? And, for that matter, is she “influential” in the same way that, say, Dave Shipley is influential? Or that Maureen Dowd is influential? In some ways, yes. But, still—Oprah is an entertainer before anything else. Her influence is, though vast, cultural rather than political. And here she is, included in a list of people who, while some of them straddle the line between entertainment and journalism, are, fundamentally, journalists—and whose influence, even more significantly, falls into the realm of “civic engagement” rather than “pop culture.” The two spheres are both significant, to be sure…but they are distinct. And we should be treating them that way.Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.