Tunku’s Silly Lists

Tunku Varadarajan’s lists in The Daily Beast of the top twenty-five “most influential journalists” on the right and on the left say a lot about what’s wrong with journalism today.

For starters, there are very few actual journalists on either list. Rather, the lists are full of pundits and activists and opinion-pushers of various stripes, and the handful of true journalists who are included have mostly all transcended their humble reporter status to become, well, something more. Christiane Amanpour, for instance, is a journalist but also a media celebrity; Steve Coll writes important books and magazine articles, but he is also president of the New America Foundation. In other words, their “influence” is about something more than just their journalism.

That’s fine, but one wonders if they would have made Tunku’s list without those extra flourishes.

The bigger problem is that, by including so few actual reporters, the lists reinforce the notion that the person who chews over what someone else went out and dug up is more valuable than the person who did the original work. That is a sad comment on how journalism is perceived in an era when, we are repeatedly told, anyone can be a journalist—just start a blog and weigh in.

Real journalistic influence is about understanding how and why something is wrong or broken or unjust, and trying to fix it by explaining it to the public. And it isn’t about right or left, but that’s another post.

With that in mind, here are some off-the-top-of-my-head suggested additions to Tunku’s lists: David Barstow, Sarah Cohen and Debbie Cenziper, Seymour Hersh, Lowell Bergman, and the entire Frontline operation.

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Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.