Moyers, Moore and Maddow are the Most Influential Progressives

The three M's -- Bill Moyers, Michael Moore and Rachel Maddow -- scored highest in a recent AlterNet survey* asking more than 5,000 readers to rate the most influential progressive media figures. Moyers, who scored 67.5, and Moore, with a 66.2 score, were very close. Maddow was a tad behind at 63.5.

It's no surprise that Moyers, the moral sage, and Moore, the rabble-rouser, are ranked at the top. They have been popular with AlterNet readers for years. Moyers' current show, "Bill Moyers' Journal," gets at the heart of our many social ills with long-form exploration and probing interviews. Recently, Moyers spent an episode on the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam tapes, drawing a connection to Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan. The show was a television masterpiece.

Moore built his popularity with the astoundingly successful 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which remains the highest-grossing documentary of all time, taking in over $200 million worldwide, including U.S. box office revenue of almost $120 million. Bowling for Columbine, released in 2002, took in more than $58 million while Sicko (2007) brought in $36 million. The $14 mill pulled in by Moore's most recent film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is a large drop-off, and must be seen as a disappointment.

Moore also had the highest recognition score in the survey at 98.4 percent -- quite a feat for the former editor of the Flint, Michigan alternative weekly The Flint Voice. Moyers was next at 96.4, followed by Arianna Huffington at 95.6.

But the big story in the survey is Rachel Maddow. For her to leapfrog legends like Noam Chomsky, Arianna Huffington and Amy Goodman -- longtime media mainstays -- is a huge accomplishment. Maddow's success demonstrates that brains and savvy have a place on cable TV, amidst the name-calling that sometimes passes for dialogue. And it indicates that progressives will follow the right talent to corporate media, which may encourage mainstream media outlets to hire more progressives. 

Noam Chomsky, still the left's leading intellectual, placed fourth at 57.6, followed by Paul Krugman at 53.4. Krugman's incisive column in the New York Times has been a must-read for several years among a broad swath of liberals and progressives. The sixth-place slot was taken by Maddow's MSNBC cohort, Keith Olbermann (51.7), whose bombastic style, while certainly different than Rachel's, clearly has its fans.

Next in line, and finishing off the top 10, were Amy Goodman (49.7), Arianna Huffington (49.4), Naomi Klein (47.7), and former Labor Secretary and Berkeley professor Robert Reich (31.1).

A number of the most influential people on the list are able to use their exposure on corporate or public television in order to enhance their brand. Consequently voters may feel that their ability to reach wider audiences beyond the traditional progressive core makes these prominent progressives more influential. It's also interesting that, while the Internet has broadened the audience for all the media types in the top 10, none of them, with the possible exception of Huffington, can be seen as primarily a product of the Internet era. And even Huffington was well known as an author and television personality before she created The Huffington Post.

In fact, you have to slide down to numbers 19 and 20 on the list -- blogger Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, and Glenn Greenwald,'s super blogger -- to find the first Internet-created stars. One possible explanation for this is that the AlterNet audience, like audiences for virtually all high-traffic Web sites, magazines and blogs, is majority white, male and boomer-leaning, and consequently less influenced by the Internet, and more by a range of media, including the New York Times, books and television. (Interestingly, Moulitsas and Glenn Greenwald had relatively low recognition scores at 59.1 and 61.1, respectively.)

It could be argued that among the top 10, only Amy Goodman truly operates within progressive, independent media (well, almost: three of her books were published by Hyperion, which is owned by the Disney Corporation). Goodman generally does not appear on broadcast television. Therefore she would be the most influential grassroots progressive media figure, as her show "Democracy Now" is seen and heard on hundreds of local radio and television stations across the country. Chomsky is another leader, who maintains his reputation among the AlterNet audience despite very rare appearances on corporate television. 

In the second 10, one of the bigger surprises was filmmaker Robert Greenwald, the founder of Brave New Films, who parlayed highly tactical Internet-promoted documentaries about Fox News, the war in Iraq, etc. and then a newer form of short, hard-hitting Internet videos about a wide range of political topics, into considerable visibility. If you watch political video online you know Robert Greenwald. 

Three veteran progressives ranked 11th-13th: the Texas populist talker and writer Jim Hightower, fresh from wining the Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship from the Nation Institute; the Nation's editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, who has her fair share of mainstream television appearances; and author Barbara Ehrenreich, who has used her intellect and humor to carve out her own niche in the progressive and mainstream media universe. 

Two other surprises in the list (or maybe not) were food writer Michael Pollan, ranked at 14th (this makes sense given the popularity of food writing and analysis on AlterNet in 2009); and Jeremy Scahill at 18th, whose book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, is one of the definitive works of the past decade. Another relative newcomer, and a fresh unique voice who ranked 16th, is Rolling Stone political writer Matt Taibbi, who almost single-handedly ripped the facade from the notion that the U.S. banking system was fair or made sense for the country. Taibbi made it clear that the recent economic collapse is all about naked greed (far beyond what many of us imagined), accompanied by a shocking level of enabling from the Obama administration. Finally, Frank Rich at 17th, the second New York Times writer, rounds off the top 20 of the most influential progressives.

Finishing the top 25 are a gaggle of writers including syndicated columnist David Sirota; veteran radical Robert Scheer, founder of the political Web site; David Corn, Mother Jones' Washington guy at Mojo wire; Bob Herbert, the third New York Times columnist to make the list; and Chris Hedges, the "take no prisoners" author and Truthdig columnist.

*Readers were asked : How Influential are the following progressive media figures? The options were: Very influential, Somewhat influential, Not Very influential and Who? The rankings for this article came from the highest percentage of respondents who chose "very  influential." The recognition score was the percentage of people who recognized the media figure.

Here's the list of the top 25:

Click for larger version

(click for larger version)

The following people were also in the survey, and received votes from survey participants (in alphabetical order): Max Blumenthal, Digby, Laura Flanders, Bill Greider, Jane Hamsher, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Van Jones, Roberto Lovato, Joshua Marshall, Ron Reagan, Randy Rhodes, Tavis Smiley, Pam Spaulding, Jessica Valenti, Joan Walsh, Patricia Williams

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