Every year around this time, the media unveil their compilations of “winners and losers.”
But this year, of course, the biggest losers are the very same mainstream media.
The botched election, the bias, and the battering of Donald Trump have further shredded the profession’s already tattered reputation.
But there’s a paradox here. Cable news ratings soared in the Year of Trump. The New York Times added 40,000 subscriptions shortly after Election Day. Donations to nonprofit journalism groups are up.
Times columnist Jim Rutenberg sees a silver lining:
“As Mr. Trump tries to burn the media village down, he may just be saving it.
“His running campaign of Twitter attacks, declarations of failure and vows to punish the traditional news media is threatening to do what so many years of cost-cutting and re-envisioning could not do as easily: put the industry on more solid economic footing, where customers who realize its value are willing to pay for it more regularly.”
Well, maybe. But that could drive parts of the MSM more firmly into the opposition camp, increasingly pressured to negatively cover the next president in a way that satisfies their new fans. And that would be a high price to pay.
But all that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good year for individual journalists and news outlets. Fox enjoyed the highest ratings in its 20-year history. Megyn Kelly, thanks in part to Trump’s past attacks, became a global superstar and magazine cover girl with a No. 1 New York Times best-seller of a memoir. (In her book she thanks Bill Hemmer for teaching her the ropes as a newbie anchor.)
Tucker Carlson launched a provocative new show that is putting up big numbers (after Brit Hume came off the bench as a solid interim anchor). Bret Baier continued to define fair and balanced with his newscast, and Chris Wallace turned in a masterful performance at the third debate. (Fox Business also overtook CNBC in recent ratings periods.)
At MSNBC, Brian Williams mounted a quiet comeback, serving not only as breaking-news anchor but launching an 11 p.m. show. While he still bears the scars for telling the untruths that cost him his NBC anchor job, Williams got off the canvas and showed the skills that made him the top-rated network anchor for a decade, and is probably headed for a better time slot.
Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski managed to keep their show at the center of the news, first with a largely friendly relationship with Trump (and by taking his prospects seriously), then with a bitter war of words between the two sides, and now with restored diplomatic relations with The Donald.
Others, like Al Sharpton, lost their MSNBC shows.
At CNN, Jake Tapper and Chris Cuomo both won plaudits for tough, no-nonsense interviews with politicians and operatives. And Anderson Cooper not only managed to elicit interesting answers from several presidential candidates, he excelled as a moderator in the primary debates. But CNN took a hit when we learned that contributor Donna Brazile, the acting Democratic chairwoman, leaked debate questions to the Hillary camp. She was quietly fired.
At NBC, meanwhile, no-drama Lester Holt seamlessly took over for Williams and stayed a solid No. 1, no easy feat (though he was a disappointment at the first debate). At “Today,” Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, long after the mess involving Ann Curry’s departure, managed to climb back and beat top-rated “GMA” three out of the last six weeks. And “CBS This Morning” continues to make ratings progress and praise for its hard-news approach.
More broadly, it was a banner year for more populist conservative personalities, such as Laura Ingraham (who last we heard was under consideration for a White House job) and a tough year for #NeverTrump conservatives, such as Charlie Sykes, who gave up his Wisconsin radio show after his audience dwindled. It goes without saying that Brietbart surged in popularity (and controversy) as a pro-Trump site, especially when its chairman, Steve Bannon, joined the campaign.
And on a personal note, “Media Buzz” kept breaking its own ratings records all year, with media and politics front and center throughout this wild and crazy season. My thanks to all of you who have been watching—and reading.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.