Media winners, losers of the 2016 primaries

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The media loomed large this primary season, with accusations of bias being thrown in every direction and one candidate in particular — Donald Trump — showing a willingness to mix it up with big journalistic names in person and on Twitter.

But as the dust settles after long struggles in both parties, who are the winners and losers from within the media ranks?


Megyn Kelly, Fox News Channel anchor

{mosads}The Fox News anchor was at the center of one of the most intense Trump storms of the election cycle, but she suffered no real damage and emerged with her star power enhanced. 

It all began at the first Republican debate in Cleveland last August. Kelly, one of three co-moderators, asked Trump about some of his past comments regarding women. He did not appreciate it. Soon afterward, he told CNN’s Don Lemon that Kelly had questioned him as if “she had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her — wherever.”

The remark, widely seen as a reference to menstruation, caused a furor.

The tensions between Trump and Kelly lingered for months. He boycotted another Fox News debate just before the Iowa caucuses — in part because she was co-moderating again. On that occasion, Trump also took umbrage at a press release from Fox News that he said was mocking him.

Amid all of this, however, Kelly signed a book deal with HarperCollins. The value of the deal was reported as anything from $3 million to $10 million.

She and Trump finally reached a detente of sorts when he appeared on her first prime-time special on Fox’s broadcast network in May. “I like our relationship right now,” he said.

Hugh Hewitt, radio broadcaster

Hewitt has seen his profile rise over the last year, even as he has been by turns skeptical and cautiously supportive of Trump. In fact, it is Hewitt’s unusual mix of traits — he is a committed conservative but also unpredictable — that makes him so interesting.

The cerebral Hewitt has gotten under Trump’s skin at times, both on his radio show and during TV debates. Earlier this month, he said on his radio show, “I want to support the nominee of the party, but I think the party ought to change the nominee, because we’re going to get killed with this nominee.” 

Last week, however, he changed his tune.

Praising Trump’s speech in the wake of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Hewitt penned a Washington Post op-ed in which he acknowledged, “Although there’s been talk in recent weeks of implementing new rules at the Republican convention in Cleveland that would allow party leaders to replace Trump — talk that I’ve entertained — the appetite for that sort of drastic measure is gone.”

Hewitt’s profile has also been boosted by his increasing prominence as an MSNBC political analyst.

Jake Tapper, CNN anchor

One of Tapper’s biggest moments of this election cycle came earlier this month, when he pressed — and pressed — Trump on remarks he had made about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing a fraud lawsuit involving Trump University. Trump had implied that the judge was biased against him because of his Mexican heritage, though Curiel was born in Indiana, and because of Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the southern border. 

The CNN anchor asked Trump more than 20 times, in various formulations, whether the critique was racist. The interview went viral.

Tapper — whose time at CNN was preceded by a lengthy stint at ABC News — came into his own more broadly, anchoring his network’s Sunday morning show “State of the Union” as well as “The Lead” on weekday afternoons. His polite but firm style and deep political knowledge has paid dividends.

Steve Kornacki, MSNBC political correspondent

Every political cycle has its break-out “nerd” star.

In 2012, it was Nate Silver, and this year it is Kornacki, the MSNBC host who appears all over the network’s programming — always armed with numbers about who is up and who is down in politics. In fact, Kornacki regularly highlights a number of the day during his broadcasts — and it is always insightful. 

Kornacki, 36, brings an infectious enthusiasm to his daily wonkery, bringing him notice with other stars at his own network. Rachel Maddow dubbed him one of two people to watch, while Jimmy Fallon poked fun when Kornacki’s impromptu sketch of the United States took an X-rated turn.

The host was happy to play back the Fallon episode the next day, highlighting a tendency to not take himself too seriously that is playing well on television.

Ben Ginsberg, Republican lawyer and delegate expert

Ginsberg is not a media figure as such, but the Republican lawyer shone during a critical phase of the GOP primary. 

Ginsberg, who worked as national counsel for three Republican presidential campaigns — Mitt Romney’s in 2012 and former President George W. Bush’s in 2000 and 2004 — has a particular expertise in delegates and the often-arcane rules that govern them. His experience was much in demand. 

His explanations of how the intricacies of the delegate process work, often offered late on primary nights on MSNBC, were essential viewing.

John Dickerson, CBS anchor

Dickerson has had a breakout year as host of CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

After taking over the show from the legendary Bob Schieffer in the summer of 2015, Dickerson has won solid reviews for hosting primary debates for both parties while breaking news on Sundays.

Dickerson pressed Hillary Clinton on her foreign policy record at the State Department during a November debate held in the shadow of the Paris terrorist attack and then let Republicans go at it through a series of nasty exchanges days before the South Carolina primary.

In both debates, Dickerson got better reviews than many of the candidates.

More recently, Dickerson pressed Donald Trump on whether he believed he’d be treated unfairly by a Muslim judge, prompting the presumptive GOP nominee to answer, “It’s possible.”

“Morning Joe”

The MSNBC show hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski has always had plenty of fans and plenty of detractors. This cycle, the critics often focused on what they believed to be soft treatment of Donald Trump, who at one point was a fixture on the show. 

Back in February, the release of an audio recording of Trump, Brzezinski and Scarborough chatting affably during a commercial break buttressed that case.

But the anchors can also point to evidence in their defense. In May, Brzezinski told Trump “a lot of what you say is focused on hatred and fear.” Scarborough this month called the business mogul’s attack on the Trump University judge “completely racist.” 

Whatever one’s view of its Trump coverage, the show remained vital and — as Scarborough pointed out in a May Twitter exchange with Trump — was also “enjoying [its] best ratings ever.”

Chuck Todd, NBC News political director

Todd didn’t do anything dramatically different during this primary season than he has since becoming NBC News political director 2007. And that was just fine — Todd’s steady and deeply informed commentary was all the more valuable in the midst of such a chaotic and feverish primary cycle.


Huffington Post 

The website showed its capacity to make its own news when it announced almost a year ago that stories about Trump would be classified as “entertainment” rather than “politics.”  

“Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait,” Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim and editorial director Danny Shea wrote.

Except it wasn’t a sideshow after all, and the original decision — high-minded or sanctimonious, depending on one’s point of view — came to look plain wrong. 

By December, Arianna Huffington herself was penning a piece announcing a change. The Trump campaign, she lamented, had “morphed into something else: an ugly and dangerous force in American politics.”

These days, Huffington Post appends a footnote to articles about Trump accusing him of being “a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther.” Even if that is the kind of move that more earnest news organizations would frown upon, it no doubt has some appeal to HuffPo’s left-leaning readership.


National Review

The storied magazine has styled itself as the voice of the conservative intelligentsia since its founding by William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1955. It was no huge surprise that its writers mostly recoiled from the viscerally driven Trump campaign. 

The problem, however, was that their critique didn’t stick. The magazine published a special issue in January devoted to assailing Trump. 

In that issue’s editorial, National Review asserted that Trump was “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” 

Republican voters paid no notice.  

Bill Kristol, Weekly Standard editor

Kristol was one of many influential voices on the right raised in adamant opposition to Trump. But he took it several steps further than most, getting into Twitter fights with the candidate and holding out the promise that he would recruit a candidate at the last moment around whom conservatives could rally. 

On Memorial Day weekend, Kristol tweeted, “There will be an independent candidate — an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance.” 

When it emerged a few days later that the man he had in mind was David French — a constitutional lawyer and National Review writer virtually unknown beyond a very small circle — much derision followed.  

Nate Silver, editor-in-chief,

Silver’s intense, data-driven approach to predicting election outcomes has served him superbly in the past. He called every state correctly in President Obama’s 2012 reelection win over GOP nominee Mitt Romney, becoming something of a cult hero in the process. 

But Silver misjudged Trump’s rise — and its potential longevity — just as badly as the Beltway pundits he disdains. 

Even in January, when Trump had led GOP polls for several months, Silver assessed the mogul’s chances of becoming the nominee at “12 or 13 percent.” 

In a mea culpa published on fivethirtyeight in May, Silver lamented that, in retrospect, “I found myself selectively interpreting the evidence and engaging in some lazy reasoning.”

The Anti-Trumpists: George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, Erick Erickson

Like Kristol and National Review, various prominent conservative figures came out vigorously against the Manhattan business mogul, only to be run over by the Trump train. 

Will wrote a late April column suggesting that conservatives had an obligation to ensure Trump’s defeat if he became the GOP nominee.

“Well, George is a major loser … he’s a dour guy, nobody watches him,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Krauthammer was often in Trump’s social media sights — “dopey Charles Krauthammer, still nasty” was one such tweet. 

Beck invited mockery even from many conservatives with his assertion that Trump’s main rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was God’s choice for the nomination. 

Erickson convened prominent conservatives in March to try to stop Trump with a “unity ticket that unites the Republican Party.” Obviously, that effort failed.

Melissa Harris-Perry, former MSNBC anchor

The precise sequence of events that led to Harris-Perry losing her weekend MSNBC show has been the subject of much claim and counter-claim, and the truth will likely remain unclear. 

The anchor, a professor at Wake Forest University who often focuses on issues of race and gender, argued that the network had withdrawn support for her show. Executives insisted that that the show had merely been pre-empted for coverage of the early primaries and that it would have returned to a more regular schedule in due course. 

From the time Harris-Perry asked a friend to publicly republish a memo she wrote to her staff, it was clear there was no way back. The memo was harshly critical of the network and implied a racial dimension to its treatment of her.

The manner of Harris-Perry’s departure was a headache for MSNBC but, when all is said and done, the academic lost a show that the network was insisting she could keep. 

For all the passion of her online supporters, it’s tough to see that as anything other than a loss for Harris-Perry.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Ted Cruz

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