Talking heads, political analysts, commentators, pundits...there is a bumper crop of them on TV this US election season.
They pop up to dissect a campaign speech, a primary election result, a new poll, a debate. The cable news networks have a dizzying number of them, most of them loud and slightly rude. CNN might not have the “best political team on television,” as Wolf Blitzer chirps incessantly, but it certainly has the biggest team of pundits.
The broadcast networks, which have pretty much ceded election coverage to cable, tend to serve up the same stalwarts—a voice from the left, a voice from the right, and maybe one that strives for non-partisan objectivity.
We offer our guide to who’s who among political analysts, why they’re considered experts, and other vital information to help you choose whom to watch and, maybe, whom to believe. The list is incomplete and subjective, mostly because CNN and Fox News have about a dozen contributors each. We attempted to pick the most prominent.
Gloria Borger, CNN
One of the best and most experienced political reporters on TV, Borger is a contributing editor and columnist for ‘US News and World Report’ and a senior analyst at CNN. She also has reported for CBS, NBC, PBS and MSNBC. She serves up more news than analysis (even during commentaries, she’s checking in with sources on her BlackBerry), but Borger is a keen observer of presidential politics.
David Gergen, CNN
The Peter Jennings of pundits, Gergen is soft-spoken, erudite and deeply knowledgeable. He has advised presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton and worked with Clinton’s secretary of state Warren Christopher. He says he’s an independent, and his commentaries reflect that. When the shouting reaches deafening levels, Gergen brings civility to the discussion.
Jeffrey Toobin, CNN
A lawyer and author, Toobin is smart and wildly enlightening. You’d expect that from a staff writer at ‘The New Yorker’. He’s always had an energetic TV delivery (going back to his analysis of the O.J. Simpson murder trial). But his assessment of Sarah Palin’s readiness to serve has been scathing... sometimes humorously so, sometimes just painful.
George Will, ABC
The prince of political pundits, Will is arguably the smartest, most articulate of them all. He definitely leans conservative, but he is more than capable of standing back from the fray and opining objectively. And even if you disagree with him, he always makes a good case for his views. Unlike some of his commentator colleagues, he never shouts or interrupts. Kudos for that. A columnist for ‘The Washington Post’ and ‘Newsweek’, Will won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1977.
Thomas L. Friedman, ABC
A three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Friedman started his journalism career in 1981 as a financial reporter for ‘The New York Times’ and later covered the White House and international affairs. His expertise and focus is foreign affairs. Conservatives probably think he leans left, but many liberals probably think he’s not left enough. Befitting his perch on ABC News, Friedman is calm and thoughtful.
Dan Bartlett, CBS
A long-time associate of President George W. Bush, Bartlett is a University of Texas graduate who now works for the public affairs firm Public Strategies. Bartlett left the White House last year, after serving as communications director and speech writer and working on both of Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns. A smooth communicator with conservative leanings, Bartlett has done a good job of assessing both presidential contenders, although he was more than a little harsh on Democrats during the primaries.
Joe Trippi, CBS
A mainstay in behind-the-scenes Democratic politics, Trippi has worked on the presidential campaigns of Edward Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean and, most recently, John Edwards. Although none of his charges made it to the White House, the hard-working operative knows his stuff. Some of Trippi’s comments might be too insider for the average viewer.
Dee Dee Myers, CBS
One of only a few female pundits on the broadcast networks, Myers offers fresh views that the old boys often miss. The former press secretary for president Bill Clinton predicted from the get-go that governor Sarah Palin would grab lots of media attention and connect with Average Joes around the country. She also predicted the bloom would fade fairly quickly.
Richard Haass, NBC
Something of an egghead, Haass’ expertise is foreign affairs, and he has worked with both president George H.W. Bush and the current President Bush. Not exactly scintillating in his analyses, Haass nevertheless effectively plays both sides against the middle. It’s straightforward stuff. Dry, but useful.
Chuck Todd, NBC
Political director and on-air analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, Todd also contributes to ‘The Atlantic Monthly’. He has become such a popular guest on shows such as ‘Hardball’ that he has spawned fans called “Chuckolytes.” A professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, Todd is smart, succinct and sometimes even funny—in a bipartisan way.
Fred Barnes, Fox News Channel
Executive editor of the conservative ‘Weekly Standard’, Barnes also served as senior editor and White House correspondent for the left-leaning ‘New Republic’. He also covered politics for ‘The Washington Star’ and ‘The Baltimore Sun’. His TV presence and communication skills aren’t nearly as impressive as his writing, but he’s got lots of credibility.
Bill Kristol, Fox News Channel
Founder and editor of ‘The Weekly Standard’, Kristol is associated with a number of conservative think tanks and writes an op-ed column for ‘The New York Times’. He can be harsh or, alternately, exceedingly dull. But he’s not without humour, so even if you disagree with him, you might get a chuckle.
Juan Williams, Fox News Channel
Fox’s token liberal, Williams shifted from editorial writer and White House reporter at ‘The Washington Post’ to become a reporter for National Public Radio. Williams more than holds his own against the sometimes caustic cracks from Bill Kristol and Brit Hume.
Karl Rove, Fox News Channel
“Bush’s Brain” joined Fox last summer after ruling the White House for George W. Bush and engineering W’s political emergence in Texas. Given his reputation for hard-nose politics, Rove has been a surprisingly quiet and cerebral analyst. He’s even had a few nice?things?to?say?about?Barack?Obama.
Mark Shields, PBS
A Washington insider since exiting the US Marines in 1964, Shields started out as a political operative, working for Democrats Robert Kennedy, Sargent Shriver and Edmund Muskie. After 15 years on the trail, Shield shifted into journalism, joining the editorial board of ‘The Washington Post’ in 1979 and eventually launching his syndicated opinion column. A bit of a fuddy-duddy, the man needs to lighten up and find his funny bone.
David Brooks, PBS
A conservative who once supported but has since soured on the Iraq war, Brooks has been a reporter for ‘The Washington Times’, a reporter and later op-ed editor for ‘The New York Times’ (for which he still writes a column), a senior editor at ‘The Weekly Standard’, a contributing editor at ‘Newsweek’ and ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ and, also, a commentator on National Public Radio.
The man is busy for a reason—he’s a really smart analyst. Befitting his PBS perch, though, he’s very looooow-key.
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC
A forceful liberal pundit, Maddow came to MSNBC from her self-titled show on Air America Radio. She can interrupt anybody any time and never backs down. Although her analyses can be well-conceived, she needs to mind her manners and try not to emulate loudmouths Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann.
Eugene Robinson, MSNBC
More fiery in print than on TV, Robinson is associate editor and columnist for ‘The Washington Post’. He has been a subdued but passionate critic of President Bush’s economic and foreign policies (especially the Iraq war). When he manages to get a word in, he’s terrific, but he’s not as pushy as his cable colleagues.
Pat Buchanan, MSNBC
Until this election season, Buchanan kept his wit to himself. Maybe because he’s the token right-winger on left-leaning MSNBC, the former Republican adviser has loosened up. He’s not even as predictably strident as he once was. At the Democratic convention, he was downright funny. An adviser to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, Buchanan ran for president himself in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections and co-founded the ‘American Conservative’ magazine. He seems to be having a ball as the minority scapegoat on MSNBC.
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