December 10, 2021

Here are my Poynter Power Rankings: a look at the people, places and things that had a big impact on the media. They were the movers, shakers and influencers of the week.

Charlamagne tha God

The talk show host landed the first extensive interview with Travis Scott since 10 people died and many were injured at Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston on Nov 5. (Scott is facing more than 300 lawsuits.) The interview lasted nearly an hour, and overall, Charlamagne did a good job, asking pertinent questions and allowing Scott room to talk. While it was a delicate interview, Charlamagne set the proper tone and did get Scott to open up. Scott said he didn’t know anyone was injured or died until after the concert and never heard screams for help during the show. “People pass out, things happen at concerts, but something like that …” Scott said, trailing off. Charlamagne was especially good when asking Scott if his music encouraged fans to rage and be violent. Scott said the music pumps up the energy, but added, “the energy isn’t to come and start being ultraviolent.” A couple of times, Charlamagne could have been just a tad tougher with his questions, but at the same time, he gained Scott’s trust and that did draw Scott out to talk about that night and what has happened since. Scott said, “I have a responsibility to figure out what happened here. I have a responsibility to figure out the solution. … Hopefully this takes a first step for us as artists, having more insight about what’s going on.” When asked if he could ever forgive himself if families of the victims could not, Scott said, “My intentions weren’t to hurt or harm their families. I wanted them to have a good experience.”

Brian Williams

The veteran news anchor signed off his MSNBC show, “The 11th Hour,” for the final time Thursday night. That ended his 28-year association with NBC News. But he’s likely not getting out of the business. When he announced last month that he was leaving NBC, Williams said, “I’ll pop up again somewhere.” Williams lost one of the best gigs in journalism as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” in 2015 after it was discovered that he had exaggerated his role in a helicopter episode in Iraq. He ended up back on MSNBC in 2016 and has repaired his damaged reputation since then. There are many who will never forget or forgive Williams for bending the truth. I get that. At a time when there’s a real distrust of the media, many feel Williams did serious damage and believe he lost the privilege of delivering the news. But Williams certainly seemed remorseful as he kept his head down and went back to doing hard and good work for MSNBC over the past five years. He will never again rise to the top of his profession as an evening news host, but he should — and almost certainly will — come back in a pretty good spot eventually.

Pat McAfee

Pat McAfee. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

McAfee is a former NFL punter. He wears tank tops to work. He’s a straight shooter who either has a screw or two loose or just doesn’t give a dang. He hosts a podcast/radio show and often ends up with viral moments (see: his weekly interviews with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers). He toyed with ESPN after his playing days and badly wanted to be a part of a network. But when he couldn’t get exactly what he was looking for, he branched out on his own with “The Pat McAfee Show” — a podcast/radio/YouTube show. And how has it all worked out? On Thursday, news broke that McAfee has struck a four-year deal with FanDuel that could reportedly pay him — get this — $30 million a year. (McAfee announced the move in this clip, as only he could.) His potential annual salary could end up being twice as much as he made in his entire eight-year career, which included two Pro Bowl selections. Now, not all the money will go into McAfee’s pockets — he has some staff and there are some other wrinkles. But, still, McAfee bet on himself and the bet paid off in a very big way. And speaking of betting, it’s also notable that McAfee is going to FanDuel, which includes a big gambling component. That’s the wave of the sports media future, it would appear.

Persons of the year

Time Magazine will make its big announcement — Time’s Person of the Year — on Monday. But there’s a twist. For years, Time has made the announcement either in a prime-time special on NBC or on NBC’s “Today” show. But this year, Time is going to its YouTube channel to make the announcement. The show will premiere at 7:30 a.m. Eastern. There’s more. In addition to revealing the 2021 Person of the Year, the show will also feature editors’ selections for the various categories, including Entertainer of the Year, Athlete of the Year and Heroes of the Year. Time has been naming a Person of the Year — which goes to the most influential person, for good or bad reasons — since 1927. Who do you think will win this year? Writing for Politico, Jeff Greenfield thinks it should be the guy who runs, among other media outlets, Fox News: Rupert Murdoch. Although, the headline on the piece is: “The Right Choice for TIME’s Person of the Year Is Ruining America.” So, yeah, that would be someone who is influential for a bad reason. Meanwhile, on a much lighter note, Sports Illustrated has named its Sportsperson of the Year and it’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who also was named SI’s Sportsperson of the Year in, wow, 2005. Think about that. That was 16 years ago.

National Geographic

(Courtesy: National Geographic)

The outlet known for its amazing photos has published its “Year in Pictures” campaign. (You will need a subscription to access much of the content.) The January print edition of the magazine includes four covers, each reflecting a major theme of 2021: COVID-19, climate, conflict and conservation. The work is stunningly remarkable, as you would expect.

Michael Smerconish

On Tuesday, while filling in for the fired Chris Cuomo on CNN, Smerconish had 659,000 total viewers. That was a distant third to Fox News’ Sean Hannity (2.91 million) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (2.09 million) in the cable news 9 p.m. Eastern battle. But it was about what Cuomo was drawing before he was fired for his involvement in helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, against sexual harassment allegations. As Mediaite wrote, “If the argument for Cuomo’s longevity was his draw, then Smerconish holding his own following the spectacular exit isn’t just notable, it’s fascinating.” I would be surprised if Smerconish ends up being Cuomo’s permanent replacement, but CNN might have a chance to gain some ground on MSNBC when Maddow leaves her show sometime in 2022.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki on last year’s “Sunday Night Football” on NBC. (Courtesy: NBC News)

MSNBC’s sexiest man alive — that’s what People magazine called him in 2020 — is back with his big board. But instead of breaking down political races, which is his specialty, he’s digging into the playoff possibilities of NFL teams — which, by the way, he is also pretty good at doing. Kornacki returns to NBC’s “Football Night in America” and “Sunday Night Football” this weekend to sift through the numbers and figure out the legitimate playoff chances for all the NFL teams. He will be on Sunday nights for the rest of the season. This is the second year in a row Kornacki brings his big board to NBC’s NFL coverage. And while it’s not quite as important as dissecting political races, he takes it just as seriously. In an interview last month, Kornacki told me, “I just don’t want it to be a gimmick. You know, crazy guy from the board, let’s put him in front of NFL stuff and everybody will have a chuckle. I wanted it to be useful information.”

James Queally

Just check out the whopper of headline on Queally’s story in the Los Angeles Times: “Torrance police traded racist, homophobic texts. It could jeopardize hundreds of cases.” Some of the texts are beyond disturbing. Queally writes, “The broad scope of the racist text conversations, which prosecutors said went on for years, has created a crisis for the Torrance Police Department and could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases in which the officers either testified or made arrests. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said Wednesday his office will investigate the department in the wake of the scandal.” The offensive comments included derogatory language about Black people, Jewish people and members of the LGBTQ community. And it might have been more than just talk — some of the officers were involved in use-of-force incidents. It’s a well-reported, unsettling and important story.

Rita Braver

CBS News’ Rita Braver, left, interviews first lady Dr. Jill Biden and President Joe Biden. (Courtesy: of CBS News)

The CBS News reporter will have an interview with first lady Dr. Jill Biden that will air this Sunday on “CBS Sunday Morning,” which, I’ve written many times before, is among the best shows on TV. Braver asks questions on a variety of topics. Dr. Biden talked about being the first lady (“I think it’s a little harder than I imagined,” she said. “It’s not like a job that you do, it’s a lifestyle that you live, and it’s not something you leave at 5 o’clock or at 3 o‘clock. And it’s 24 hours a day.”); on recent polling questioning her husband’s mental fitness (“I think that’s ridiculous,” she said); and unifying the country (“I don’t care if it’s a red state or a blue state, I think you know, Joe is the president for all Americans,” Dr. Biden said). Here’s a preview of the interview.


I have to admit, this devastating piece on CNN about Fox News seemingly being more upset that its Christmas tree was burned down than about the Jan. 6 insurrection is spot-on. After a montage of Fox News personalities going on and on about their tree being burned down by what is believed to be a homeless person followed by Fox News personalities downplaying the insurrection, CNN’s Brianna Keilar said, “Just imagine if Fox hosts muster for an armed attack on the Capitol the same outrage that they did for their Christmas tree. Perhaps some of the almost-half-of-Republicans who think Jan. 6 was a legitimate protest might actually see it for what it really was.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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