Media in our societies today is much more influential than many of us may realize.  How we think about and react to events and happenings around us largely depends upon the information we receive from different forms of media.  Despite a strong presence of new media, TV still is one of our primary sources of news and entertainment.  TV news anchors are undoubtedly the opinion makers for the masses.  The audiences look at and form opinions on world events through their interpretations.

There has been a lot of hoopla surrounding Pakistani news personalities recently.  Let’s take a look at some of the news anchors who influence the opinions of the American people.

Barbara Walters

She is one of the senior most TV journalists in the US and is the first female to become co-anchor of an evening news show at one of the major networks (ABC).  Her approach involves effective use of emotions to elicit unusual responses.  She is best known for celeb/personality interviews of the people who greatly influenced the 20th century.  The distinguished list of her interviewee’s includes Moammar Qadafi, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, the Dalai Lama, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher, and Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.

She hasn’t been involved in as many controversies as some of the other anchors on this list; however, she did cause a controversy very recently when she allegedly helped a very close aide of Syrian President Al Asad get admitted to Columbia University’s prestigious International Affairs program.

Diane Sawyer

The most favorite news anchor according to a Harris Interactive poll, she is the first female anchor of ABC World News. Diane Sawyer paved the way for female journalists in broadcast journalism.  She has to her credit several special reports and ground breaking interviews with influential personalities.  She interviewed Saddam Hussein in 1990, which was his first interview for a western news channel in over a decade.  Diane also interviewed the defiant president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Despite these hallmark achievements, she has also been known to engage in tabloid journalism by promoting sensationalism.

Christiane Amanpour

She is the face of CNN for many viewers around the world.  As the chief foreign correspondent for CNN, she has covered some of the most dangerous conflicts around the world.  She is best known for her coverage of the Bosnia saga during the late eighties and the early nineties.  She is also credited with interviews of several world leaders including the first interview of King Abdullah of Jordan.

She has been accused of going beyond just ‘reporting’ and injecting her opinions in her reports. An often cited example is her 2007 documentary “God’s Warriors” in which she is accused of being relatively sympathetic towards Muslim fundamentalists as compared to the Christian and Jewish fundamentalists.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah is perhaps the highest rated female TV personality in the US.  She is not a news anchor but is definitely an opinion maker.  She rose to fame in 1986, when her talk show from Chicago went national.  The ‘Oprah Winfrey show’ has been the top rated daytime talk show since then.  She has almost a cult like following of people who are mesmerized by her emotional and intimate persona on the screen.

For a media personality of her stature, controversies are unavoidable.  She was criticized for exploring and presenting the negative implications of the Iraq war at a time when America was caught in war frenzy.  Between the end of 2002 and the first 3 months of 2003 she presented this position on several of her shows.

Walter Cronkite

The only journalist on this list who is not alive, Walter Cronkite remained “the most trusted man in America” for decades.  He was the anchor of ‘CBS evening news’ for two decades.  Cronkite broke the news to America when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and when the Watergate scandal shook America.  He was unanimously viewed as an honest, impartial and composed journalist.

Cronkite was not the controversial type; therefore, it is difficult to find controversies in his career.  There are a few occasions though, when he took controversial positions.  One of these occasions was during Vietnam War, when he delivered his famous “Report from Vietnam.” Lyndon Johnson responded to this report by saying, “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost the nation [Middle America].”

Dan Rather

Following Walter Cronkite’s legacy, Dan Rather also anchored CBS Evening News and other flagship programs including ‘48 Hours’ and ‘60 Minutes’.  His reporting of the Kennedy assassination was one of the hallmarks of his career.  He was the only person who watched a home movie of the JFK assassination and reported afterward.  He is also credited with Saddam Hussein’s first interview to an American journalist after the attack on Kuwait.

One of the most famous controversies stirred up by Dan Rather was the [original] “memo gate”; the controversy about George W. Bush military service records.  Dan’s story questioned whether Bush fulfilled his military duties or was let-off due to Bush Senior’s influence.

Bill O’Reilly

If you want to understand the meaning of the word ‘abrasive’, you should watch the FOX News show The O’Reilly Factor.  Bill O’Reilly is the host of this show, which is known for insensitive commentary on sensitive issues such as minorities and Islam.  This show has a big following and is considered as one of the most watched cable news shows.  O’Reilly’s efforts to portray himself as an objective journalist were shattered by Al Franken’s book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”.

There is no dearth of controversies in O’Reilly’s case.  In 2010 he caused a great stir on one of the TV shows, during a discussion about the “Ground zero mosque.” At one point during the discussion he said, “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”  Two of the show’s hosts walked off the stage in protest.

Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh has the distinct honor of being the least liked news personality among the Democrats, the Republicans and independents.  He is the host of the conservative and controversial syndicated program The Rush Limbaugh Show.  During his long radio career, he was fired several times because of his rude and insensitive comments.  He may not have been as successful if the Federal Communications Commission had not repealed its Fairness Doctrine in 1987.  This doctrine forced radio and TV stations to give equal time to both viewpoints in political debates.

His name is almost synonymous with controversy.  The most recent example is when he called Sandra Fluke (a law student), a “slut” and “prostitute.”  This was after Fluke testified before a congressional panel in favor of healthcare coverage of birth control.  As a consequence more than three dozen advertisers pulled the plug on Limbaugh’s show.

(Image courtesy of USDAgov)