In The novel You Can't Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote the most trenchant portrayal of journalists ever penned.
Looking into the bloodshot eyes of reporters covering a fire, Wolfe saw something that said, "Don't be too hard on me. Sure, I'd sell you out, of course. No man's name or any woman's reputation is safe with me–if I can make a story out of it–but at bottom I'm not such a bad guy. I have violated the standards of decency again and again, but in my heart, I've always wanted to be decent. . . . I hate sham and hypocrisy and pretense and fraud and crookedness, and if only I could be sure that tomorrow was going to be the last day of the world–oh, Christ!–what a paper we'd get out."
Many Washingtonians now think that the "media" are controlled by liberal editors and reporters. A contrary view is that the real power in journalism is wielded by the largely conservative corporations and institutions that own the cameras and presses, such as General Electric or Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which controls cable- and broadcast-television outlets, newspapers, magazines, sports teams, movie studios, and book-publishing houses.
The idea that reporters in the field are hawking one agenda or another is so pervasive that it often seems futile to try to convince a believer otherwise. Even those who know it isn't true sometimes find themselves nodding at such phrases as "liberal media elite" and "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Jack Germond of the Baltimore Sun, who recently wrote a book about his life as reporter, Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics, agrees that while many reporters are liberal, ideology has little impact on their work. "The candidates the reporters like never even win," Germond says. "In 1976 all the reporters loved Morris Udall, but Carter got the nomination."
Germond says Thomas Wolfe had it right when he concluded that most reporters are ultimately interested in the story: "Most could care less who signs their paychecks; if they were interested in paychecks, they wouldn't be reporters. . . . For a reporter, the question of who owns the paper never even enters into it."
Reporters are driven to beat their competitors on a story, to win prizes, to impress their superiors, and to work their way to better jobs. Few journalists see their subjects through the lens of ideology. The easiest way for an official to become a reporter's favorite is to promptly return a call, pour out his innermost feelings and private dealings, then cap it off by saying, "It's on the record and you have an exclusive!"
There is, of course, a force in journalism now that didn't exist when Wolfe was writing: the broadcast and electronic media. In his era, there was only radio. Today radio is a small part of "broadcast journalism," a stampede of cameras, microphones, sound trucks, and satellite linkups that threatens anyone in its path.
The questionable standing of journalism derives in part from "the 24-hour news cycle"–the proliferation of cable stations and Internet operations desperate to tell us the news before reporters have even been able to gather and digest it. A recent case in point: the earthquake in El Salvador, where anchors on CNN reported a death toll before rescue officials were out in the field.
It takes time to figure out how many people have died in a natural disaster, but television news has no patience. It wants to speculate about deaths in a plane crash before families have been notified and–as in the case of Richard Jewell, the Olympic bomber who wasn't–identify suspects in crimes before they have been charged. There was a time when newspapers demanded that charges be filed before a suspect's name was besmirched in print. Viewers can't wait that long anymore. The result is that the cable networks often are little more than rumor mills. To the extent to which legitimate news organizations, such as the Washington Post, have gotten into the 24-7 news race on the Internet, they too have compromised accuracy in the rush to be first and most breathless.
In their apologies for blowing coverage of the presidential election, the broadcast networks tried to portray their work that night as some sort of aberration. But three weeks later, they misreported the final Supreme Court ruling on the election because they didn't allow their reporters time to read it before they had to explain it, making their election-night mistakes seem more the rule than the exception.
The increasing sin of the news profession is laziness. That manifests itself in Washington in the overreliance on official spokespeople and media-relations consultants.
The public might think that the consultants and spokespersons make the reporter's job easier. But the primary job of a "spokesperson" is to keep a reporter from getting the person he or she needs on the phone. Some listen in on calls and, when a reporter gets close to gaining a hard-earned admission from a source, will burst in and announce that the interview is over. Karen Hughes, President Bush's alter media ego, is a master at that.
So the busy airwaves are awash not with principals in a debate but with their spokesmen. Germond notes that in the past election all the candidates except John McCain "hid themselves behind a wall of flacks." That solves the mystery of how a conservative Republican like McCain became the darling of the "liberal" media.
Most journalists feel underpaid and overworked–if not compared to the bureaucrats, at least to the lobbyists and lawyers they cover. Many of them, as Wolfe described, are jaded and cynical from observing a lifetime of lies, hypocrisy, and disappointment. But in spite of all the obstacles, the best are relentless in getting the story–and admittedly not too concerned about who gets hurt in the process, be they liberals or conservatives, wives, girlfriends, even children of their subjects. Others are trenchant in their analyses of the political or cultural scene. Still others ask probing questions on television–and some lob softballs yet wield considerable influence in this city.
In picking the best and most influential members of Washington's media elite, we sifted through hundreds of candidates. Our final results are an amalgam of the best and the most influential, which are not always the same. The best include the most tenacious diggers, the most insightful and clear-headed reporters, the most cogent analyzers. We tried to weed out the pretenders–the lawyers, lobbyists, and former White House aides who are not reporters but play them on television. Many of them contribute to the noise in Washington but shed little light on how the city works.
We tried to focus the final picks on the reporters and television types who work out in the field. Editors such as Len Downie and Steve Coll of the Washington Post and TV anchors such as Jim Vance, Gordon Peterson, and Judy Woodruff are important figures but do fewer and fewer of their own stories, so they are not on this list. Some TV talkers can be good reporters–Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, Tucker Carlson–but television increasingly takes up their time and energy.
With real news ever harder to get, we leaned toward journalists who are good at getting the news, not just thinking about it or talking about it. That meant leaving off respected columnists such as Charles Krauthammer, William Raspberry, Paul Gigot, E.J. Dionne Jr., Al Hunt, Clarence Page, Gerald Seib, and Bill Schneider.
Finally, there were plenty of arguments about who should be on the list: Editors were heard to cry out, "I can't believe we'd put Larry King on and leave Diane Rehm off!" "Wait a minute–David Rogers is the best congressional reporter in town! And Charlie Cook knows everything about politics!" "If you leave Gwen Ifill and Mark Shields off, you better not put John McLaughlin on!"
So here are Washington's 50 best and most influential journalists in 2001.
1Tim Russert. Before this onetime aide to Mario Cuomo and Pat Moynihan was hired on NBC's Today in 1984, his only journalism experience was editing his eighth-grade newspaper and throwing the Buffalo News on front steps. Yet if anyone in Washington comes close to claiming Walter Cronkite's mantle as "the most trusted man in America," Russert, who has hosted Meet the Press since '91, is the guy. Although his Buffalo boosterism can be hammy, Russert has made his show the most important and interesting political hour on television. The trick, as Russert puts it, "is to be more prepared than the guy you are interviewing." A lawyer by training, Russert cross-examines his guests like a prosecutor in court. In the best tradition of legendary muckrakers, Russert exposes the weaknesses on both sides of an argument, often on the same program.
2Bob Woodward. Occasionally a journalist rises to a level of achievement and fame equal to that of the people he covers. Through hard work and careful attention to his personal integrity, Bob Woodward has achieved that status–and he hasn't let fame go to his head. He still serves his rotation as assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, often bringing in ice cream for the newsroom. He doesn't write as often as readers might like, but the mere word that Woodward is working on a story or book sets Washington abuzz. His influence needs no explanation: Newsrooms are full of people who became journalists to be like him. In his attention to detail and facts, Woodward is still a role model.
3Ted Koppel. He arguably has more influence than anyone else at ABC News, including anchor Peter Jennings. Make no mistake: Koppel's Nightline is not what it used to be. And Koppel, by recently publishing a book of his journalistic experiences, has lessened his stature by going on a noisy book tour. But a decline in his show's ratings may mean only that there is relative peace in the world and that TV viewers would rather hear jokes from the late-night talk-show hosts. But in times of crisis, Koppel is still the person to turn to to get the right questions and at least a few answers.
4 David Broder. After 40 years in Washington, Broder is still the most unpredictable, reliable, and intellectually honest columnist working today. While the journalistic pack is pestering a flack, Broder is out with the people; no one gets a better sense of the pulse of American opinion. In a profound sense, Broder is the moral compass of the press. His identification with the Washington Post–as national political reporter–gives him influence with liberals, though he is decidedly middle of the road. When Broder lost trust in President Clinton and even seemed to endorse his removal from office, it sent a powerful message to liberals not to stand too firmly with the President.
5Maureen Dowd. It's hard to tell how much reporting goes into her columns; a good many seem to come right out of her head. It's frustrating to get halfway through a juicy column on, say, a spat between Hillary and Tipper only to realize it's made up. Still, Dowd's insight makes up for it. Her writing is witty and wicked, and she can rip a hypocrite to shreds quicker than anyone. Her skills are no secret–she has won the Pulitzer Prize. Neither are the days her column runs–every serious newspaper reader in town knows and can't wait.
6Brian Lamb. Twenty years ago, this quiet Midwesterner had an idea to turn a camera on the deliberations of the US House of Representatives. Now his C-Span has evolved into an electronic and publishing empire that has, against all odds, succeeded by sticking to objectivity and fairness–to the point of calculating the number of seconds one party or point of view has compared with another. Is Lamb a reporter? In one sense, he is the ultimate objective reporter, shining a light into the crevices of the political process as no one has done before.
7Thomas Friedman. Perhaps the closest thing to a modern-day incarnation of Walter Lippmann, this New York Times columnist has become one of the most influential writer/thinkers around, partly through his best-selling books. The breadth of his knowledge brings power to his writings and opinions as he links cell-phone trends, nuclear missiles, chemical weapons, and new-car sales in cohesive explanations of how the world works. He is particularly good on politics. Gore confidants say that two columns he wrote during the postelection period outlining why Gore should fight gave the former vice president the determination to continue.
8Mark Knoller. The heir to the audio tradition of Edward R. Murrow may be this bearded, oversize Washington correspondent for CBS Radio, widely regarded by power players as the most influential voice–emphasis on voice–in Washington. Knoller reports, writes, and edits his own spots and can be heard on such major outlets as WBBM in Chicago, WCBS in New York, and WTOP in Washington as many as a dozen times a day. "I like my anonymity–I don't want to be a star," Knoller says. Other news outlets regularly steal his stuff, but Knoller hardly cares. "If I know I'm out first, that's good enough for me."
9Jim Lehrer. That this longtime PBS anchor was chosen to moderate the presidential debates says a lot about his regard in official Washington. Lehrer's quiet, steady hand has made his show a Washington institution, and whatever conservative critics may say about public television, Lehrer is as evenhanded as Brian Lamb.
10 Alan Murray. Few columnists carry as much clout as the Wall Street Journal's Murray. When he predicted after the election that Alan Greenspan ultimately would embrace President Bush's tax cut, Murray's views, rather than any clues from Greenspan, made news around the country. As bureau chief for a paper that has one of the most conservative editorial pages in the land, the Chattanooga native has been artful in plucking the cream of the reporting crop and, like his predecessor Al Hunt, going after the news with no regard for the Journal's internal politics. "One of the most valuable things about this newspaper is that people understand, know, and believe that we are absolutely independent from the editorial page. The only person who could never separate us," Murray says, was Hillary Clinton, "who always thought we were part of the conspiracy."
11 Tom Shales. When the television critic for the Washington Post delivers his evaluation of a presidential speech or debate, it is usually more insightful and interesting than anything on the political pages of the paper. Shales may be the best pure writer in Washington. Among the elite TV critics, his barbs can sink a show. And as an observer of irony and hypocrisy, there is little he misses.
12 William Safire. The Nixon speechwriter turned columnist has a propensity for driving certain topics into the ground, as with his obsession with Chinese fundraising. But unlike many columnists, Safire does his own T legwork and breaks more than his share of real scoops. His words are watched as carefully as anyone's in Washington, and though his background is Republican, Safire is honest enough to be listened to by both sides.
13 William Kristol. Scion of the nation's most prominent con-servative Jewish media family, Kristol strikes from two pulpits–one as a commentator on television, the other as editor and publisher of the conservative Weekly Standard. Often to the chagrin of his conservative allies, Kristol delivers honest, mostly incisive opinions that don't always fit his party's talking points.
14 Jill Abramson. The first female Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, Abramson is a world-class reporter. Her election-year exposés on campaign-financing practices helped change the landscape of the campaign. Colleagues marvel at how this Harvard graduate who grew up in New York City has maintained the common touch. An inveterate gossip, Abramson is comfortable with tabloids and has a good feel for opinion beyond the Beltway. Fans worry that they will see less of her reporting now that she's bureau chief. Don't count on it. Abramson leads by example and will continue to appear in print.
15Brit Hume. Sardonic and always wary of politicians, Hume is one bright spot at the often partisan Fox News operation in DC. Hume has spent 28 years in television, the first 23 at ABC. A close friend of the Bush family, he is sure to be one of the favored journalists in 2001. Hume disputes the characterization of his network as biased. "I think what we do is straight down the middle," he says. But whether you agree or disagree that Fox has a distinct slant, Hume stands above his network's deficiencies and maintains his journalistic integrity.
16 Michael Isikoff. Newsweek has outdistanced Time as the must-read newsmagazine, and Isikoff's reporting is one of the reasons. Much about him, from his whiny voice to his nervous tics, is annoying, part of the reason that editors at the Washington Post shipped him over to its sister publication. But his relentless sleuthing into the Paula Jones case resulted in a presidential impeachment, led to an important book, and transformed Isikoff from a beat reporter to one of the most famous diggers in journalism.
17Dan Balz. This political reporter for the Washington Post may not be as much of a household name as some of his colleagues, but among his peers the quiet, confident Balz is regarded as one of the top political writers and analysts. During the Lewinsky saga, he became known for what editors called "the story so far"–succinct wrap-ups of where things stood that made events seem fresh. Cautious when he needs to be, Balz helped ensure that on election night the Post was not one of the papers that ran a headline prematurely proclaiming a winner.
18 Ronald Brownstein. As President Clinton was leaving office, he was pressed by Steven Brill, chair and CEO of Brill's Content, to name the best reporter on the White House beat. Clinton reluctantly named Brownstein, a prolific reporter whose stories regularly appear not only in his home paper, the Los Angeles Times, but across the country through syndication. Brownstein writes groundbreaking stories frequently. Taken together, they constitute a running chronicle of the political history of our era. His instincts are uncanny: No national political reporter came closer to accurately predicting the presidential deadlock, and no one followed up on the postelection brawl with more perceptive analysis.
19Jeff Gerth. Few people can tell you what Jeff Gerth actually looks like–he won't make TV appearances–but when his name appears on the front page of the New York Times, you know heads are going to roll. It was Gerth's digging that led to the original Whitewater land-deal investigation. A protégé of Seymour Hersh, Gerth turned up much of the early evidence of sloppy work at the CIA and throughout the government, information that led to the arrest of scientist Wen Ho Lee. Gerth was led to the story by his Pulitzer Prize-winning series on technology transfers to China. His sights most recently were set on the drug industry, resulting in a steady stream of exposés. Gerth is the best investigative reporter working today–though, as the Wen Ho Lee case ultimately showed, if he errs it is on the side of being too aggressive.
20Robert Samuelson. Few economics reporters display as much insight or get as much respect as this Newsweek columnist who is syndicated in the Washington Post and 40 other papers around the country. The Harvard grad came to Washington in 1969 as a Ben Bradlee hire and got thrown into business reporting "almost by accident." It was a happy accident. Samuelson understands the world economy and the role of the President in it. His final verdict on the Clinton administration was both devastating and persuasive. "Rarely," he wrote, "has a president so dominated the public stage and so little affected the public agenda." Samuelson downplays his own influence, noting that "no one has ever done anything I've suggested." A new collection of his columns, entitled Untruth: Why the Conventional Wisdom Is (Almost Always) Wrong, is due out this month.
21 Howard Fineman. Newsweek's Fineman rubs some people the wrong way, among them George W. Bush, who grumbles that Fineman uses off-the-record comments in the magazine. But Fineman also has a way of ingratiating himself with powerful figures, the result being that week in and week out he manages to provide influential coverage of political wheelings and dealings. Some of the jealousies he has engendered probably stem from his successful television career, which has vaulted him beyond many of his peers. Among his broadcast venues, Fineman has become an early-morning favorite of powerful shock jock Don Imus.
22 Wolf Blitzer. Thanks to the Persian Gulf War, this onetime field reporter for CNN has made the transition to media star in a way that not even Scud hunk Arthur Kent could pull off. Blitzer is one of the most familiar and trusted voices on cable television. Unlike many television reporters, Blitzer, once a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, knows his way around the Pentagon and the State Department. He asks good questions–the kind that ordinary viewers, not Washington insiders, want the answers to.
23 Cokie Roberts. Her story–she is the daughter of two important members of Congress and the sister of super-lobbyist Tommy Boggs–is well known. But her rise to prominence is due as much to her talent, temperament, and instincts as to the knowledge she gained and contacts she made growing up. She earned notice in broadcasting at National Public Radio before joining ABC as a correspondent; now she is cohost of This Week, led for years by the now-retired David Brinkley. Roberts is chronicling her life in a saccharine book written with her husband, Steven Roberts, of U.S. News and World Report. But that transgression aside, she is a solid voice of reason and moderation on television with an understanding of Washington's ways that can't be learned from books.
24Doyle McManus. It's no accident that McManus, bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, often has joint bylines with other reporters in his bureau. His range of contacts and knowledge of how Washington works make him useful on stories on almost any topic. Along with his excellent reporting, McManus often is on point in his frequent news analyses. Early on in the Gore-Bush duel, he predicted almost exactly how the fight would unfold, noting a month before it happened that the final result would come from the court, not from the ballot boxes.
25 Howard Kurtz. "Spin" has become one of thewatchwords of the modern political era, and the Washington Post's media critic has built both a beat and a career around analyzing it. He has supplemented his regular press coverage with two books, Media Circus and Spin Cycle, likely to be required reading in journalism classes for a long time. Kurtz has assumed the role of media ombudsman for the entire Washington press corps. Unfortunately, his appetite for fame–Kurtz is human, too–has led him to ventures with CNN and other media outlets that he writes about, creating the impression that he may be no purer than the rest of the flock. But that aside, his presence makes journalism a little better, in the same way that a cop on the beat makes the neighborhood a little safer.
26Jim Stewart. There are few reporters breaking big stories out of the Pentagon. Jim Stewart of CBS does. He regularly beats the competition on stories such as the bombing of the USS Cole, bioterrorism, and Pentagon waste and abuse. He's also versatile, so he winds up doing features on a wide range of subjects. Stewart's steady supply of scoops is one of the few bright spots for a once-great television network.
27Neil A. Lewis. Lewis may not be the flashiest reporter in the New York Times bureau, and he certainly doesn't have the biggest ego, but he does get his byline splashed around a lot. When it comes to covering everything from presidential pardons to the Ashcroft nomination, he is always in the thick of it, delivering clear, concise front-page stories.
28 Stuart Taylor jr. A lot of people will tell you that Harvard Law grad Stuart Taylor Jr. is the smartest person they know. What perplexed many of his friends was how Taylor, a liberal on most issues, became one of the most relentless pursuers of President Clinton. It was a good example of how a reporter's personal politics don't dictate his coverage. Taylor penned one of the seminal articles of the 1990s, a powerful story in American Lawyer magazine that almost single-handedly restored credence to Paula Jones's claim that Clinton had sexually harassed her. In the process, he became convinced that Clinton was unfit for office. After the election of George W. Bush, conservatives were surprised to read Taylor's denunciation of Bush's choice of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Showing he wasn't in anybody's pocket, Taylor quipped, "It's good to be a Democrat again."
29Ron Fournier. Much of what people know in Washington is because of Ron Fournier. It's one of Washington's secrets that most of what the "experts" opine on television shows they know because on their way to the studio they checked the Associated Press wire. The man who writes much of the copy for that wire, especially about who is coming and going in Washington, is Fournier, who himself is too busy working to be on TV. Political reporters for the top papers say it became a joke during the Florida election battle that, no matter where they went, Fournier had been there first.
30 Robert Novak. In his best-known persona, that of cable TV's "prince of darkness," Novak is brooding, opinionated, and frequently so partisan that his predictions and observations are laughable, such as his over-optimistic analysis of Bush's chances in the presidential election. In print, Novak is more circumspect, if only slightly less partisan, and he comes up with more legitimate scoops than most of his competitors.
31 Jane Mayer. Some of the most interesting reporting out of Washington is printed in the New Yorker, and much of that is written by Jane Mayer. Her approach is uninhibited, as when she got the scoop from Linda Tripp's stepmother, and then confirmed through Tripp's personnel file that Monica's confidante had once been arrested for grand larceny. The story became an event in itself when Tripp sued the Pentagon for allegedly giving Mayer the file. Often contributing to the magazine's Talk of the Town pages, Mayer describes the nexus between New York and Washington power players. A story last year on ABC News president David Westin skillfully skewered the former Washington lawyer while deliciously bringing the likes of Ed and Sherry Rollins and Diane Sawyer into the mix.
32 Fred Hiatt. It may take the new editor of the Washington Post's editorial page a few years to achieve the legendary status of his predecessor, Meg Greenfield, but few who know this Boston native doubt that day will come. Hiatt has already begun remodeling the editorial page into a more energetic and focused voice. From his days on beats in Fairfax County and the Pentagon, Hiatt knows the metro area, especially Virginia. Although he will keep the Post in the Democratic fold, he has already signaled that he won't be a rubber stamp. The paper may have given a strong endorsement to Al Gore, but Hiatt was unequivocally critical when running mate Joseph Lieberman "crossed the line" by injecting too much religion into politics.
33 Brooks Jackson. A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Jackson at first glance seems an unlikely candidate to have made the jump to television. His hair isn't blow-dried, and his stories are often hard to illustrate with film. But there is Jackson nonetheless, usually tracking the money–in a government department, a political campaign, a scandal, or a Wall Street deal. He knows how to do it, and because following the money almost always leads to truth, Jackson is indispensable.
34Larry King. Newsman? Celebrity? Pitchman? Just what is Larry King? He certainly is a server up of "softballs," easy questions that are anathema to hard-boiled reporters. And his schmoozy style is more suited to a midnight gabfest than to a news show. For all that, it's not time to chuck Larry off this list. Some of the biggest news events have occurred on his stage–you could argue that the Gore-Perot debate on his show ended Ross Perot's political career. Word is that CNN may let King go sometime down the road as the network remakes itself for the next decade. Until then, many of us will keep watching.
35John M. Berry. There are several John Berrys running around in journalism. The real McCoy is a large bearded man whom friends have nicknamed "the Bear." If you believe, as many do, that the government really has been run out of the Federal Reserve Board these many years, then it is Berry, not than the poor scribes at the White House, who has been at the seat of power. No one in the business knows Alan Greenspan as well, and that might even include the Fed chair's journalist wife, Andrea Mitchell. Berry understands what the Fed does, which sets him above ordinary mortals. And when Wall Street wants to look for a shift in Fed policy, it's not the New York writers they turn to, it's the Bear.
36 George Will. Will's widely syndicated column, seen locally in the Washington Post, is sometimes tedious, often pretentious. Most of Will's best thinking is about the one subject he appears passionate about–baseball. Already overexposed, he has started participating in phony debates with opponents like Congressman Barney Frank on ABC's This Week. Still, Will continues to wield influence as a Washington institution and commands respect for his knowledge of history and the seriousness of his approach.
37 Chris Matthews. As a Washington columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Matthews is no Herb Caen. But the former aide to Speaker Tip O'Neill and speechwriter for Jimmy Carter has become the TV-news equivalent of Jerry Springer. Matthews is smart, articulate, emotional, opinionated, enamored of his own voice, and often rude to his guests. Surprisingly, it works. "We don't waste the listener's time," Matthews says of his show, Hardball, on MSNBC. "Our show's about a quick and relevant response, otherwise we don't want you." Matthews's shtick has made him one of the most famous newspeople in the country; he's recognized at airports and parodied on Saturday Night Live. "We give the people a good political story filled with suspense," he says.
38 Katherine Boo. You won't see Kate Boo's byline in the Washington Post as often as you might like, and not even her colleagues always know what she is doing. But when her stories are completed, everyone notices. Her exposé on the District's treatment of the mentally ill ranks as one of the outstanding journalistic achievements of recent years. And it certainly got noticed, winning the talented reporter a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize.
39 Tony Mauro. No one covers the Supreme Court with quite the touch of this former USA Today reporter now working for Legal Times. His competitors, such as Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times, analyze the court to death, often impenetrably. Mauro not only elucidates the decisions of the Court; he is one of the few on the beat who will delve into the private lives and motivations of the justices, often to their discomfort. Justice Scalia belittled him after Mauro revealed that Scalia had complained to a friend about being underpaid.
40 Jeff Birnbaum. The Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine has become something of a media empire, writing stories, columns, and books and making appearances on CNN. Although well versed on tax and economic policies, Birnbaum is most identified with lobbying and campaign-finance issues. His newest book, The Money Men, is about the world of campaign finance, and every year he oversees Fortune's survey of Washington's most powerful lobbies. Birnbaum is not afraid to go against the conventional wisdom. While many pundits were bemoaning the choice between Gore and Bush, Birnbaum was out front in celebrating their differences and declaring, "At last, a choice."
41Jackie Judd. This ABC News correspondent took more heat during the Monica Lewinsky affair than any honest reporter should have to. Judd first broke the story of the blue dress, only to be pilloried for months before being proved right. If you've ever wondered why Ted Koppel's journalism looks so good, Jackie Judd is an important part of the reason.
42 Al Kamen. Eight years ago, Kamen began a column about the people coming into Clinton administration. It evolved into "In the Loop," probably the best-read column in the Washington Post. Despite grinding out the column on the Federal Page three days a week, Kamen has retained a fresh, critical eye that focuses on the outrageous, the weird, and the wonderful in government as well as the latest official comings and goings.
43 Cragg Hines. The Dallas-born columnist for the Houston Chronicle sports a raccoon coat on cold days–he passed on wading into the protest crowd on Inauguration Day for the fur's sake. Hines had great access during the first Bush administration and bids to do the same in the second. Among the closest readers of his items is First Mum Barbara Bush, who has stopped Hines on the street to let him know what she thinks of the Chronicle.
44Owen Ullmann. USA Today has picked up a number of all-stars from other news outlets, and Ullmann, formerly an economics, White House, and foreign-affairs writer with Knight-Ridder and Washington news editor of Business Week, leads the pack. He has covered Congress, OMB, the Fed, and the White House. His ear for the true beat of politics is well suited to USA Today, which prides itself on being a nonelitist newspaper, while his sophisticated understanding of global politics and economics serve him well as editor of International Economy magazine. He is also a longtime contributor to The Washingtonian.
45Jonetta Rose Barras. In the opinion of many who cover City Hall, Jonetta Rose Barras is the best reporter covering DC politics. Her Loose Lips column in the Washington City Paper shines a light into the dark corners of the DC bureaucracy and its pols, from Mayor Tony Williams on down. Barras has been on the beat since 1982, first with the Washington Afro-American, then as a reporter and columnist for the Washington Times before joining the staff of the City Paper. Along the way she undressed former mayor Marion Barry in her book The Last of the Black Emperors. Her latest book, Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl, on the impact of fatherlessness on African-American women, is out in paperback in May.
46 James Warren. The days when the press corps was led by Midwestern newspaper legends like Peter Lisagor and Marquis Childs are gone. But the best of those left is the Chicago Tribune's Jim Warren. No Lisagor, Warren has become known as a media scold, frequently complaining about the conduct of his colleagues while delivering incisive summaries of Washington events and developments to his Illinois audience.
47Paul West. Baltimore seems to be gaining an edge over Washington in several areas–first in its waterfront, now in its football team. The Baltimore Sun may not have the panache of the Washington Post, but on a daily basis, it's not far behind. That's due in large part to Washington bureau chief West, whose sensible news analyses inevitably hit their mark.
48Carl Leubsdorf. Some people writing out of Washington are not seen nearly enough here, and Leubsdorf, of the Dallas Morning News, is one. His insights are steady, his predictions often hilarious. Among them: Deion Sanders is traded back to the Cowboys for Troy Aikman, whom Dan Snyder predicts will lead the Redskins to Super Bowl. The plan is thwarted when Sanders intercepts twice to send the Cowboys to playoffs. No wonder Leubsdorf's column doesn't run often in the Post.
49 Mary McGrory. At Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, one could hardly miss white-haired Mary McGrory striding through the crowd, notebook in hand. Colleagues say she is like Zelig, with a mystical ability to attend many events at the same time. While many columnists are content to work the phones in their air-conditioned offices, McGrory is on the go from early morning to late at night. Never one to hide her political convictions, McGrory better than anyone reflects the old traditional liberalism of a generation gone.
50 David Hume Kennerly. If the camera is the successor to the pen, then this skinny, bearded photographer is one of the most influential "reporters" in town. Since arriving here from Oregon via Vietnam to work for Time in 1972, Kennerly's photographs have set the town on end. His closeup of Richard Nixon during the depths of Watergate remains one of the most enduring images of that era. Now with Newsweek, Kennerly routinely gets behind-the-scenes access while rival shutterbugs are stuck behind a fence. That and his cocky manner don't endear him to colleagues, but his images–such as his exclusive photos of George W. Bush with Hillary Clinton on Inauguration day–still form lasting impressions of events. n