The Media Stars Who Outdid Themselves Under Trump in 2017
In what could often feel like a demoralizing year for TV news, these men and women did their absolute best to hold Trump and his cronies accountable.
With Donald Trump and his good “friends” at Fox News doing everything they could to undermine the free press during his first year in office, 2017 was not exactly an easy time to be a member of the so-called mainstream media. When every honest mistake, no matter how small, is held up by the president as proof of a #FakeNews epidemic, it’s not hard to lose the trust of the American people.
Day in and day out, political reporters for print and online outlets—including the exceptional team right here at The Daily Beast—have done their best to ignore the noise and focus on the facts. TV personalities don’t always have that luxury, either because they have to fill hours of commentary on cable news or because they have a mandate to entertain and not just inform viewers.
It doesn’t help that Trump has mostly sat down with only the most sycophantic interviewers. As of October, the president had given 18 out of a total 23 major TV interviews to Fox News or Fox Business Network. It’s only slightly less rare for his top surrogates to take questions from critical journalists.
When they do, however, it has produced some of the most explosive—if not always the most enlightening—moments on cable news in years. Whether they are confronting members of the administration directly or just daring to call them out on their lies, the men and women on the list below were able to rise above the fray and hold Trump and his various defenders to account.
For that alone, they deserve credit at the end of this very long year.
The host of CNN’s The Lead and State of the Union has long been an ombudsman of sorts for the cable news business, but that role became even more vital this year as Trump made CNN his primary target for scorn and derision. Even before Trump’s inauguration, Tapper was fighting back against the president-elect’s charges that CNN was #FakeNews, accurately warning his competitors at one point that they could be next.
Once Trump took office, his near daily takedowns of Trump’s lies grew more fervent, telling the president to “get to work and stop whining” about how the media was treating him. If there was a last straw for Tapper it came all the way back in February when Sean Spicer appeared to bar outlets like CNN and The New York Times from an off-camera briefing. “This White House does not seem to respect the idea of accountability,” Tapper fumed into the camera. “This White House does not seem to value an independent press. There is a word for that line of thinking. The word is un-American.”
This year, for the first time in two decades, veteran reporter April Ryan was not invited to the White House Christmas party. That apparently deliberate slight capped an unusually eventful year for the American Urban Radio Networks correspondent (and CNN contributor), who became a household name following bizarrely confrontational moments with everyone from Omarosa Manigault to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The most shocking interaction, however, was with President Trump himself, who asked Ryan during a press briefing if she could help arrange a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus. “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked her. In this case, Ryan could be forgiven for shaking her head.
Is there any reporter that has gotten under Donald Trump’s skin more this year than Jim Acosta? CNN’s White House correspondent has been a constant thorn in the side of Trump, his press secretaries, and most memorably Stephen Miller, even when they refuse to let him ask a question at briefings.
The relentless Acosta didn’t just play to the TV audience either, confronting Sean Spicer during an audio-only briefing in June. “Maybe we should turn the cameras on, Sean, why don’t we turn the cameras on? Why not turn the cameras on?” he asked incredulously. Less than a month later, Spicer was gone while Acosta was still going strong.
Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi
This savvy tag team duo over at MSNBC broke through in 2017 by always being about a thousand times more informed than whatever Trump-defending guest they had on their midday show.
Their shining moment came in August when they hosted a member of the president’s advisory board who dared to accuse the business reporters of not having a “background” in business. An incredulous Velshi shot back, “You can’t just lie on TV. I don’t know who your people told you you were coming on TV with, but you cannot lie about the economy to us,” adding later, “You should fire your press person because if they didn’t tell you that you were coming on TV with Velshi and Ruhle, who I think collectively—I don’t want to give away Stephanie’s age—but between the two of us we have been doing this for about 50 years. This is a silly conversation to have with us.”
You would think after that guests would have learned not to question Velshi’s “background,” but a few months later a spokesman for Roy Moore suggested that Velshi’s heritage might make him more sympathetic to child molestation. “What does Ali’s background have to do with dating a 14-year-old?” a furious Ruhle asked him. “Please answer. What does Ali Velshi’s background have to do with dating children, 14-year-old girls?”
No one does dumbfounded better than CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin. And she got plenty of opportunities in 2017. Her comprehensive recaps of Trump’s most outrageous actions and tweets were entertaining, but it was her face-off with Fox Sports’ Clay Travis, who was there to defend the Trump White House’s call to fire ESPN’s Jemele Hill that stands out the most. When the controversial radio host pulled out one of his stock sexist lines—“I believe in only two things absolutely: the First Amendment and boobs”—Baldwin stopped him in his tracks.
“Hold on! Hold on!” Baldwin said, interrupting Travis. “I just want to make sure I understood you correctly, as a woman anchoring the show. What did you just say? You believe in in the First Amendment and B-double-O-B-S?” As he tried to explain himself, she added, “Why would you even say that live on national television and with a female host? Why would you even go there?”
Earlier this year, Sean Hannity called his Fox News colleague Shepard Smith “so anti-Trump” for accusing President Trump and his advisers of telling “lie after lie after lie” about possible collusion with Russia. But while Smith often seems like the sole voice of reason on the Trump-supporting network, this year also saw a strengthening of the spine from another Fox veteran: Chris Wallace.
Less than a month into Trump’s term, Wallace confronted Reince Priebus over Trump’s tweet labeling every news organization but Fox the “enemy of the American people,” telling Trump’s then-chief of staff, “You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I got to say, he never said that we were an enemy of the people.”
Eight months later, after many of his own colleagues had joined the president in attacking #FakeNews, Wallace condemned their behavior in an interview with the AP. “I don’t like them bashing the media, because oftentimes what they’re bashing is stuff that we on the news side are doing,” he said. “I don’t think they recognize that they have a role at Fox News and we have a role at Fox News. I don’t know what’s in their head. I just think it’s bad form.”
Besides just being an insightful and compelling columnist for The Daily Beast, Joy Reid was a vital voice each weekend on her MSNBC show AM Joy this year. Reid’s refusal to hold back her true feelings about President Trump was even more apparent during her appearances on Meet the Press, a show which too often favors politeness on both sides over brutal honesty. This was not the case in October when she responded to Trump’s baseless attacks on San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.
“It is interesting that Donald Trump’s reflex is to say that a woman, a woman of color, you know, is an ingrate, or to attack, or to say the people of Puerto Rico essentially are too lazy to help themselves, want something from the federal government that they won’t provide to themselves,” Reid told moderator Chuck Todd. “Donald Trump has a particular reflex to attack women, to attack women of color, and to signal boost to his base this idea that people of color are lazy and dependent and won’t do for themselves. He’s sharing that with a large portion of his base.”
As cable news viewers tried to make sense of the often convoluted developments in the Trump-Russia scandal this year, no one was better prepared to explain the story in plain English than CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who could be found on several occasions screaming into the camera about how illegal and/or immoral he believed the president’s behavior to be.
Toobin’s outrage peaked on May 9 when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. “This is not normal,” he told Wolf Blitzer. “This is not politics as usual. This is something that is completely outside how the American law is supposed to work.”
If being an outspoken Trump critic in the mainstream media presented challenges this year, they paled in comparison to those endured by self-described libertarian Fox News commentator Kat Timpf. Not only was Timpf forced to co-host a show with Eric Bolling—before he was ousted for sexual harassment—but she was also subjected to some harassment of her own, apparently from both sides of the political spectrum. She was attacked with a water bottle in Brooklyn this past July, but that was before she spoke out forcefully against Trump on Fox for his “disgusting” response to the Charlottesville violence in August, prompting an all-out assault from the self-proclaimed “deplorables” on Twitter.
Timpf capped off the year by putting the nail in Roy Moore’s political coffin, moments before his Democratic opponent Doug Jones was officially certified as the winner of Alabama’s special election. “He’s acting like a snowflake!” she declared on Fox Business Network. “He needs to get on that horse and ride away into the sunset, because this is absolutely ridiculous at this point.”
Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo
Call them the Kellyanne Conway whisperers. They both did a lot of important work in 2017, but CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo deserve special praise for their epically long sparring sessions with Trump’s most infuriating adviser, often stretching beyond the 20 minute mark without offering any new insight into the president’s thinking (or lack thereof).
In the end, these confrontations told us more about Cooper and Cuomo, who never let Conway lie with impunity and always let us know how they really felt about her propensity to push “alternative facts,” even if it was just with an eye-roll.
His relentlessly thought-provoking Twitter account alone deserves some sort of award, but it is his potentially incriminating interviews with former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page that lands him on this list. “Congratulations for not being indicted,” Hayes told his guest at the top of their most recent sit-down in October. It only got better from there.
“I genuinely hope, Carter, that you are innocent of everything,” Hayes said towards the end of the interview. “Because you’re doing a lot of talking. It’s either admirably bold or reckless. I guess we’ll find out.”
Hear me out. Things started out rough for the new Megyn on NBC. Her Sunday evening interviews with Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones were embarrassing. The aggressively apolitical launch of her morning show wasn’t much better, especially the cringe-inducing interactions with the cast of Will & Grace and Jane Fonda.
But then, just a couple of weeks later, things started to turn around. Whereas Kelly previously tried to distance herself as much as humanly possible from her frankly unforgivable tenure at Fox News, the #MeToo movement allowed her an opportunity to revisit her own mistreatment by the late Roger Ailes and give more women the chance she never had to speak out against men like Harvey Weinstein and NBC’s own Matt Lauer.
It all culminated in early December, more than two years after that fateful GOP debate question, when she invited three women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct onto her show. If Kelly has anything to say about it in 2018, the many allegations against the president will not be ignored anymore.