Roger Ebert Rated America’s Top Pundit

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By: E&P Staff

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert is the nation’s most influential pundit, according to a new ranking by Forbes magazine.

To come up with its conclusions, Forbes analyzed market research from the firm E-Poll, examining more than 60 well-known pundits who specialize in opining on politics, news, entertainment, sports, or the law.

Candidates were scored on “awareness and likeability” among respondents most prized by advertisers — relatively high income college graduates aged between 25 and 54, Forbes said.

“While the results show that plenty of cable talking heads like Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera score highly, the most powerful pundit in America is veteran film critic Roger Ebert, who appeals to 70% of the demographic and whose long career makes him well known to well over half the population,” Forbes media writer Tom Van Riper wrote.

In addition to his long career at the Sun-Times, during which he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Ebert has spent more than three decades on television reviewing movies first with the late Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel and then with Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper. Health problems, which have left him temporarily mute, forced him off the air last year.

“Ebert, despite being limited to print reviewing over the past year as he battles cancer, is viewed by the public as intelligent, experienced and articulate, the three most common traits associated with the top 10 list,” Forbes wrote. “And his widespread appeal makes sense. Unlike political pundits who bring a liberal or conservative voice to the table, his strong opinions are generally confined to individual movies. Hence, he’s not drawing cheers from half the population and jeers from the other half.”

Comedian Bill Maher, who has a weekly talk show on HBO, was ranked second, followed by cable talker Bill O’Reilly; liberal radio host and comedian Al Franken; TV journalist Geraldo Rivera; comedian Rosie O’Donnell; film critic Leonard Maltin; legal commentator Greta Van Susteren; economics news commentator Lou Dobbs; and basketball analyst Bill Walton.

TV remains the punditry kingmaker, Forbes said.

“Each one of our top 10, along with near misses like Jesse Jackson, Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann, are brought to the public domain primarily through television (radio superstar Rush Limbaugh is the only exception in the close-but-no-cigar crowd),” Van Riper wrote.

In Tuesday’s editions of the Sun-Times Ebert told staff reporter Maureen O’Donnell by e-mail that he was please to be in such “very impressive company.”

“It never occurred to me anyone would make such a survey, especially since I never thought of myself as a pundit,” he wrote. “Maybe it means movies are more popular than politics, and non-partisan.”

Ebert, whose work is distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, added: “Despite all my health adventures, I can still see, hear, and type, and now that print reviews are my only way to exercise the full range of my communication abilities, I find I write them with something approaching bliss.”

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