progressive pundits

The ten most influential and entertaining progressive commentators from television and radio

During my five years as a progressive political commentator/blogger, I’ve sometimes been asked which progressive pundits I look up to, identify with or am influenced by. Basically; who do I enjoy reading or listening to?

I don’t like to refer to them as influences per se, I prefer to think I guide my own opinions, but they do give me ideas from time to time. They are all entertaining to say the least.

When you spend the last couple decades tuning into radio stations like the now defunct “Air America” or television networks like MSNBC, Free Speech TV, and the Comedy Network, you realize the list is actually quite large. Especially when you consider how much the importance of the internet has also grown.

My list of top ten progressive pundits is a reflection of my own listening and reading habits. The order in which they appear reflects how much time I invest in them and how much I look forward to them. Obviously entertainment value comes into play which is why half the people on the list can be considered comedians.

progressive pundits, Sam Seder
Sam Seder

Sam Seder
Comedian, actor, film and television director, host of the “Majority Report” & co-host of “Ring of Fire.”

When I first started to listen to progressive pundits outside of music, and the mainstream press, it was shortly after the Bush’s invasion of Iraq. To my delight, on March 31, 2004, Air America Radio was launched. The station only lasted a handful of years, but it was a who’s who of progressive punditry.

Sam Seder’s prime time show “The Majority Report”, which he co-hosted with comedian/actress Janeane Garofalo, was my favorite. Sam re-launched the show in pod cast form in 2010 before it become part of the TYT Network. At the same time, Seder started co-hosting Ring of Fire, a nationally syndicated progressive radio interview program co-hosted by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Mike Papantonio.

Chris Hayes
Author, Host of “All In with Chris Hayes”

Chris Hayes has not been in the public eye for very long. In just six years, Hayes went from being a contributing writer for “The Nation,” to writing a book, to the host of his own prime time television show on MSNBC.

What I like about Chris Hayes is in depth reporting. He gives me hope at a time when investigative journalism is all but dead. Hayes is often on the front-line or he goes behind the scenes for a special hour/week long in depth report. He is definitely not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Robert Reich
Political economist, professor, author, and former Labor Secretary under Clinton.

It’s been twenty years since Reich’s tenure as Secretary of Labor. When he realized he could no longer teach Bill Clinton how the economy really works, he quit and put his focus on teaching the American people instead.

In 2002, as a candidate for the governor of Massachusetts, he was the first Democratic candidate for a major political office to support same-sex marriage. Since the election loss, he has published many books and turned his attention from marriage equality to wealth inequality. Since 2006, Reich has taught a popular course called “Wealth and Poverty” at UC Berkeley.

In 2013, Reich released a fantastic documentary called “inequality for all” which illustrated in great detail America’s growing wealth inequality. Reich constantly updates his blog at robertreich.org and is in the middle of releasing a ten part mini documentary in collaboration with change.org titled “Ten Ideas to Save the Economy”

John Oliver
Comedian, actor, writer, host of “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver began doing stand-up comedy about fifteen years ago. Oliver joined The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as its “Senior British Correspondent” in July 2006. Apparently he was interviewed for the show on the recommendation of comedian Ricky Gervais. Oliver went on to win three Emmys for outstanding writing in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Just three months after filling in for Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show, HBO deservedly gave him his own show. What separates Last Week Tonight from other shows is its dedication to the issue of the week. Oliver will devote 10 to 20 minutes to address a single issue few news networks cover. It is the most informative and often funniest segment on television any given week.

Rachel Maddow
Author, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show”

Like Sam Seder, I was first introduced to her on Air America Radio in the mid 2000’s. In 2008, at the urging of Keith Olbermann, Maddow was given the 9:00PM and became the first openly gay anchor to host a major prime-time news program in the United States. The rest is history.

She is now seven years on the job and has won several news and journalism awards. She is best known for her Iraq War documentaries “Hubris” and “Why We Did It.”

Paul Krugman
Author, professor of economics, columnist at The New York Times.

If you don’t read the New York Times or know what Keynesian economics is, you probably have never heard of Paul Krugman. This Nobel Prize winning economist and author is the most loved and hated columnist in the country depending where your philosophies lie.

He is a Keynesian economist to the core. He’ll go after anyone who believes in trickle-down voodoo economics, tax breaks for the wealthy, austerity in a declining economy, and corporate welfare for those who don’t need it.

Jon Stewart
Comedian, writer, filmmaker, actor, former host of “The Daily Show.”

I started to watch Jon about the same time I started to tune into Air America, about 2004. I fell instantly in love. As satirical news shows in Canada (22 Minutes, Air Farce) first made Canada’s boring politics funny, Jon Stewart made America’s senseless politics hilarious.

I have written entire articles about this man, so I will not go into detail here. If you are one of the few people on the planet that have never heard of him, I’ll just say that no one can bring to light in a humorous way the insanity that is America’s conservative media and politicians.

It will be curious to see what he does now that he is happily retired.

Thom Hartmann
Author, former psychotherapist, host of the “Thom Hartmann Show.”

Another Air America alumni, I’ve yet to find another progressive radio host with such a rich knowledge of America’s political and cultural history than Thom Hartmann. As a bonus, he is progressive to the bone. He is the only commentator on this list that I can honestly say continues to teach me something new every once in a while.

I’ve listened to Hartmann for years, but what I truly look forward to are those “Brunches with Bernie.” A one hour segment of his call in show reserved every Friday for Senator Bernie Sanders. As a result, I feel like I’ve known Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders for years.

Bill Maher
Comedian, writer, producer, actor, host of “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Sometimes I feel Bill Maher existed before politics. I’ve been watching him since I was 18 year old (22 years) back when he first started doing “politically incorrect.” I found it fairly easy to relate to an atheist pothead back then.

I believe Politically Incorrect started it all. Before the Stewarts, Olivers, and Colberts there was Maher. Ironically Bill was eventually fired for saying something politically incorrect, but “Real Time” on HBO can be seen as a continuation of that same show.

Maher is as politically incorrect as ever and I love him for it. It isn’t easy to agree with him on everything, particularly with regards to Israel and Muslims, but it doesn’t take away much from the show. It’s partly why it’s worth watching.

young turks, progressive pundits
Cenk Uygur & Ana Kasparian of TYT

Cenk Uygur
Columnist, activist, main host and co-founder of “The Young Turks.”

Yet another Air America alumni. Cenk Uygur no longer broadcasts specifically for the radio, nor is he still on television. These days he simply rules the internet. The Young Turks has collectively amassed over a billion views on YouTube, with over 1,000,000 subscribers.

Cenk along with co-host Ana Kasparian break down the important news of the day in a way that anyone can easily understand. It is both intelligent and often funny, particularly in the second hour when the issues become less serious.
To be blunt, if I had kids, this is the place they would be getting their news. The Young Turks and the TYT Network is popular for a reason. It’s damn good.

In addition, Cenk has shown his activist side by launching Wolf-PAC. A political action committee aimed at passing an amendment to the United States Constitution that would end corporate personhood and publicly finance all elections in the United States.

Honorable mentions in no particular order: James Carville, Melissa Harris-Perry, Glenn Greenwald, Ezra Klein, Arianna Huffington, John Fugelsang, Al Sharpton, Randi Rhodes, Michael Moore… and the other Quiet Mike writers!

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Mike Weishar (A.K.A. Quiet Mike) has been a politics & news writer since May 2010. In December of 2012 he founded quietmike.org. Five years later he founded Progressive Spring where he remains the chief writer, editor and administrator. He has been active in politics, writing and social causes for many years. He is a proud activist and a rebel without applause.

5 COMMENTS

  1. One quick comment about John Oliver – what I think sets him apart is that he also encourages activism from his viewers. Too many pundits just get us pissed off. Oliver does that, but then provides concrete ways to channel that rage. His viewers went to the FEC website after one show to leave comments, and unintentionally crashed the site through sheer volume.

    It would be great if others on this list could find a way to harness the outrage that they so justifiably create.

  2. Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich and John Oliver. They all give me hope. Intelligence and humor from the progressives versus downright stupid and humorless from the other side. I like to think that America will see the light one day, and these progressive voices will be at the forefront of moving us in that direction. I know I have turned my friend in the U.K. onto Bill Maher. She loves his voice and she, too, sees promise with voices like this instead of the ridiculous that she hears coming from the American right.

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