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Forbes' Most Powerful (and not as powerful) Women

August 20, 2009 |  8:00 am

Getprev-1 Forbes doesn't think as highly of women in media this year. 

The magazine's annual "100 Most Powerful Women" ranking just came out, and booted from the list were "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric, ABC's Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, and NBC's Meredith Vieira. CBS business executive Nancy Tellem also vanished from the power-heels crowd. 

ABC's Anne Sweeney, shown at left, had a particularly harsh fall from Forbes' grace. The highest-ranking woman at Walt Disney Co., who oversees such influential networks as ABC, Disney Channel and ABC Family, was left barely clinging to the list, coming in at No. 98.

Forbes' editors seem to have an on-again, off-again appreciation of Sweeney. Last year, she came in at No. 30, regaining precious ground after finishing a disappointing 77th in 2007. Curiously, just three years ago, Sweeney was considered the 15th-most powerful woman in the world. And her job hasn't changed as she has bounced around the list.

What gives?

Getprev-3"When a woman moves down on the list, that shouldn't be interpreted necessarily to mean that she has done something wrong, only that in looking at her and her peers across the world, others have become more powerful, relatively speaking," Chana Schoenberger, co-editor of the list, wrote in an e-mail to The Times.

In other words, these days, the heads of oil companies, pharmaceutical firms and even some small countries (think Iceland) are just more powerful than the most powerful TV executives.

Sweeney can take solace in the fact that even Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to make the top third of the class.
Clinton ranked 36th this year, down several notches from when she was a U.S. senator from New York. Interestingly, Condoleezza Rice consistently cracked the top 10 when she was secretary of State. Rice was No. 7 last year and No. 4 in 2007.

And last year CBS' Tellem was sitting pretty at No. 32.

For the second straight year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair, and PepsiCo Chief Executive Indra Nooyi were ranked No. 1, 2 and 3.  Not surprisingly, the highest-ranked woman from the media industry was Oprah Winfrey, coming in at No. 41, one spot behind First Lady Michelle Obama. (Click here for the full list.)

Getprev-2 In all, it was a slim list of women from Hollywood. Amy Pascal, at left, co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, was ranked No. 59 (last year she was 54).  MTV Networks chief Judy McGrath was No. 61 (60 last year), and DreamWorks SKG Chief Executive Stacey Snider followed at No. 62 (she did not make the list in 2008).

Forbes' Schoenberger said three criteria were used to compile the ranking: professional accomplishments; economic influence (company revenues for a CEO or percent of GDP for a prime minister); and public profile -- in other words, the number of times she is mentioned in the media around the world.

And Forbes wasn't slighting news personalities like Sawyer, Couric and Walters. This year, the magazine came up with a separate list of influential women in media, which Winfrey also topped. 

-- Meg James

Top photo: Anne Sweeney. Credit: ABC. Middle: Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Adam Larkey / ABC. Bottom: Amy Pascal. Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment.