Maddow: Network News Not Going AnywhereMSNBC star talks about life after Olbermann, and how other big personalities will do in new places 4/25/2011 01:01:00 PM Eastern
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What do you think about the network evening newscast? Cable news gets
all the buzz, but the networks still get much larger viewing numbers. Do you
think the day will come when the ratings flip-flop?
I'm not a great media analyst. I know a lot
about what I do; I don't know a lot about the business in general. But I do
think that the much-heralded death of network news is a long way off. Brian
Williams' numbers are pretty spectacular, as are the Today show's.
Nothing that's happening in cable is competing with those numbers. I think
you're right to phrase it in the "buzz" being about cable news, but what
happens on the network side is very healthy. I think that anybody who
underestimates the staying power of network news has been proven wrong a lot in
the past few years and probably will continue to be proved wrong for a long
With Keith Olbermann going to Current TV, Glenn Beck leaving Fox News,
Katie Couric liking moving to syndication-have we reached a point where
personalities can stand alone as brands?
I don't know. It will be interesting to see
where all those people land. The only precedent for that was when we saw some
major media figures in talk radio leave and go into satellite. That was years
past, but you can sort of look at that, maybe, as the beta, as the pilot
project for this. It will be interesting to see if people who work in visual
media can make their own way off the network platform. Cable in its own way is
off the network platform, and that's proved to be a successful business model.
So it will be interesting to watch. It's hard to know where those three figures
that you mentioned are going to end up, but I'm particularly interested to see
if any of them will really test the idea that the Web is a place where you can
make a big media splash. Can you do it without broadcasting? Can you do it just
by uploading? It will be interesting to see.
What do you feel is your opportunity for growth at MSNBC? With Keith
gone, are you comfortable being the face of MSNBC?
Luckily, the network doesn't need a face. I
don't think the network needs just one person. I don't think I would want to be
that; I actually don't think any of us who work here would want to be that. The
thing is, I've been here at MSNBC two-and-a-half years; this is a very, very
welcoming, comfortable, supportive place to work. And my big goal in my
career-as, admittedly, a person who's not much of a planner-my vision, what I'm
trying to do is to stay here and to do good work. I really like working here.
My deal with MSNBC includes editorial freedom to cover the news as I see fit,
as long as I'm doing it in a responsible way that attends to NBC News rules
that we're all bound by. We don't get talking points. We don't get told what to
cover; we don't get told what not to cover. And that freedom to make an hour of
primetime broadcasting every day with this great staff that I have, and the
resources that we have both here and able to tap into NBC, I really feel like I
won the lottery. The best thing that I could aspire to would be to do this for
a while and do it well. And so most of my aspirations are about doing it in a
sustainable way and trying to succeed. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else
doing anything other than this right now.
This new Lean Forward ad campaign has you and other anchors making your
point of view pretty explicit, with the message that your perspective colors
the way you approach the news. How involved were you in developing this
campaign, and is it important to you for people to know your viewpoint?
I wouldn't describe it as the implication
being our [perspective] colors the way MSNBC approaches the news. I think what
is true about our primetime lineup in that we are trying to, if not reinforce,
at least be transparent about, and be open with our audience about, [the idea
that] our hosts are real people who have fully formed political viewpoints and
fully formed opinions about the world. And that is something that we are open
about. So while you can get-from the entire spectrum of MSNBC news-factual,
authoritative, fact-checkable information from any of us, if you are tuning
into one of the primetime shows, we are hoping that you will get to know and
like those of us who are hosting those shows as whole people.
None of us are an authoritative voice of God.
We're not generic people; we're real people who have ideas and passions and
come from somewhere, who believe the things we believe for a reason. And I
think that's the implicit understanding that people have about what cable news
is now. You're watching shows that have the host's name in the title often, and
you're watching that host's take on the news because you're interested in that
person as a person and you believe them. That sort of deep connection between
us hosts as people, and the people who like our shows, is something I think
we're really proud of.
As far as my involvement in creating the
campaign, I don't do marketing, I do my show, but I'm really happy that they
decided to do it this way. It was shot documentary-style, it was unscripted; we
just essentially talked for a long time, they shot us talking about what we
believe, shot us in conversation and then cut it up in ways that might make
good appropriate-length spots. I feel very comfortable with it; I feel like it
really represents us as people, and that's what people are trying to get out of
us as hosts.
How has that transparency of hosts being real people evolved since you
started at MSNBC? Do you consider yours a news show or an opinion show?
Well, I approach it as a news show; my show is
all about the news. But I'm honest about who I am; I'm honest about the fact
that I'm a person who has liberal beliefs, but that doesn't mean that you can't
get factual information from me. You can take the factual basis of what we are
doing to the bank absolutely every day. We run corrections when we get stuff
wrong; we have a real commitment to the truth. We are an authoritative source
for news. I think what is true across cable now-and it's not just us, we're not
breaking any new ground here-what's true across cable, across primetime cable
in particular, is this idea that you were allowed to know where your host was
coming from, both our specific level of expertise in any subject matter that
we're talking about [and] a personal background in terms of what brings us to
our various interests, and we all have editorial control in these primetime
hours not only about what we say about any particular topic but what stories we
think are newsworthy. That's why cable news feels so different than network
news, or even than what's on many of the cable channels during the daytime. As
hosts we are really allowed to editorially shape what happens in our hour,
including deciding what stories make our shows. It makes for a very different
feel and a very different conversation.
In the 2010 election, the messaging in the media was all about jobs and
the economy, but the laws that came out of it are about social issues. Do you
think we're going to see the same thing in 2012? How are you approaching the
I think that it's been interesting to watch
the difference, the sort of yawning gap between what, in particular, the
Republicans campaigned on and what they have said they value and how they have
behaved with governing authority. In a difficult economy it is very easy to get
people to fear other Americans, to pick enemies among our fellow citizens, to try
to look for scapegoats for economic pain that we're all feeling. And that is a
really ripe environment for social-wedge issues, and I think it's instructive
that after John Boehner really got attacked from the right for having come up
with a deal to avoid the government shutdown, by coming up with a deal with
President Obama, he got really attacked from the right for that. And then the
next thing he did, he immediately pivoted and said that we're going to spend $5
million to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and go after gay marriage. When
in doubt, or when making difficult economic decisions, it's always convenient
to have sort of a social issue to scapegoat at that time.
The 2010 elections were really successful for
Republicans at the state level. They got control of the House in Washington,
but at the state level, a lot of state legislatures and state houses went red.
And what has happened in the states since then, what those Republicans in the
states have decided to focus on, the kind of legislation they have passed, is
telling. It's very different than what the Republican party's national image
is. Because there isn't a national Republican figure yet who's going to be
facing off against President Obama. The only real evidence in politics we have
to contrast his record with is the record of Republican executives in the
states. And it's not widely understood that it's been mostly about abortion,
and making budgets worse by giving corporate tax breaks and tax breaks to
people who already have money, and dramatically cutting services, and not
fixing the budgets, and doing mandatory drug testing, and abortion
restrictions, and anti-gay initiatives, and English as an official language,
and Sharia law and this stuff that nobody really thought the '10 elections were