How Inbred Elites Are Tearing America Apart
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What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?
Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.
But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.
In this model you get a show at 8 p.m. every night. Are you enjoying it as much as the weekend show?
Yes. It’s extremely challenging.
How is it different?
In every way. It’s a totally different game. The biggest difference is the competition for those eyeballs is just intense. I think about, there’s someone out there who’s worked all day, helped their kid with their homework, grabbed a beer, sat down at the TV, and now they’re going to watch me. And they could watch “The Voice,” and I would not begrudge them wanting to do that! I would completely understand. So you have to be thinking in terms of what emotional effect are you producing in the viewer. What’s that thing you’re giving them that’s going to make that choice? In Saturday, Sunday morning, there wasn’t that same choice. There’s not a lot of other stuff on, people are in a different mind-set, it’s early in the morning and it’s kind of uncluttered. It’s more laid-back. You put the show on and you make coffee and you walk around the house and you – 8 p.m. is a whole other set of constraints.
You have to think about ratings more? MSNBC has had its challenges there lately.
Yeah, ratings are the measurement of what you have to think about, which is producing entertaining television. The ratings – I try not to think about the numbers, because that data can be very overwhelming or misleading. The thing I do think about is “are we producing a good show?” And the word “show” is key. You have to be a showman. It is a show. You need to put on a show every night. Which means, like, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, let me entertain you. And I think the thing that I found rewarding, that I first found really difficult, is learning how to do that better, learning how to embody that naturally. Learning how to be myself fundamentally and authentically while still entertaining. And that’s a really hard challenge. We did food stamps last night. It’s like, “How do you make food stamps entertaining?” and no one’s figured this out better than Rachel Maddow. She is just a savant in this respect, but I have to find my own route to that place, that is true to what I do best.