A Professor, Not a Journalist, In The Driver’s Seat at MSNBC

By Alex Weprin Comment

Soon-to-be MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry gets profiled by The New York TimesBrian Stelter and the Tampa Bay Times Eric Deggans.

The profiles note that Harris-Perry is an unusual host for a number of reasons, not the list of which is that she is a sitting, tenured professor at Tulane University… a job she will continue to hold as she hosts her shows on the weekend.

Stelter notes that Harris-Perry is hoping to have guests that are not household names on her program, a familiar claim, and one that rarely lasts long:

With more hours of political talk comes more on-air time for guests of diverse backgrounds. During a Feb. 3 visit to Ms. Harris-Perry’s windowless office at Rockefeller Center, a whiteboard bearing unfamiliar names gave evidence of that. In an interview that day, she recounted numerous times when she had watched political strategists on TV and wondered why political scientists had not been booked instead.

“Part of the way I end up here is, I think the ivory tower has a ton of brilliant information that doesn’t show up for ordinary people,” she said. She has studied media stereotypes in the past, including for a book about black political thought.

Deggans meanwhile has MSNBC president Phil Griffin talking about the place of journalists versus commentators, and Griffin indicates that–at least when it comes to developing new shows–personality is what matters:

While critics like me and groups such as NABJ worry that just one among those four black people under development is a professional journalist, Griffin swats away that notion as unfairly limiting and borderline elitist.

“I’m sorry, I don’t care about journalists. … I want fair-minded, smart people who understand the world and can interpret it,” he said. “If they’re journalists, great. This notion that you somehow you have to have done something to earn so-called journalists’ credentials? Stop.”

For Griffin, the process is simple. He puts on someone as a panelist/expert, and if they do well, they get a shot at guest anchoring. If that works, they might get a shot at a show.

It’s the way Maddow met the MSNBC audience, guest-hosting then-MSNBC star Keith Olbermann’s Countdown before earning her own show, and it’s the way Lawrence O’Donnell progressed to hosting his show, The Last Word.