When former President Trump delivered remarks from his Mar-a-Lago residence just hours after his arrest and arraignment hearing in New York City last week, MSNBC notably declined to broadcast them in full.
It’s a decision Chris Hayes agrees with.
“Thinking about it, what if he had gotten up and said, ‘here’s [Manhattan District Attorney] Alvin Bragg’s address.’ Or, ‘Here’s where his [Bragg’s] kids’ school is,’ Hayes told TVNewser last week by phone. “Do you think he’s incapable of doing that? He literally gave out [South Carolina Senator] Lindsey Graham‘s cell phone number. He’s 100% capable of doing that. If you’re broadcasting it live, what do you do? The horse has left the barn. You cannot responsibly put him on air.”
Some TV critics and media reporters slammed TV news outlets for how they covered the Trump indictment in the days leading up to the arraignment. Hayes understands both sides of the argument.
“I get why people find the saturation coverage over the top and people understandably and I think correctly resent the mindshare that he [Trump] has extracted from us,” said Hayes. “But I also noticed that people were saying, ‘the networks are doing this, and people don’t want it.’ No, people want to watch it.”
It’s true. Whatever one thinks of the former president, Americans turn on their televisions when he’s speaking or being spoken about.
“The other thing I would say is, what if this week a news story was that Barack Obama was traveling to New York City where he was being arraigned on 34 felony counts for having made illegal, allegedly hush-money payments to the porn star he had an affair with, and covered up in the run-up to the campaign. Do you think there would be wall-to-wall coverage?,” said Hayes. “I think there would probably be wall-to-wall coverage!
Partly it’s Trump, but partly it’s because he does things that are so abhorrent that they are newsworthy. The odds of him being indicted again are pretty high and that’s going to be a pretty big story too.”
Hayes has been a face familiar to MSNBC audiences since 2010, and All In with Chris Hayes has been a staple of the network’s primetime lineup since 2013. Hayes was 34 years old when All In debuted, making him the youngest host of a primetime cable news show. In a business where turnover is constant, remaining on air and holding onto the pivotal 8 p.m. timeslot for a decade straight is a notable feat.
In addition to discussing Trump coverage, Hayes reflected on 10 years of All In. He also provided us with his thoughts on the state of the television business, how he leverages various media platforms and what he sees himself doing 10 years from now.
The following Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity purposes.
TVNewser: How has All In evolved over the past decade, in your estimation?
Hayes: It has changed a lot. I think even format-wise, the way that we conceived of it went through a lot of changes very early on. We constantly kept tweaking, altering, trying to find improvements, moving blocks around, changing the break structure. I think we got into a really good groove, and partly I think this has happened to a lot of people – Covid required a bunch of changes, but then some of them we really liked. We’ve been fairly stable in terms of the general format, but we’re always trying new things. Obviously, the live show was a big innovation. When I look at the first episode from 10 years ago, what’s striking to me is that voice is really familiar and unchanged. A lot of the more technical production stuff has gone through a lot of revisions over time.
Can you like pinpoint a specific moment when you really felt comfortable with the nightly program? A time when everything clicked and you felt you were in a groove?
I always felt comfortable. I’ve always liked doing it [All In]. Two things happen: One, you relax into yourself over time. In the end, the only way that that happens is through repetition. There’s no shortcut to getting fully comfortable, other than just doing it a lot.
The other thing is that the audience just acclimates to you. I think it was probably three or four years in when that really just clicks; where you feel totally yourself when you’re on the set and when you’re in front of the camera. The audience fully knows who you are, what they want to hear from you and why they want to listen to you. I think it probably took about four years. Now, partly that’s because starting in 2017, Donald Trump was president. People were looking for some stability and reliability, analytically, of voices that were making sense of what seemed utterly senseless every day.
You used the word “stability,” which I think is important. Over these past 10 years, we’ve seen many shows come and go. High profile talent and executives have also come and gone, but you’re still at MSNBC. What do you attribute this stability of All In to?
I said this the other day, I think it’s kind of like the restaurant business. There’s a lot of turnover in every direction. Lots of times, even great restaurants don’t make it. It’s not even necessarily correlated to quality.
One, I think we caught a few breaks and got lucky at key moments. There’s a certain amount of just rolling the dice. I think particularly my executive producer [Denis Horgan], and then [former MSNBC president ] Phil Griffin and now [current MSNBC president] Rashida Jones have had our back.
I’d like to think that our team and myself personally have been the kind of people who are generally pretty easy to work with. We’re collaborative, team players who are not starting fights. I think that has probably also helped. We’ve tried to be good to the people who are our guests, we try to treat the viewers with respect, I try to treat my co-workers with respect, and I think that the general culture of the show has helped us as well.
A lot of it also has to do with Nielsen ratings and keeping the audience engaged. Cable news ratings are falling everywhere, especially among folks under 55. What steps are you and your team taking to try to keep everybody engaged and on board?
There are two ways I’d answer that. One is that I have learned that you cannot control ratings, and to the extent that you try to, you will end up doing a worse job, or you will end up desperately chasing things in a way that compromises why you do the job. There are some interesting examples in the news recently …
So that’s at the macro. You try to do a good job, you trust your instincts and your craft that you’ve developed over the reps and practice. You cannot go to the plate trying to hit a home run. You can’t control where the ball goes after it hits your bat. You go up and you use the process that you’ve developed.
Macro sense, I think the key for everyone in this business is just to try to find new audiences and meet them where they’re at. The podcast [Why is This Happening?] is celebrating five years as well. It has had 50 million downloads, and a lot of people who listen to podcast don’t watch the show. I meet them all the time. They tend to be younger, probably, than linear cable news.
It’s hard to change people’s consumption behavior at a macro level. To get someone to be like, “I have never watched linear cable news, and now I’m going to sit down at 8 …” that’s a tough thing. You can move people over from the pool of people who already have that behavior and already have that habit, but then the question becomes, “How do you reach those people who are not doing that?” The podcast is one way we’ve done that; obviously Twitter is another where I feel like I have a voice and a platform there to different kinds of people. I’ve been thinking somewhat obsessively about how we expand on Instagram Reels and TikTok for the same reasons. I think you just have to find ways to meet people where they’re at.
You’re very active on Twitter. You have the podcast, and of course the show. Do you use these platforms differently?
Definitely. I’m also writing a book.
I think [Canadian philosopher] Marshall McLuhan’s insight into the ways by which the formal mechanisms of a medium shape its content is very true. You can put someone on a podcast who’s not particularly succinct but is very interesting. It’s not live, so you can take someone who’s has a sort of beautiful way of speaking, but can be kind of halting, discursive, and then you can take that, you can edit it, and you can make that conversation succinct. You cannot do that in a live, five-minute cable TV hit. I’ve tried, and it has backfired on me. It’s a different medium. There are different things that work on Twitter – insights or ways of formulating things have far bigger reach than even they might on the show in terms of how far they might travel, or who they might reach. Then book writing is a whole other set of intellectual and creative muscles. But part of the reason that I ended up doing a lot of different things is precisely because I think you can do different things in different mediums.
You burst onto the scene filling in for Rachel Maddow back in 2010 before getting your own show. How is cable news different today relative to back then?
The continued challenge of real-time linear viewing has gotten more intense than it was 10 years ago.
I’m pretty sure I had Beau Willimon, the House of Cards creator, on the show when [Netflix series] House of Cards was debuting. That and Orange is the New Black were the first bits of original streaming content. When that show started there was no over-the-top, original streaming content, which is a crazy thing to think about. One of the things that dawned on me at some point was that when you’re on at eight o’clock, you’re competing with the other people on air, you’re competing with, at this point, every single [live sports] game and every piece of content that’s ever been created, basically, in the history of humans. I think that radically changed the landscape.
There’s a little bit of a 360 I’ve done on this, which is that I think at a certain point, it felt like cable news is going to be a kind of vestigial technology or platform or medium. But, I actually think like live sports TV, it [TV news] has an internal rationale to not be streamed because of the nature of it being live. Obviously you can stream live things, but going to the TV to see what’s happening in sports and news still has a kind of logic that endures past the logic of whether I’m going to watch this home improvement show exactly at this time, or just stream it later.
Speaking of the past, here’s Hayes talking to us in March 2014 about All In:
Do you want to be hosting an MSNBC show in 2033?
I couldn’t tell you anything about what I want to be doing. We might be beaming individual shows into people’s synapses, or ChatGPT may be producing all content by 2033. I have no idea!
What piece of advice would the Chris Hayes of today give the Chris Hayes of 10 years ago?
Slow down! Don’t rush. Even though you have selected a job that is public facing, you cannot control what people think of you. You’re going to have to find a way to not let people’s opinions of you turn you inside out.