You very rarely see cable news networks devote time to interviews with Klansmen. But on MSNBC’s “All In” Wednesday evening, Chris Hayes interviewed Frank Ancona, a self-described “Imperial Wizard” from the “Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK”. In a segment labeled “Prepared for War”, Hayes questioned Ancona about flyers his group is distributing around the St. Louis area that warn protesters in Ferguson have “awakened a sleeping giant.” Hayes tells TVNewser he feels very strongly that doing the interview was “the right call,” though he understands many of his biggest fans disagree. “We debated and wrestled with whether or not to do it and weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided there was real news/journalistic value in putting him on,” he told us.
Ancona claimed his group has received “hundreds of calls” from residents around St. Louis concerned about “random attacks on whites” and “police officers being threatened that their wives are going to be raped.” It was decidedly uncomfortable to watch, and some viewers were disgusted–not just with Ancona’s words, but Hayes’ decision to give the Klan air time. Even St. Louis Police chief Sam Dotson said “I think the first guest didn’t help the conversation and the dialogue at all.”
Critics say Hayes, in addressing the Klan’s efforts to capitalize on Ferguson to increase its membership, only served to give the group a larger platform to get the word out. On Twitter, protester Deray McKesson asked “when did the KKK become a legitimate organization?” He added, “The KKK is on MSNBC providing commentary on Ferguson. Hell hath frozen over. Racism is more real than I ever thought.”
Loyal “All In” viewers–“Inners”–were among the sharpest critics, leading Hayes to post a video after the show explaining his decision. TVNewser spoke with Hayes about the interview, and his admitted discomfort with giving the KKK national exposure. Having slept on it, would he make the same decision to have the Klansman on? He says definitely yes:
I still think it was the right call, in fact I may even feel that *more* strongly than I did last night. That said, I 100% understand why some people don’t see it that way. We debated and wrestled with whether or not to do it and weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided there was real news/journalistic value in putting him on. I’ve seen some people say we shouldn’t have “given him a platform.” But I don’t view that kind of interview as “giving him a platform.” There are different kinds of interviews we do on the show. One kind of interview is a reportorial interview with people who are principles in a news story, which is what that interview last night was. That’s as opposed to interviews we do where we ask someone to comment on or weigh in on a news story. In those cases, I think you *do* inevitably invest the commentator with some authority or legitimacy, even if you don’t agree with him. And clearly we would never ever have a Grand Wizard of the KKK onto the show to play *that* role. We wouldn’t have booked him to give us “his take” or “weigh in” on what’s going in Ferguson or some other story. We interviewed him because he was actually the person distributing those fliers.