In October, Shep Smith suddenly walked off air and out of Fox News for good. He had reportedly grown frustrated by the latitude afforded the network’s opinion hosts, and had recently had a spat with Tucker Carlson. In March, Chris Matthews echoed the drama of Smith’s departure when he suddenly quit his own show, on MSNBC; he’d found himself under increasing pressure following reports concerning his long history of inappropriate remarks about women, and a string of unhinged on-air remarks about Bernie Sanders’s then-ascendant presidential candidacy. In each case, a visibly blindsided on-air colleague was left to pick up the pieces. “Whoa,” Neil Cavuto said on Fox, post-Smith. “Like you I’m a little stunned and a little heartbroken.” Post-Matthews, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki said, “Erm, that was a lot to take in just now.” Later, Kornacki choked up as he discussed Matthews’s legacy.
This week, the NBCUniversal News Group commissioned a sequel to those cliffhangers. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that, starting in the fall, Smith will anchor a weekday show at 7pm Eastern on CNBC, the business network that was brought under the same umbrella as MSNBC and NBC News following a recent company restructuring. Smith’s hire marks something of a departure for CNBC’s evening lineup, which currently includes shows such as Jay Leno’s Garage and reruns of Shark Tank. A change of pace had been rumored for a few weeks: in May, Ben Smith, media columnist at the New York Times, reported that Jeff Shell, NBCUniversal’s new CEO, was considering a roster of right-wing evening talk shows for CNBC. There were questions, however, as to how serious a proposal that was. This week, Mark Hoffman, the chairman of CNBC, said that Smith’s show will be a “bridge” between the network’s business-news and entertainment programming, and not the beginning of a wholesale overhaul. And Smith, who won a reputation as a redoubt of journalistic integrity at Fox, would balk at the term “right-wing talk show.” His CNBC program will be called, simply, The News With Shepard Smith. Yesterday, Smith appeared briefly on the network to introduce himself. The show will be “a newscast that’s about news,” he said. “No opinion. No pundits.”
Related: The mystery of Tucker Carlson
Also yesterday, MSNBC finally named a permanent successor to Matthews in its 7pm Eastern weekday slot: Joy Reid, who currently anchors a weekend show, AM Joy, on the same network. (For the time being, a rotating cast of hosts will replace Reid on weekends.) Her new show will start a week from Monday, and will be called The ReidOut. Reid will become the first Black woman to host a nightly show on a big network since the death of the PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, in 2016. Currently, Harris Faulkner, of Fox News, is the only Black woman with a solo daily show on cable; away from cable, Gayle King, of CBS, and Robin Roberts, of ABC, also have prominent roles. In an interview with the New York Times to mark her promotion, Reid said, “I am a Black mom, a Black woman, a Black daughter. I am also a journalist who can conceptualize that pain from a unique point of view. Every day I’m in this job, I’m very conscious of that responsibility.”
According to the Times, Reid’s show, like Matthews’s before it, will center politics and punditry—but where Matthews’s point of view was explicitly that of the Beltway insider, Reid will be a more liberal presence, and a stronger voice on race, class, policing, and more. (In his final days on MSNBC, Matthews mixed up Tim Scott and Jaime Harrison, two Black politicians from South Carolina.) In his valedictory monologue, Matthews acknowledged that he was handing off to a “younger generation” that’s “ready to take the reins.” At this moment, but also more generally, Reid fits that description.
That’s not to say that progressives—many of whom loathe MSNBC as a bastion of the liberal old guard, and see it as censorious of fresher, explicitly left-wing perspectives—will be uniformly happy with Reid’s hire. Unlike Matthews, Reid didn’t compare Sanders’s success to the Nazi invasion of France, but she has been skeptical of Sanders in the past; in January, she invited a “body language expert” to make the case that Sanders was lying about an allegedly sexist past exchange with Elizabeth Warren. And Reid is still trailed by old homophobic comments (and other controversial content) on a personal blog. In 2017, she said hackers had inserted the remarks in a bid to incriminate her, but she never offered any proof for that assertion, and she later apologized.
Still, in many ways, Reid’s new gig represents a sharper departure than Smith’s, even if Reid has more in common with Matthews than Smith does with Shark Tank. Smith is a highly respected journalist, but stripped of the context of it being on Fox, his just-the-facts-sir approach is unlikely to make waves—especially at a moment when the traditional vision of journalism is facing a stronger challenge than ever before. Reid’s promotion is unlikely to constitute a total break with MSNBC’s conventional, much-criticized treatment of Beltway and campaign politics. But she will inject a different life experience and perspective into an evening news lineup that—right across the cable landscape—is sorely in need of it.
Journalism values aside, both Reid and Smith will, of course, be judged by their ratings, probably to a depressing degree. Reid’s commentary often taps the same vein as the other strident Trump critics (Hayes, Maddow, O’Donnell) who have done well for MSNBC of late, and CNBC will hope that Smith proves a big enough name to turn around its low-performing 7pm hour. For CJR’s new magazine on election coverage, Adam Piore profiled MSNBC, and found that ratings are king. Corporations, one former executive told Piore, are “like sharks. They just move toward the money. That’s all they do. It’s not moral or immoral; it’s amoral.” Not so different from Shark Tank after all, then.
Below, more from NBCUniversal and the world of cable news:
- The Reid controversy: This week, Michael M. Grynbaum, of the Times, asked Reid about her blog’s homophobic posts. “It’s two years ago, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about that old blog,” she replied. “What I genuinely believe is that I truly care about the LGBT people in my own life.” One of those people, Rachel Maddow, praised Reid for her past apology, and endorsed her promotion. “Joy more than deserves this time slot and this kind of national platform,” Maddow told Grynbaum.
- A diversity goal: As part of the recent restructuring at NBCUniversal, Andy Lack, the head of NBC News, was ousted, and Cesar Conde, the former chairman of Telemundo, was tapped to replace him, with a slightly different portfolio of responsibilities. This week, Conde said that he’s working toward a goal of 50 percent of staff at NBCUniversal News Group being people of color. He did not specify a timeframe. Currently, a little over a quarter of the group’s 3,000 employees are people of color. The LA Times has more.
- Meanwhile, at Fox: This week, Tucker Carlson attacked Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic senator from Illinois and Purple Heart recipient who lost both her legs in Iraq, claiming that she “hates America.” (Not at all coincidentally, Duckworth is also in the running to be Joe Biden’s running mate.) Yesterday, Duckworth responded via an op-ed in the Times. “While I would put on my old uniform and go to war all over again to protect the right of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump to say offensive things on TV and Twitter,” she wrote, “I will also spend every moment I can from now until November fighting to elect leaders who would rather do good for their country than do well for themselves.”
Other notable stories:
- For CJR’s new magazine on election coverage, Sam Wang, a neuroscience professor at Princeton, explores our collective response to polling post-2016. “It isn’t that polls were inaccurate during the last presidential election,” Wang writes. “The problem is that our brains may have turned an emotional experience with polling into a lasting trauma.” Also for the magazine, Akintunde Ahmad asked friends in Oakland, his hometown, how they get their news. “Political coverage can’t be so self-absorbed that it forgets whom it’s really for,” he writes. And we asked reporters including the Journal’s Sabrina Siddiqui and the Post’s Dave Weigel how the pandemic has changed campaign coverage.
- Yesterday, on the final day of its term, the Supreme Court ruled that swathes of eastern Oklahoma are Indian Country, and delivered a complex verdict on Trump’s financial records: it ruled that New York prosecutors do have a right to request the documents as part of a criminal probe, but kicked Congressional subpoenas for the records back to a lower court, suggesting that lawmakers may have overreached. Voters will not see the documents before November. In other Trump-finances news, the president has blown past the deadline to publish his annual financial disclosure. And Michael Cohen, the former fixer who was jailed for funneling hush money on Trump’s behalf, then released from jail on medical grounds, is back in jail after refusing to sign a pledge that would have barred him from talking to reporters and publishing a planned book about Trump.
- Michael Pack—Trump’s recently-installed head of the US Agency for Global Media, who already ousted many of the agency’s top editors—plans not to approve visa extensions for its foreign journalists based in the US, NPR’s David Folkenflik reports. Matt Armstrong, a former member of the agency’s board, told NPR that some of the journalists could face severe “repercussions” if forced to return to their home countries.
- For CJR, Bill Grueskin argues that White House correspondents should be heard but not seen during press briefings. “It’s hard to see how the public benefits from seeing reporters on camera,” Grueskin writes, “and it’s inevitable that the attention of the cameras affects the questions the press asks, and the way the press asks them.”
- Time magazine is out with a striking new cover story on climate change. Justin Worland writes that 2020 “is our last, best chance to save the planet.” He asks, “Will a newfound respect for science and a fear of future shocks lead us to finally wake up, or will the desire to return to normal overshadow the threats lurking just around the corner?”
- NBC News obtained previously unpublished audio of the police investigation into the killing of Breonna Taylor, a medical technician in Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot by police during a raid on her home. Investigators took a “sympathetic approach” to their colleagues, NBC’s Laura Strickler, Lisa Riordan Seville, and Andrew Blankstein report.
- Last month, the Chicago Reporter used the Chicago Police Department’s API—a tool that gave journalists and researchers access to structured data on arrests—to disprove claims from the CPD about arrests it made during protests in May. The next day, the API was removed from the internet. Asraa Mustufa and David Eads have more.
- For CJR, Emily Bell reflects on news organizations’ complex relationship to the growing ad boycott of Facebook, a response to its lax hate-speech policies. Stuff, a news site in New Zealand, joined the boycott, but “advertising on Facebook for many publishers is not optional,” Bell writes. “It is access to the market more than it is brand promotion.”
- And the Washington Post Magazine published an excerpt from Margaret Sullivan’s new book, which is about the decline of local news. On Monday, at 4pm Eastern, Sullivan, a media columnist at the Post, will join Dan Rather and Kyle Pope, CJR’s editor and publisher, for a conversation about the book. You can register for the (virtual) event here.
ICYMI: YouTube’s Psychic WoundsJon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.