Politico's media reporter Dylan Byers may not be paid under the table by MSNBC. But his new profile of noontime host Jane Wagner suggests she's far more trendy and influential than her ratings suggest (she's far behind Fox, and even behind CNN). But to Byers, she's subtle, respectful, effective, and yet carefree and easygoing -- and he is a publicist's dream.
There is one tough paragraph of quote in between the cotton-candy mountains: "Ninety-five percent of Alex's show is Democratic pablum fed directly from Obama For America HQ in Chicago." a Republican strategist said. "While it occasionally has insightful guests, the thrust of the show is snide Democratic elites speaking condescendingly to viewers." Byers, on the other hand, is drinking the liberal Kool-Aid, and shamelessly uses Wagner's grateful guests to praise her (so they can keep getting invitations):
Wagner's role in this discussion is as subtle and understated as her show's influence. As host, she sees herself as the moderator, and there is a near-unanimous feeling among guests that her ability to facilitate - rather than dominate - the conversation is what makes it feel genuine and organic.
"I hate to besmirch an entire profession, but the vanity of most cable TV hosts is pretty significant. Alex gets that the host's job is to make everyone look good in one segment," Josh Tyrangiel, the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and a weekly guest, told POLITICO. "She's quite generous, in the way the best hosts are. There's a lot more alley than oop."
"Alex understands that her job is to communicate, push back, lead the group - but also to let people flex their muscles," said S.E. Cupp, a conservative political commentator and frequent guest. "To Alex's credit, we all feel very comfortable stretching on that show. I've never felt afraid to go ahead and put my opinions out there."
"Alex lets everyone talk, she creates an environment where people respect each other's opinions," said Alice Stewart, the former press secretary for Rick Santorum's presidential campaign. "Alex sets that tone."
Part of what makes Wagner an effective host is her carefree and easygoing manner. This goes beyond mere informality, which is also an indelible trademark of MSNBC's 6 to 9 a.m. program, "Morning Joe." Wagner's hour has a youthful energy not offered anywhere else in the network's lineup, to say nothing of CNN and FOX News. When she trips over a word, she mocks herself. When she introduces guests, she may spontaneously apply a nickname. Discovering the head from a large Kangaroo costume backstage, she promptly put it on and posted it to Twitter.
"She has a generational and Internet-y language that you don't see a lot on TV," BuzzFeed's Smith explained. "It's a tone, a sense of humor, a politely absurdist take on amusement."
When you're back in third place, sell yourself as a Twitter personality. The story's headline was "MSNBC's Alex Wagner breaks the old mold." Over the last nine months, MSNBC has averaged 340,000 total viewers in the noon hour. That’s compared to 469,000 for the noon segment of CNN Newsroom with Suzanne Malveaux, and 956,000 for Happening Now on Fox News with Jon Scott and Jenna Lee.
Byers is transparent enough to explain that Politico writers are a regular on the Wagner show, another reason for all this bubbly publicity: "The show — on which POLITICO reporters frequently appear — is a sharp departure from the traditional daytime cable news models of one-on-one interviews and talking point-driven debates."
Byers also regurgitates the promotional language of MSNBC's own staff:
"We don't actually drink on the show, we're not Kathie Lee," Dana Haller, the executive producer, told POLITICO, shortly after the aforementioned guests had appeared on a recent show. "But at one point, it clicked to us that we wanted this show to be a cocktail hour. Alex would be the hostess -- she would make sure that all of her guests were having a great time and that they all contributed to the conversation, just like a proper dinner party or luncheon."
...Wagner is also widely respected and admired throughout the network, where she is seen as a rising star.
"I've watched a lot of shiny pennies come along, so it's nice to see a talented woman like her," Mika Brzezinski, the "Morning Joe" co-host, told POLITICO....
[Phil] Griffin, the network president, said Wagner "breaks the mold of anchor we've had in there for the last 15 years."
"This is a network that is built around personalities, and that is true for Alex," he told POLITICO. "The show may look informal, and we do want that sense of bringing original ideas out from all the guests - but she drives it. She is the driver. You can't have an hourlong show without someone who is directing the conversation, and pushing it deeper."
One anonymous guest praised her a bit, while trashing Chris Matthews, which could not be published in Politico without Wagner expressing "adamant" admiration for the 5 o-clock loudmouth:
"She's not a policy wonk, and she's not a journalist, but she's smart, people like her, and she's pleasant," said one guest. "She doesn't need to own it, she's happy to let other people talk. It's not like Chris Matthews, where he is going to start yelling at you, and that's probably a good thing."
(For the record, Wagner is adamant in her adoration for the veteran Hardball host. "I should have a picture of Chris Matthews on my desk," she said. "I adore - I don't think adore is a strong enough word for him. He has been an incredible supporter of the show, and he is very influential in terms of the heights we aspire to.")