How left-wing is The Washington Post? That they devote a large chunk of Friday’s Style section to a column by Anna Holmes celebrating MSNBC’s appointment of radical leftist Melissa Harris-Perry as a weekend talk-show host. It’s quite hilarious that Holmes never quite places Harris-Hyphen on the left, or mentions her regular column in the hard-left magazine The Nation, and quotes a bevy of left-wing blogs and websites without labeling them either.
The standout quote is Alternet’s Jennifer Pozner hyperventilating that Harris-Perry’s “accomplishment” (er, appointment) is “unheard of,” that she "may just help revolutionize mainstream news analysis" as “a black feminist, anti-racist thought leader given roughly the same kind of job as Bill O’Reilly, within commercial media?” As if O’Reilly was relegated to weekend mornings.
Holmes started by noting Pozner described her as the "first black progressive woman to ever solo-host her own news and politics show on a major corporate TV news outlet.” This skips over Gwen Ifill on PBS’s “Washington Week” since 1999 (hence the “corporate”) or that Soledad O’Brien debuted with a show on MSNBC at its very beginning in 1996. Maybe these women deny that Gwen and Soledad are “progressive.” They mean the first “progressive” who won’t pretend in any way to be objective. They were “classically trained.”
“Yes, this is something new, but I don’t want to divorce it from a trajectory,” says Harris-Perry, quick to acknowledge the contributions that such longtime, more classically trained broadcast journalists as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and PBS’s Gwen Ifill have made to the changing shades of national news.
Then came the corporate shills:
I’m just going to say that we want this network to be the most vibrant, interesting, thoughtful, provocative and colorful channel out there,” adds Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s president. “Others are welcome to judge what this all means.”
Then the lefty blogger shills:
“It’s huge,” says Latoya Peterson, the District-based editor of the Web site Racialicious, which analyzes pop culture and politics through the prism of progressive racial politics. “Not many African American women are given the chance to anchor their own shows or carve out a space to have really intelligent racial and gender conversations based on the strength of their intellect and opinion. It’s almost a transformational opportunity — it’s hers to mold and shape. It’s kind of unprecedented.” [Then came Pozner’s O’Reilly quote.]
...Yes, says Hub Brown, associate dean at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School for Public Communications and a former broadcast journalist himself. “I’m not at all objective when it comes to Melissa Harris-Perry because I’m rooting for her, but I suspect she knows how colossal this is,” he says. “She is coming at a great time for the country, for people of color and for women, and I think she’s going to start a lot of conversations that haven’t been happening on television.”
What about some conservative criticism? There's no space for that, when you need to go back to the MSNBC publicity:
Griffin, impressed with her smarts, decided last fall to groom her for bigger things.
“She had it,” said the MSNBC president, talking by phone from his office in New York’s Rockefeller Center last week. “What you see a little bit at other channels is executives hiring brand names, thinking they’re going to get big numbers and a big audience, and it not working. What we’re doing here is building from within.”
Harris-Perry says that, until Griffin approached her in October, she’d never really considered hosting her own show. But her best friend, Blair L.M. Kelley, who has known her since their graduate school days at Duke University in the early aughts, says that, despite a career focused on scholarship, Harris-Perry’s ascension to the anchor’s desk feels like an inevitability.
“I remember sitting in class and thinking, ‘Who is this tiny little woman down at the end of the table who is talking as if she’s on television, spouting out facts and weaving things together so beautifully?’ ” says Kelley, an associate professor and director of graduate programs in the history department at North Carolina State. “I’d never seen anything like it before. No one was filming us, of course, but it seemed like someone should be.”
Then, more liberal praise:
It was also a rebuke of sorts to the rest of the cable news landscape, which, maddeningly and inexplicably, continues to hew to the middle-aged, white and shouty male demographic. Two weeks ago, the political news blog ThinkProgress reported that American cable news channels covering female reproductive issues that week featured almost twice as many male commentators as women. And, as Pozner notes, in 2005, the National Urban League released a study of the racial diversity on American Sunday morning talk shows that was so discouraging, the organization titled it “Sunday Morning Apartheid.”
“If cable is to now be competitive, executives have to really embrace this whole idea of a multiplicity of voices,” says Ron Simon, a curator of TV and radio at New York’s Paley Center for Media with a special focus on news. “Melissa’s influence and success might just open up the field. It’s an especially nice counterpoint to the older, male-dominated shows you see on the weekends, like ‘Face the Nation’ and ‘Meet the Press.’”
Holmes ends up noting Harris-Perry was greeted after the show by her husband James Perry and her daughter Parker, but can’t do enough deep, deep biography to note that Perry is her second husband, and that Parker is the child of her first husband, Dennis Lacewell. Strangely, Melissa Harris-Hyphen divorced Lacewell in 2005 and kept his (half) name until marrying Perry in 2010.
Harris-Perry was last featured in the Post on January 24, in an article by Krissah Thompson and Vanessa Williams heaping praise on Michelle Obama (and some trash on NASCAR voters):
In follow-up interviews, black women say the first lady's racial and gender identity are essential to the deep connection they feel they have to her. They call her a role model, someone familiar to them - like a sister or aunt.
That emotional stake makes watching Obama navigate the world stage both "thrilling and terrifying," says Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of political science at Tulane University who has written aboutthe first lady's impact on black women.
"Every time she flawlessly performs her role as first lady just by being who she is, she shows how extraordinary and exceptional we are," says Harris-Perry, who is in her late 30s. "It is really fun to watch. It feels like, yes! Oh, this can never be denied.
"But every time she is booed at a NASCAR rally, the terrifying reality emerges that it will take so little for the love and admiration of Michelle Obama to go away. Anything she does that is construed as negative or stereotype-reinforcing will undoubtedly be held against us."