MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid Talks Clinton, Trump and the Challenge of Being a ‘Sunny Pessimist’
She’s a bright light in a dark and dismal election year. Last May, MSNBC launched the weekend political gab show AM Joy—anchored by live wire journalist Joy-Ann Reid—and ratings in the timeslot shot up 78 percent. She’s also the network’s go-to gal when its primetime superstars Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow need a break. But there’s no break for Reid. When she goes home, she’s mom to three kids.
This is your moment to shine, and you’ve seized it. Did you ever think this would happen after MSNBC canceled The Reid Report?
Never. I did not expect to get another shot at my own show. I’d gone back to my national-correspondent gig and I was getting out there, digging it and doing it. TV is ephemeral. You do it for a season, then you don’t. But while you have the floor, it’s your obligation to put the best information out there and to try to have some fun with it. People are feeling really nervous and confused right now, so we try to bring a little joy.
People are also increasingly frustrated—furious, in fact—with the media. Will there be a backlash when this election is over? Will some careers not survive?
The thing I hear most—on the street, in airports, in restaurants—is the incredible unhappiness people have with the media. They are very frustrated with us and the way we’ve handled this presidential election, particularly those on the side of Hillary Clinton who feel she’s been treated unfairly by us and believe that we’ve given Donald Trump a huge free pass. Right now there’s a lot of debate about that within the media world, a lot of talk about what it all means for the future. Of course, the media isn’t a monolith. Journalists come from many different points of view and backgrounds, from all camps and ideologies, but I can tell you that there is a fair amount of soul-searching going on right now. And there will be a lot more when this election is over.
What’s with all the Teflon interviews these days? No matter what you ask many of the political surrogates, they switch to the topic they want to talk about and it results in nothing but dead air. You are terrific at shutting down an interview that’s going nowhere, but many of your colleagues end up being held hostage.
Listen, I’ve worked on political campaigns and I’ve been a press aid, so I get what the surrogates are doing. When you go out as a surrogate it’s your job to get your talking points on the air, no matter what. I bring these people on with the intention of getting answers to my questions and if I allow them to deliver nothing, then I’ve wasted the viewer’s time. We as journalists have an obligation to insist on an answer to our questions.
Then why keep booking these same people?
Here’s the problem: The Trump campaign has only a very limited number of surrogates. They’re not going to send Kellyanne Conway to every show, so we’re left with those who are available. Trump has had a struggle getting elected officials to speak on his behalf. You’re not seeing the Marco Rubios, the John McCains or any former presidents getting out there. With Hillary, there’s a lot more to select from. They can give us senators, governors or even a president. Also, Trump is sending out a lot of surrogates who are not seasoned spokespeople. I understand their struggle but I also have my job to do. Anybody willing to come on TV and defend his or her candidate has my respect. I do believe that politics is a noble profession. People in the political world take a lot less money than they could make in the private sector, so I respect the pursuit. I respect their eagerness to advance a cause. Good for them. But we need to impart real information. We’re choosing a president here.
And there’s no happy ending to the Clinton vs. Trump battle, right? However it turns out, half the nation will be pissed.
There’s usually a kind of honeymoon that attends the end of a presidential election, no matter who wins. But no one will emerge from this one feeling euphoric. There won’t be that hopefulness and pageantry and sense of America being renewed that we usually have, if only for a moment. And how ironic that this is happening in a year when we might see our first female president.
Each 24-hour news cycle is more insane than the last. Will this chaos pass or is this the new normal?
We’re living in a fractured world that has been changed by reality TV and social media. Americans now digest a kind of coarseness that would have been shocking to them 10 or even five years ago. We are definitely not going back. Those days of only three TV channels and the “Voice of God” newscasters are long gone. We now have infinite access and you can block out all the information you don’t want and that has resulted in a lot of divisiveness and tunnel vision. That’s why I make it a point to stay open to everything. I have a policy that, if I’m going to talk about something, I want to see it. I want to know fully what it is. So, if we’re talking about ISIS terror attacks, I want to see the video, even if that video is so horrifying that it will never leave my mind. I remember seeing the footage of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive. Not an image you can erase but it was important that I take it in. And with all of these cases of police violence, I read the autopsies and the police reports and all the sad, gory details. These are the best of times and the worst of times and I love having the platform to participate in the conversation, even when it’s a front-row seat to some of the things that frighten me most.
Does any of this get to you emotionally? Do you ever fall apart under the weight of it all?
Our job on air is to interpret what’s happening in a dispassionate way, but when I get home, the emotions are flying—especially during the Trayvon Martin case, when I would get questions from my teenagers like, “Mom, why can people kill us?” Now I get, “Why do people hate Hillary Clinton?” The fact that kids are dealing with all this hatred and violence and death at their age is kind of depressing. But I do have hope for our republic.
[Laughs] I consider myself a sunny pessimist.
AM Joy airs Saturdays and Sundays, 10am/9c, MSNBC