My father cast his first vote in a presidential election in 1968, in New York, for comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. During Nixon’s impeachment in 1974, he was in the hospital for leukemia treatments; he ordered a television specifically to his room to watch the news, and told me that he remembered getting a spinal tap and thinking that the headache he’d later have would prevent him from watching the proceedings. He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He let me read whatever I wanted as a child and raised my sister and I on a steady diet of the original Woodstock soundtrack; he once chided me for saying I preferred George Bush over Michael Dukakis because, like me, Bush did not care for broccoli. Why on earth does he watch so much MSNBC?
This question has plagued me since 2016. Every time I came home, the television would be tuned to the cable news network: Chris Hayes’s adenoidal pronouncements would fill the space during dinner; Rachel Maddow would gently alarm me as I tried to read quietly on the sofa. One evening, my father graciously ceded the television to my sister and me, but I could see him silently watching MSNBC on his phone after we turned on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
As an actual news source, MSNBC is a nightmare cycle of the same basic points and facts, repeated ad nauseam, feeding the 24-hour news cycle by presenting the same information in different, more distressing ways, minute by minute. (In the early hours of the morning, when it has run out of shows through which to do this, the network shifts to repeats of earlier coverage.)
Still, armed with the understanding that my father is a smart man, I called him on Monday night to ask about experiencing this election cycle through the blue glow of MSNBC. Below is a condensed and lightly edited transcript of our conversation, which included a 20-minute interlude about just how good A Star Is Born was. For your sake, and for the privacy of my family, that detail has been omitted.
JEZBEL: How do you feel about the midterms?
DAVID REYNOLDS: I’m scared shitless. I’m very afraid. The polls all say that the Democrats are going to win the House, but the polls also said Hillary was going to win, and that wasn’t right.
How do you think the tenor of cable news has changed? Do the pundits seem defeated?
Well, I only watch MSNBC. They don’t seem defeated; they seem pretty confident the Democrats will win.
What are your preferred news sources aside from this hysterical drivel slash information?
The Nation. Mother Jones. The Atlantic. Occasionally the Times. Notice I did not list the internet there.
Do you read the astute and incisive political analysis found on Jezebel.com?
I have read Jezebel and I have read the political analysis on it, not only written by you. [Editor’s note: Thank you, Mr. Reynolds.]
How much MSNBC do you think you watch?
I’ve cut down quite a bit recently. Too much. I cut down because I was getting tired of it.
What were you tired of?
It’s just the same thing over and over again, but I enjoy all the Republicans on there that have now converted, like Nicole Wallace. She has a good sense of humor and she sort of laughs at how ridiculous the president is. I really shouldn’t watch it except for Ari Melber. I don’t understand his taste in music, but that’s neither here nor there.
You lived through Nixon’s impeachment. Would you have watched MSNBC if it had existed back then?
It was very different back then. The evening news was 15 minutes and that’s it.
Do you think it’s better now?
No. It was probably better back then. It would be better if it were not a 24-hour news cycle and it would be better if it weren’t focused strictly on American politics, which it is primarily. There are all sorts of folks that would be interesting to hear from that they never bring on. They used to have people from the Nation and they’ve all gone away. I don’t know if they’ve been replaced, but they’re just not there anymore.
What do you think is missing?
We’re missing people who have different views and have really thought things through, and they’re on the left, but they’re not simply saying the same thing that everybody else is saying. For example: My guess is that after 9/11, they probably didn’t bring on Susan Sontag, who basically said that she didn’t think the perpetrators were cowards, which got all sorts of people upset, but she was right. There are three historians that they use as standard: Doris Kearns Goodwin; Michael Beschloss; and I can’t remember the third. I think Jill Lepore would be good. They used to have David Remnick on, but not anymore. I recommend that you read Eric Foner, who would have very interesting things to say.
Thanks, dad. Back to MSNBC: How’s the coverage? Is it centrist? Could it be more to the left?
They could have more diversity. They used to have Melissa Harris-Perry, she had a really good show. There are all sorts of folks out there that have probably thought through things more deeply than some of the other people they have on, because the folks they have on all basically say the same thing over and over again every night. You know the script. It’s sort of enjoyable to watch these Republicans realize how bad their party has been and is, but there’s a lack of depth to the coverage. I watch it as much for entertainment as anything else.
The coverage is to the left, but it’s a shallow left in some ways. CNN is probably really centrist. Take someone like Anderson Cooper, who talks about giving you all the view points, well, that’s a type of objectivity. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best sort. Don’t distort the other side, but you can have a viewpoint.
Do you think you’d feel better if you didn’t watch so much MSNBC?
At this point, I’d probably feel better if I didn’t watch it, so I’m going to put the football game on.
Will you stop watching so much cable news after the midterms are over?
If they win, I want to watch what they do to Trump and if they lose, I want to know what the hell he’s doing.
Correction: My sister politely pointed out in the group text that my father likely voted in New York, where he lived, and not Pennsylvania, as I erroneously thought. Jezebel regrets the error.