NY Times Hails Chris Hayes, 'Generation Y's Wonk Prince' of the Morning

You really have to hand it to the publicists at MSNBC. Just as Politico’s Dylan Byers polished the pumps of midday anchor Alex Wagner, now Alex Williams at The New York Times is spraying the Armor All on Chris Hayes.

Get a load of this sentence: “In less than a year on television (and with a chirpy voice, a weakness for gesticulation and a tendency to drop honors-thesis words like ‘signifier’ into casual conversation), Mr. Hayes has established himself as Generation Y’s wonk prince of the morning political talk-show circuit.”

The story’s headline is “Chris Hayes Has Arrived With ‘Up.’” Williams began with the hip cred: that leftist punk musician joked to a crowd that they’d have to leave the club so they could rise early for Chris Hayes: “He was getting used to surging ratings and frequent mentions on The Huffington Post. But a shout-out from Ted Leo? He had arrived.”

We’re told “Like Deadheads or Trekkies, fans of the program cluster under a common nickname: Uppers.”

Just like in the Byers piece on Wagner, we’re told the Hayes show is a Twitter phenomenon. "Even so, the program’s feed  is not just an online clubhouse for New York media types like Lizz Winstead, a creator of “The Daily Show,” and members of Le Tigre, the too-cool electro-pop band. Cher and Chad Ochocinco have chimed in, too."

Just like that piece, MSNBC hands the willing reporter some shard of the ratings that are said to be significant, starting with the idea that the Hayes show is an improvement over MSNBC's previous ratings, which isn't exactly a compliment.

While MSNBC’s overall ratings dipped in May along with those of other news channels, Mr. Hayes’s program was one of the few to surge, rising about 15 percent in total viewers over MSNBC’s programming in the time slot from the previous year. Since Dec. 26, it has been No. 1 on average in its Sunday time slot on cable news channels among viewers ages 18 to 34, according to Nielsen figures provided by the network. Despite much of the country being in bed when it is on, “Up” has occasionally flirted with the ratings of prime-time programs like “The Rachel Maddow Show” (hosted by Mr. Hayes’s mentor) among those 18-to-34 viewers.

Just like the Byers piece on Wagner, the other MSNBC personnel are brought in to provide spit and polish:

Ms. Maddow said on her program that “Up” was “the best news show on TV, including this one.”

“Chris is the antidote to the anti-intellectual posing that has characterized the last decade in cable news,” she wrote in an e-mail. She added: “No one else in cable is even trying long-form, off-the-news-cycle dives like him — let alone succeeding at them as he is. He’s giving the network Sunday shows a run for their money.”

His influence goes beyond ratings. Rolling Stone listed him in a recent Hot issue. On Esquire’s Web site, Charles P. Pierce called him “the fastest rising star in your cable teevee firmament.”

To The New York Times, it's somehow remarkable that an MSNBC host would be praised by Rolling Stone and Charlie "I Live For Ted Kennedy" Pierce. The Times pretends that this show is somehow not a left-wing hootenanny, that it's great because it's not "Crossfire," which of course, made room for conservatives.

“Up” comes off as a rebuke to traditional cable shout-fests like CNN’s late “Crossfire.” Thanks to its early weekend time slot, the program has the freedom to unwind over two hours each Saturday and Sunday. Guests are encouraged to go deep into the issues of the week, and not try to score cheap-shot points to win the debate...

“The first and foremost important rule of the show: we’re not on television — no talking points, no sound bites,” [Hayes] said, his hair still a bed-head tangle and his suit collar askew. “We have a lot of time for actual conversation. So actually listen, actually respond.”

But next to the "wonk prince" lingo, the preciousness really unfolds as Hayes name-checks the Marxist philosopher Jurgen Habermas:

At a table of wonks, Mr. Hayes, who studied the philosophy of mathematics at Brown, came off as the wonkiest as he deconstructed the budgetary implications of tax arbitrage. Opinions were varied and passionate, but there was no sniping, no partisan grandstanding.

“I like the fact that it’s dialogic, small-d ‘democratic,’ ” Mr. Hayes said of his show. “We’re all sitting at the same table, we’re creating the public sphere in miniature. I was going to say, ‘We’re going to model Habermasian communicative action,’ but that’s excessively pretentious.”

This is a New York Times piece, so there is no rebuttal from conservatives. At the very end of the piece, Williams laments the "food fight" over Hayes announcing on Memorial Day weekend that he didn't like "hero" terminology for our nation's veterans:

Over Memorial Day weekend, for example, Mr. Hayes took his first banana-cream pie in the food fight that is contemporary American political discourse. Dissecting the political rhetoric used in regard to American veterans, he explained that he was “uncomfortable” with the word “hero” as it is tossed around by politicians. “It seems to me it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war,” he said.

FoxNews.com assailed him for “stupidity.” The commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Richard DeNoyer, called the remarks “reprehensible and disgusting.”

Mr. Hayes issued a lengthy apology before the next week’s program (“I fell short in a crucial moment”). But in the broadcast that followed, nothing changed.

“I talk off-script for four hours a week, about very sensitive, complex matters,” he said two weeks later. “That comes with the territory.”

That section could have been headlined "When Doves Cry, by Wonk Prince."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis