On Friday night’s All Things Considered, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik -- best known for ripping into Rupert Murdoch and his corporate empire -- devoted five minutes to promoting weekend MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry. The segment carried the online headline “MSNBC Gets Academic: Meet Host Prof. Harris-Perry.”
You can tell it’s a puff piece when they ignore how MSNBC is crushed by Fox News in the ratings: “While she says she refuses to check on her weekly ratings, her audiences are markedly bigger than can cram into any lecture hall,” Folkenflik said. Talk about setting the bar low. NPR began by playing up her brains:
ROBERT SIEGEL, anchor: Cable news channels sometimes treat academics gingerly, as fragile curiosities or even Ivory Tower targets for ridicule. Well, Melissa Harris-Perry is getting different treatment. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, she is a new MSNBC host with an unusual pedigree.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Melissa Harris-Perry commutes 1,300 miles each week to host her own show on MSNBC. It runs live for two hours every Saturday and every Sunday morning. In her daily life, she is a full-time political science professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where she is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South.
Folkenflik briefly noted Harris-Perry wrote for the “liberal” magazine The Nation in addition to “left-leaning” MSNBC, but her new gig is about her mixed-race and Mormon background. For added boost, he turned to former CBS and CNN reporter Deborah Potter:
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: I think that the opportunity to have a public forum during the year that we either will or will not reelect America's first black president, I could've said no to it if it was an 8:00 show, but there's no way I could say no to it on the weekends.
FOLKENFLIK: The legacy of President Obama is personal for Harris-Perry. Her father is black and she self-identifies as black, too. But then, her mother, who is white, was raised an observant member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Harris-Perry says she's fascinated.
HARRIS-PERRY: Maybe more than anything in part because my people were Mormon pioneers, the history of oppression and rejection of Mormon people - Mormon people are not elitists. Mormon people were ejected because of their identity.
FOLKENFLIK: To former CBS and CNN correspondent Deborah Potter, Harris-Perry strikes a singular tone.
DEBORAH POTTER: Because she's used to being in the front of the class, I think her delivery on cable is that of an authority. She addresses the audience often as someone who knows what she's talking about -- and should because she's the teacher.
Ugh. Hail Melissa, full of depth. Then came the pure publicity from MSNBC president Phil Griffin:
PHIL GRIFFIN: In a 140-character Twitter world, the rebound is depth. People yearn for depth. And Melissa is an academic. That's what they do.
FOLKENFLIK: Harris-Perry leavens her left-liberal impulses with a discursive, civil style, yet Griffin says her strong voice emerges loud and clear.
GRIFFIN: I think the passionate host is winning because there are so many different outlets today that to break through the clutter you can't be cold and arm's length. You've got to love what you're talking about. You got to make it exciting and interesting.
Then came a little splash of balance, based on Harris-Perry’s “genocide and imperialism” address on the weekend before July 4 (which we exposed here ). They aired clips of Bill O’Reilly, acknowledged as the “top-rated figure in cable news,” taking her to task on Fox. “Liberal people tend to want the government to solve problems to make the country a more humane place. But far-left Americans often don't like the country.”
The story wrapped up with the professor’s rebuttal and some "affirmative action" uplift for their discursive Diana Ross:
FOLKENFLIK: Harris-Perry argues he's got it exactly wrong - that it is fundamentally American to use free speech to acknowledge the country's shortcomings. Aside from having her own soapbox to do so, Harris-Perry says she has little but ego at stake. She considers her main career still to be at Tulane, and just bought a fixer-upper in a Katrina-scarred section of New Orleans.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ten years from now, being able to look back and say, you know, I did a good job will be if there are a lot more little black girls anchoring shows, like, and all different kinds of shows, right? Not just liberal talk shows or, you know, whatever we are - point of view shows, but all of it.