In a cozy radical-to-radical interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross on Wednesday, incoming MSNBC primetime host Chris Hayes announced he’s watched Bill O’Reilly “very, very, very little...I’m positive I have never watched an hour of the O’Reilly show.”
Hayes is going to pretend that Fox News and MSNBC aren’t really competitors at all: “I genuinely don’t think of myself as in competition with Bill O’Reilly.” They don’t have the same “pool of viewers.” Hayes sounded like he meant “gene pool.” He can’t “hate-watch” conservative programs like some liberals do:
GROSS: So your new show on MSNBC at 8:00 weekday nights is going to be on opposite Bill O'Reilly. How much have you watched his show over the years?
HAYES: I have watched his show very, very, very little. I will say this: I do not think - I do not think I've ever sat and watched an entire - I'm positive I have never watched an hour of the O'Reilly show. I have seen clips online when something happens.
You know, there are certain people - I have discovered this phenomenon in my life as a television host on MSNBC. There are certain people who really like to hate-watch things, which is to watch stuff that drives them bananas, and then, you know, and tweet about it. I'm not one of those people. You know, obviously what O'Reilly does is remarkably successful from a ratings perspective, but I also think - I think there is a tremendous amount of inherited wisdom about what works in cable news, some of which is perceptive and wise and a lot of which is just not grounded in any real rigorous analysis or empirical analysis.
And so when people say, well, you're up against Bill O'Reilly, I just - it's really unclear to me - it's genuinely unclear to me whether that's true in any real sense, which is to say if we are competing for the same pool of viewers. I genuinely don't think of myself as in competition with Bill O'Reilly or in relationship to him in any real way. I think of myself as in - having a relationship with the viewers, building a viewing audience that I have a relationship with and trying to grow that.
I mean believe me, I want as big an audience as possible, but the conventional wisdom about this being a competition with Bill O'Reilly is not necessarily accurate.
This sounds a lot like "Wolfgang Puck at Spago does not compete with Chef Boy-Ar-Dee in a can."
There were several other fascinating moments. When Gross asked Hayes, “Since you are live, would you mention a moment you wish you weren’t, and you could have edited something out?” Hayes completely skipped the NewsBusters-led brouhaha when he pronounced last Memorial Day weekend that he was “uncomfortable” applying the word “hero” to soldiers “because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.” He issued an apology for that one, but he didn’t want to bring it up, and Gross didn’t breathe a word of it.
Instead, Hayes talked about how the actor Wallace Shawn wasn’t as boring to viewers as he feared.
Finally, there was the discussion over what radicalized Hayes, and it was just the Bush years. In his latest book, he called for a radicalized upper-middle class:
GROSS: Would you put yourself in the radicalized upper-middle-class? (Laughter)
HAYES: I think I got radicalized before I became a member of the upper-middle-class. (Laughter)
Gross also asked about his Lean Forward ad on the bicycle:
GROSS: And can you still do that? Is your face too familiar for you to bike into work now?
HAYES: Oh, no. I could except, sadly, my bike was stolen.
The show began and ended with tributes. Here is how Gross began her first question, by praising Hayes:
So I want to thank you for being able to make politics and policy lively and entertaining and serious at the same time, like funny and serious at the same time, and really, like, interesting. And some of the subjects you talk about, they're really, they're rough policy issues, and it's hard to make it really engaging, and you seem to have a natural talent for doing that.
So did you grow up thinking that, you know, policy can actually be really super-interesting? Do you know what I mean? Like, because a lot of people grow up thinking, "oh God, that's so dull, I don't want to hear about it."
And this is how it ended, with Hayes paying the tribute back:
GROSS: Well, Chris Hayes, thank you so much for talking with us. I wish you good luck with your new show.
HAYES: Thank you. I can't tell you what a massive fan I am of your show. So thanks for having me on.
GROSS: Oh, that means so much to me. Thank you.
MSNBC is now advertising the Hayes show on NPR.org, so the mutual liberal back-scratching is intense, on and off the air.