So far, MSNBC’s “new” program presented by Joy Reid is arguably to the public discourse what the 1950’s The Donna Reed Show was to housewifery: nice, middle of the road, safe, conventional television. Of course, one was a TV sitcom and the other is a news-oriented program, but the main difference between the two eponymous performers is in form, not content. While Reed was lily white, Reid is Black, and as such at this time of urban uprisings she is intended to bestow street cred and legitimacy on her network.
It’s worth remembering that after almost half a year, The Reid Out is replacing MSNBC’s Hardball program that until early March was hosted by windbag Chris Matthews, whose shelf life had long expired. On Feb. 7, 2020, Matthews spewed this loony rant on the air during a post-Democratic debate analysis panel: “I have my own views of the word socialist and… they go back to the early 1950s. I have an attitude about them. I remember the Cold War. I have an attitude toward Castro. I believe if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park and I might have been one of the ones getting executed. And certain other people would be there cheering.”
Thus far, Joy Reid’s move from her weekend AM Joy spot to a coveted daily primetime perch is falling far short of any hopes one might have of a host and program providing a fresh, independent perspective in this time of upheaval.
So what have the corporate geniuses at Comcast who own MSNBC replaced Hardball with? Thus far, Joy Reid’s move from her weekend AM Joy spot to a coveted daily primetime perch is falling far short of any hopes one might have of a host and program providing a fresh, independent perspective in this time of upheaval. Her stale July 20 debut and the follow up show proved to be more of the same, perpetuating the same old MSNBC narrative, instead of breaking new ground. The Reid Out has added literally nothing original to the same old same old MSNBC formula. Do we need yet another program with tirades mocking Donald Trump’s “mask-erade”? How many times - including those of us who share Reid’s POV - do we have to hear this repetitive stuff again and again, which is constantly replayed on MSNBC from Morning Joe through 11th Hour?
Even worse are most of the guests on Reid redux, as she trots out one Democratic hack after another. Her very first guest on The Reid Out was that colossal bore Joe Biden, the mouse that snored. But to be fair, it is a "get" to have the current presumptive Democratic nominee for president on one's program, especially a debut, even if there's absolutely obviously nothing cutting edge or original about this.
But her second guest tipped Reid's hand and shows where her handlers are presumably intending where this boring show will go: Hillary Clinton, who is the personification of yesterday's news and is regularly, perpetually on hand to hawk her latest book, film, tap dance or whutevah, like someone who lives in sheer terror that five minutes will pass without her being the center of attention. The Clintons epitomize that unwelcome guest who overstays his/her welcome and - enabled by the Reids of the world - won’t just go away and leave the rest of us alone. It speaks volumes about one’s news judgment (or lack of) and bookers if your idea of a big “get” for a premiere episode is any of the DLC Clintons.
As Jeff Cohen - arguably America’s leading media critic and analyst - Facebooked on July 20: “Tonight is the premiere of a new MSNBC show hosted by Joy Reid, one of the many go-slow, yes-no, status quo corporate Democratic voices on MSNBC. Her exciting ‘progressive’ guests tonight: Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Don’t expect tough questioning on what Clinton and Biden have done over the decades to address ‘systemic racism.’ …I laugh whenever I hear how MSNBC and Fox News are ‘bookends’ – with Fox being right-wing and Comcast-owned MSNBC being ‘left-wing.’ There is some symmetry, however: Fox is the network of corporatists from the right wing of the GOP and MSNBC the network of corporatists from the right wing of the Dem Party.”
On July 21 I literally fell asleep trying to sit through Reid’s second program. Most of The Reid Out's other guests so far have been Democratic Party Black hacks - Eric Holder, Sen. Kamala Harris (California’s former Attorney General), and the like. Let’s consider the role Holder played at the Justice Department. According to muckraker Matt Taibbi in his 2014 book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, following the financial collapse of 2008:
“No high-ranking executive from any financial institution has gone to jail, not one, for any of the systemic crimes that wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth,” he wrote. But these white-collar crimes took place downtown, on Wall Street, not uptown, in Harlem. As Taibbi put it in his book: “Too-big-to-fail, meet-small-enough-to-jail.”
Taibbi blames much of these disparities on Attorney General Eric Holder, who, when he was deputy attorney general in the Clinton Administration, formulated the theory of “collateral consequences” for charging corporations in 1999. In essence, this notion holds that when considering corporate wrongdoing, prosecutors “may take into account” how a trial and conviction might affect a firm’s employees and the possible impact upon the overall economy. According to Taibbi, this has resulted in fewer and fewer prosecutions, and fines for corporations - but no jail time for CEOs.
Taibbi presents contrasting court cases to make his point. For instance, a smalltime drug offender got imprisoned at Rikers Island for possessing half a joint, while HSBC laundered “up to $7 billion for Central American drug cartels” but is merely fined “$1.9 billion”— about “five weeks of revenue” for the bank, he wrote. He also noted that mothers who were trying to feed their kids got the book thrown at them for welfare fraud, but when Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Countrywide, and other banks committed massive mortgage fraud, no one went to jail and no CEO paid a fine out of his own pocket.
Of course, Reid didn’t ask Holder any impertinent questions like why he let the fiscal fiascoes who devastated the world economy go Scot-free? (If she did, Reid wouldn’t be able to book them again on her program - assuming it survives in the ratings game.) To be fair, on the second The Reid Out there was a segment with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a liberal Democrat and member of the Congressional "Squad" (who, I believe, was the only one of the quartet who did not endorse self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders during the presidential Democratic primary race).
But none of the new African American voices raised to the forefront by the current surge of protest have appeared on Reid's show, which just rehashes the same old MSNBC narrative we hear over and over again. So far it’s the opposite of Star Trek’s opening, as The Reid Out “boringly goes where every pundit has gone before.”
The impression I have so far is that eyeing the recent uprisings, MSNBC is trying to cash in and tap into a certain demographic by filling its empty 4:00 p.m. time slot (after blabbermouth Chris Matthews' long overdue departure) with a Black woman - but one who hews closely to the centrist Democratic Party line. Reid seems to be being used in a classic case of cooptation, so MSNBC looks culturally sensitive and cutting edge, while it's actually spewing the same old same old party line, but with Black cover.
I’m not saying that the Black (and other) centrists and moderates we’ve heard from a million times already shouldn’t appear on one of the few primetime cable news programs hosted by an African American woman. But if The Reid Out really wants to stand out from the crowd, this fledgling program needs to invite new Black and other leaders emerging from this wave of activism and give equal airtime to the voices of change, such as Black Lives Matters’ Melina Abdullah, The Rising Majority’s Nikita Mitchell, Nicky Daniels of Louisiana’s Sleep is for the Rich Gun Club (which advocates for African Americans’ right to armed self-defense), Confederate flag downer Bree Newsome, and so on. Hey, how about having one of them thar “anarchists” we hear so much about on the air to explain to us all what the heck is going on way up yonder in Portland?
Diversity does not solely refer to ethnicity but also to diverse viewpoints, as well as to what Dr. King called “the contents of one’s character.” As Monty Python used to say: “And now for something completely different.” The times demand it. Right now, American journalism needs more radical John Reeds, and less centrist Joy Reids. Let 1,000 flowers bloom.
Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/reviewer and media critic who wrote Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States and co-authored The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.