Tonight, Gwen Ifill and my grandmother will be watching Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Joy Reid will be there, too.
“I’m trying to channel Gwen Ifill’s spirit, my mother’s spirit and the ancestors’ spirits,” Joy Reid told The Root during an interview about her new show, The ReidOut. “Growing up, watching the news and being a news junkie, I was being told what the world was about by almost exclusively white men.”
Gwen Ifill, the first Black woman to host a nationally televised news broadcast, has been on Reid’s mind a lot lately. Ifill passed away in 2016 and my grandmother passed away in the late ‘80s. But when The ReidOut debuts at 7 p.m. ET Monday night on MSNBC, all the Black people who ever lived will gather around the television set in the great beyond (They have all the channels in heaven except for the Playboy Channel and Fox News). Harriet Tubman will grab the remote from Ben Franklin, change the channel and tell Ben that he can’t watch the Discovery Channel today (Ben loves MythBusters). I know the ancestors will be watching because I remember when Max Robinson made Dan Rather disappear.
Before the internet and cable TV, when most Americans got their news from their local paper and one of the three nightly network news shows, every Black family had a news anchor who they trusted to bring them the current events that shaped their lives. I lived in a CBS home, where Dan Rather would deliver the news of the world in his deadpan Texas accent to millions of people across the country. Dan Rather was my grandmother’s guy, so he became our conduit for the world…
Until Max Robinson.
Max Robinson served as co-host of ABC World News Tonight from 1978 until 1983 along with...umm…two other white dudes. I think one was named Peter and I’m pretty sure the other one was not named Peter. To be fair, I was 4-years-old when Robinson debuted and became the first Black broadcast news anchor, and all I knew was that someone who looked like me was on the news. He had an afro and a mustache and he wasn’t even talking about football! He didn’t even have a white name like “Peter” or “the white guy who’s not Peter;” his name was Max. There was a Max who owned a shoe repair shop downtown who also had a mustache and an afro, but Max the Cobbler rarely discussed the deficit or global politics! He mostly talked about shoe polish and heel taps. For the entirety of Robinson’s tenure, Dan Rather might as well have been on an extended vacation because Robinson was now “our guy.”
“Until Gwen Ifill came along; until Carole Simpson came along; until Debra Roberts came—I can count them on one hand—I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” explained Reid. “So I think, I think the representation is important but it also to me is a responsibility. I feel that I have to do more than just come in and do the same show as everyone else. A Black person doing it? I feel a responsibility to try to bring something different to the table and to try to bring our voices and the voices of our community to the table.”
The Harvard graduate and bestselling author praises NBCUniversal News Chairman Cesar Conde for providing her with a new platform, but NBC didn’t give Reid the new primetime slot because she is Black. After joining the network in 2011, she began hosting AM Joy on weekends, propelling it to No. 1 in every quarter among African-American total viewers on both Saturdays and Sundays, according to NBC Universal (full disclosure: I’ve been a guest on the show). The network says that the show is currently the No. 1 cable news program among African-American total viewers in the time slot and has topped CNN’s Saturday slot for 13 straight quarters in total viewers. Reid’s new Washington, D.C.-based nightly show will feature one-on-one conversations with politicians, newsmakers and people who Reid says are “actually doing the work out in the streets.”
“It doesn’t always have to be like the highest-profile person, said Reid. “It might be a real person that’s in the middle of these fights. I am very fixated on this question of police reform and you would think the protests were over, but people are still out in the streets. There are still people being brutalized at protests every day. Nothing has happened to the police who killed Breonna Taylor. So I want to try to go back and try to excavate some of these stories that we may have missed because of COVID and the craziness, and bring those to the forefront.”
Like the ancestors’ spirits she plans to channel, Reid works nonstop. Aside from writing the New York Times bestseller The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story, as well as Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide, Reid also hosts the podcast Reid This Reid That with Jacque Reid and hosts another book podcast on YouTube called What to Reid (Although she has turned her last name into an invaluable resource, she would not confirm the rumor that she will be marketing a flute, clarinet and saxophone tutorials called “Reid Instruments”). And, as a veteran of two political campaigns, Reid also plans to cover the 2020 election in ways that differ from other cable outlets.
“There’s a ‘horse race’ way that elections just get covered in American pie in American media” she told The Root. “But my question is: ‘Is voter suppression going to stop people from being able to vote? Are these communities that want to vote going to be able to have access to mail-in voting, or are they going to be barred? Are there going to be challenges put in front of voters of color, of indigenous voters, of brown voters? What is [Black Votes Matter founder] Latasha Brown going to be doing? Where is she going to be?’”
“I want to know what the impediments are going to be because I don’t think you can just go by the polls,” Reid added. “I’ve worked on two presidential-level campaigns and the polls are good and they’re helpful, but they’re not the race. The race is the race on the ground and how you actually physically move people from their homes to the polls and I have to tell you—I think this is going to be a historically challenging election...I think all of us at MSNBC are oriented toward trying to roll back autocracy. I think we’re all on the same page, but I think each of us needs to pull out those stories that are not on all day. And each of us has that challenge in prime time to find that narrative that’s missing from the main narrative. And that’s one of the things that I really want to do.”
Aside from continuing her success bringing nontraditional voices to the public and possible flute lessons (fingers crossed), Reid also feels that it is important to bring different perspectives to the American news conscience.
“I definitely feel a pressure to represent and make sure that I’m not just doing well, but doing good in this job,” explained Reid. “I want to make sure that I’m expanding the circumference of opportunity for people, that I’m bringing on new voices and allowing people in the door because that’s how they get in the pipeline. I don’t want to be the only one.
“You know, I think that when we look back on this in a few years, that should be quite common. There should be much more than one,” she continued. “There should be Latino hosts and Asian-American/API hosts. There should be indigenous people getting a voice of their own rather than being talked about, you know, on the news. I just think it’s our responsibility. You know, we’ve always taken this on...We just take this on as Black people. You know, we do this, not for just us. We do this for the culture, we do this for the country.”
And tonight, the ancestors, the culture and the country will be watching.
Well, not everyone.
Ben Franklin will still be upset unless he wants to learn how to play the clarinet—in which case, I might know someone.
She’ll be busy tonight, though.