The Age of the MSNBC Mom


“I think she’s a superstar,” she wrote. “She’s a Republican, so watching her show I feel no one (Dad) can accuse me of hanging out in my liberal media echo chamber.” As she went on to describe how Ms. Wallace makes her viewers feel that they’re in her inner circle, chatting with really smart friends, I felt a pang of jealousy. Wasn’t I an adequately delightful moderator of family political debates? But then, most of the time, I’m not there. I’m safely ensconced in my digitally tethered Brooklyn progressive bubble, whereas my mom, living in the swing state of Pennsylvania — with neighbors she actually knows — has to tread lightly.

This is what I gleaned from her friend Sally Duffy, in Wisconsin, whom I caught having her ritual 5 p.m. glass of wine with Ari Melber. (“Of course, he doesn’t know we’re having wine,” she said.) Ms. Duffy never watched cable news before Mr. Trump was elected, but she has also become wary of bringing up politics among friends and family. Living where Milwaukee blue turns to suburban red, she said, “I don’t have many people to talk to and I needed reassurance that I wasn’t alone in this.”

She likes Mr. Melber for his legal expertise, his rap references and his reluctance to shout. She follows his show with Chris Hayes, and then she might watch Rachel Maddow, unless her husband is home. Ms. Duffy hasn’t converted him to MSNBC, she said, but she has drawn him into the drama of seeing which Louise Mensch tweets turn out to be true.

The network star and “All In” host Chris Hayes is feeling the MSNBC mom love at book events, where parent-child pairs — and mother-daughter pairs in particular — line up for a photo or book signing. “A lot of times it’s the mom who got really into the show and talked it up to her daughter,” he said. Mr. Hayes said his viewers’ connection to him has become “intense and visceral” since Mr. Trump’s election, partly because they can feel that he’s just trying to figure it out too. “It’s all pretty bewildering to me,” he said.

Growing audiences offer some relief from ratings pressure, Mr. Hayes said, but they are counterbalanced by the pressure to get things right. “It feels easier to screw up in this era,” he said, and those mistakes feel more costly for everyone. “The most powerful person in the country — and arguably the world — is a person who manifestly does not care about getting it right, and because of that has an insidious power to drag other people down to his level.”

What does it mean, these days, to get things right? I talked about this with another MSNBC mom, Wendel Meldrum, an actor, writer and, until recently, print media devotee in Laurel Canyon, Calif. “The ‘truth’ from media is so varied,” she told me. “My relationship to truth is more fluid now.”


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