The network and its talent were the top attraction at this year’s political conference in Pasadena.
Panel discussions are normally a pretty staid affair. The panelists take the stage, they get some laughs, they get some jeers and then they shuffle off. Many of the panels at Politicon 2017, held this past weekend in Pasadena, followed this formula.
But Joy Reid’s panel Sunday afternoon (called “Facts Still Matter”) was more like a rock concert. The host of MSNBC’s AM Joy came on stage to a standing ovation that lasted more than 10 seconds. “How y’all doing?” she asked the crowd. More applause. “Are you having a good time?” More applause.
The panel discussion reached a crescendo when, during the question-and-answer portion, a woman asked what Reid would do if she was tasked with running the Democrats’ presidential campaign strategy in 2020. Even Reid decided the adulation had gone a little too far. “I’m not in charge of the Democratic Party!” she said. “I host a TV show. That should not be a question to me.”
While Reid was probably the most revered MSNBC personality at the conference, her colleagues had a similar experience. On Saturday and Sunday, dozens of people lined up to have their pictures taken with MSNBC reporters and anchors. Well before his scheduled meet-up at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, people just started coming up to MSNBC national political correspondent Steve Kornacki and asking him to take photos with them.
He signed autograph after autograph. “This is the only place in the world,” he said, where so many people would want his autograph.
While speaking with this reporter, an older woman from Studio City came up to Kornacki, shook his hand and said, “I see you every day. I feel like you’re a part of my family.” Asked later, she said she enjoys Kornacki’s delivery and unpretentiousness. She said he was one of the reasons she decided to attend the conference, which drew 10,000 ticketed guests.
On Saturday, it was correspondent Jacob Soboroff’s and anchor Richard Lui’s turn to take selfies and sign photos with their faces on them.
The next day, the man who was first in line to meet new 6 p.m. host Ari Melber admitted that it was “a little childish” and “a little embarrassing” to be a grown man waiting in line to meet a TV personality, like a little kid lining up to meet Mickey Mouse at Disney World. But he explained why he did it. These MSNBC personalities, including Melber, provide him with the news and information he relies on. “That’s kind of a star in my eyes,” he said.
The first few months of the Trump presidency have been very kind to MSNBC, which has a new lease on its ratings life. So, it’s not a total surprise that the network’s biggest names would be mobbed at a political convention that seemed to lean a little left, like a liberal version of CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference).
One woman, a political science teacher at a high school, said she used to flip between the cable news channels, but decided that Fox News is “too biased.” MSNBC, she said, is balanced.
Melber took in all the attention and praise but tried to stay measured. “There’s a great deal of enthusiasm about quality, serious journalism,” he said to THR. “And some of it relates to personalities because it’s people who do the news. But I think it reflects a real desire for facts, real news and reporting. So, we see that here. It’s great.”
His new show, The Beat With Ari Melber, debuted July 24. He took the 6 p.m. time slot once held by Greta Van Susteren, who was booted from the network shy of her six-month anniversary.
“I’m having a great time and a challenging time,” Melber said of the show. “We’re thrilled with the first week. The reception here is fascinating because people come up and say, ‘I’m watching you at 3 p.m. PT, or at 6 p.m. ET.’ People are congratulating me on the show, which is really nice but also a good sign because it means they’ve heard about the brand-new show, and that’s not always the case when you launch something, whether that’s on air or online. So, I’m really excited by that. But again, we’re just a week into something that can take years to find your footing. So we’re just going to work hard at it.”
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