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Joy Reid Takes Nightly Anchor Slot at MSNBC

Joy Reid, who rose to television fame as a sharp critic of President Trump and commentator on liberal politics and race, will become the host of a new nightly show on MSNBC, the network announced on Thursday, placing her among a handful of Black women to anchor an American evening news program.

Ms. Reid, 51, who has hosted the MSNBC weekend talk show “AM Joy” since 2016, will move to the 7 p.m. hour on July 20. Her show, “The ReidOut,” succeeds “Hardball” and its host, Chris Matthews, who was forced to resign in March after a series of on-air gaffes and accusations of sexist behavior in the workplace.

Ms. Reid’s promotion is a significant programming move by Cesar Conde, the new chairman of NBC’s news networks. Black women, including Gayle King of CBS and Robin Roberts of ABC, hold leading roles in morning and daytime television, but none currently host a nightly evening show on a major network. The last to do so was Gwen Ifill, who co-anchored “PBS NewsHour” until shortly before her death in 2016.

In an interview on Wednesday from her home in Harlem, Ms. Reid cited Ms. Ifill and two other Black anchors, Deborah Roberts and Carole Simpson, as role models.

“Evening and prime-time news has been a universe of white men really since I was growing up,” Ms. Reid said. “For somebody who grew up as a nerdy kid obsessed with news, watching ‘Nightline’ and ‘Meet the Press,’ the idea of being a part of that family has always just been kind of overwhelming.”

“The ReidOut” will be based in Washington and focus on political analysis and punditry, but Ms. Reid said she also planned to address race, class, policing and other “cataclysmic social issues we need to reckon with.”

“I am a Black mom, a Black woman, a Black daughter,” said Ms. Reid, who is married with three children. “I am also a journalist who can conceptualize that pain from a unique point of view. Every day I’m in this job, I’m very conscious of that responsibility to make that collective voice heard. It’s unique to do that as a Black woman.”

Executives at MSNBC are hopeful that Ms. Reid will attract a younger audience at 7, where Mr. Matthews’s ratings lagged behind Fox News and CNN. Ms. Reid has a big online fan base — search the hashtag #reiders — and interacts with critics and supporters on Twitter, a realm where Mr. Matthews rarely engaged.

Her progressive bona fides, however, were called into question in 2017 when homophobic posts and comments from “The Reid Report,” a blog she wrote in the mid- to late 2000s, resurfaced on social media.

Ms. Reid apologized for writing mocking claims that Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor, was gay. But additional offensive posts emerged. Along with opposing gay marriage, she opined that “most straight people cringe at the sight of two men kissing” and that “a lot of heterosexuals, especially men, find the idea of homosexual sex to be … well … gross.” She said Rachel Maddow, who was not yet her colleague, held views “at the left-most end of the political spectrum.”

Ms. Reid initially claimed those posts had been fabricated and inserted into the archives of her blog by hackers intending to defame her. She even hired a cybersecurity expert. Later, she acknowledged that there was little evidence that the posts had been faked.

“I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things because they are completely alien to me,” she told viewers in April 2018 in a lengthy apology, saying she had grown up “in a household that, like many in America, had conservative views on L.G.B.T.Q. issues.”

“The person I am now is not the person I was then,” Ms. Reid told viewers. Many liberal pundits defended her, including Jonathan Capehart, Jeffrey Toobin and Joan Walsh.

Asked on Wednesday if she still believed she had not written the posts, Ms. Reid said: “It’s two years ago, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about that old blog. What I genuinely believe is that I truly care about the L.G.B.T. people in my own life. I care about being a good ally, a good person, and making sure that my voice is authentic, that I can make a difference.”

NBC has pledged to improve its diversity, an area where its news networks have struggled. Mr. Conde, a former chairman of Telemundo who succeeded NBC News’s previous chairman, Andrew Lack, in May, said this week that he wanted a work force that was 50 percent nonwhite, with employees split evenly by gender.

“AM Joy” was created after a previous weekend host, Melissa Harris-Perry, left MSNBC, accusing the network of sidelining her. “I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobble head,” Ms. Harris-Perry, who is Black, wrote in an email to NBC staff at the time.

Another prominent Black anchor at NBC, Tamron Hall, who hosted a popular hour of the “Today” show, parted ways with the network in 2017 after her contract expired. The former Fox News host Megyn Kelly replaced her, briefly, at 9 a.m.

In an interview, Ms. Maddow said Ms. Reid’s promotion “feels like such a good decision by the network.”

“African-American journalists, African-American women in particular, are woefully underrepresented on TV in all hours of the day,” Ms. Maddow said. “But particularly in prime time, it’s just a desert. Joy more than deserves this time slot and this kind of national platform.”

Harris Faulkner of Fox News, who hosts an afternoon talk show, is the only Black woman who solo anchors a weekday program on the three major cable news networks. In moving to 7 p.m., Ms. Reid will go up against another newcomer to the time slot: Shepard Smith, the former Fox News anchor, who on Wednesday said he would lead a new newscast starting in the fall on another NBCUniversal network, CNBC.

Ms. Reid’s replacement of Mr. Matthews means that the 7 p.m. hour on MSNBC is likely to tilt farther left, mirroring the network’s liberal-leaning prime-time lineup. Mr. Matthews was a political moderate who wrote nostalgically about the bipartisan friendship between President Ronald Reagan and Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., the Democratic speaker of the House.

But his barking style was increasingly out of step with the mores of modern politics and cable news. He apologized in February after comparing Senator Bernie Sanders’s victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazi takeover of France in World War II. And a journalist, Laura Bassett, said Mr. Matthews had made inappropriate comments about her appearance.

Born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents, Ms. Reid grew up in Denver, and now splits her time between New York and Washington. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in film, she worked her way up the competitive Florida media market, where she hosted TV and talk-radio shows and wrote a column for The Miami Herald. She has also taken time away from journalism, including a position on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

She later served as managing editor of TheGrio.com, a news and opinion site geared toward Black readers. With a growing national reputation, she joined MSNBC as a contributor in 2011 and, in 2014, began hosting a daily talk show, “The Reid Report.” It was canceled after a year, but she remained at the network as a correspondent.

Away from the anchor desk, Ms. Reid has written two books, including “Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide.”

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Credit…Gary He/EPA, via Shutterstock

In the interview on Wednesday, Ms. Reid was asked about the reaction to the offensive blog posts that surfaced in 2018. She called the episode “a pretty rough experience,” and said she had sought candid discussions with friends, colleagues and her daughter, who is gay.

“My job in that moment was to listen,” she said, adding, “The L.G.B.T. community in this country has a resiliency and a core kindness.”

Ms. Maddow praised Ms. Reid for her 2018 apology. “We judge people on their judgment, but also on their capacity to grow and correct,” she said.

“She also reached out to me personally and directly,” Ms. Maddow said, “in case, as a gay colleague, I had been hurt personally by what had arisen at the time. And that was a stand-up thing to do, and something I won’t forget.”

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Record Ratings and Record Chaos on Cable News

Last week, Fox News’s anchors competed for President Trump’s ear about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Tucker Carlson denounced the unrest as “riots.” Sean Hannity unexpectedly took a civil rights angle, speaking “as a person that has now been trained in mixed martial arts for seven straight years” to cast doubt on Officer Derek Chauvin’s actions.

In the midnight hour on Friday, a rerun of Mr. Carlson’s show appears to have grabbed hold of the president’s brainstem, as Mr. Carlson intoned that “rioters are continuing to destroy one of this country’s great cities, unimpeded.” A little after 12:50 a.m., the show panned to a Minneapolis in flames, and at 12:53 a.m., Mr. Trump tweeted that he “can’t stand back & watch this happen.” He concluded, echoing an utterance in 1967 from a bigoted Miami police chief, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

If Twitter is the twisted heart of America’s public conversation, cable news is its aorta, carrying fear and anger, as the rapper and activist Killer Mike put it last week, into the body politic. The coronavirus pandemic and the new urban crisis have made it impossible to look away, and journalists have at times become targets for the police. In this extraordinary news moment, the primacy of this supposedly dying medium has never been clearer, its ratings higher than ever.

But behind the scenes, chaos and uncertainty are also reaching record highs. I spent last week speaking to homebound executives, producers and on-air talent at the three cable news networks and found them wrestling in wildly different ways with an exceptional news moment that does not fit into cable’s familiar boxes: the coronavirus story, the economic crisis, and the protests and fires in the streets of American cities.

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Credit…CNN

The power, and the stress, are clearest at Fox News, by far the most-watched American news channel but one that has been in a rolling corporate crisis since its founder, Roger Ailes, was forced to resign amid sexual harassment allegations almost four years ago. Fox News now occupies a strange position in a shrunken Fox Corporation, whose chairman, Lachlan Murdoch, has sought to pull off an acrobatic feat: collect the abundant profits from the channel while skirting the blame for its missteps in the early days of the pandemic.

Quietly, Mr. Murdoch and his main deputy Viet Dinh, a former Bush administration official, have begun taking a more aggressive approach. Last summer, they hired Raj Shah, a former Trump White House official who led opposition research against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Committee. And this year, I recently learned, Mr. Shah has begun to build a secret operation, hiring two former reporters for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, Elliott Schwartz and Alex Griswold. (Mr. Schwartz had also run Jeb Bush’s campaign “war room.”) Their job is to defend Fox from criticism from progressive outlets like Media Matters and Sleeping Giants on social media, protect advertising dollars and discredit critics, three people familiar with the work said. (The two former reporters have conspicuously omitted Fox from their Twitter bios.)

The team has also pushed the narrative that the rest of the media played down the threat of coronavirus as egregiously as Fox did, two journalists who have spoken to them said. A Fox spokeswoman, Megan Klein, declined to comment on the new operation. Mr. Griswold said “no comment” and hung up on me before I could ask him a question, and Mr. Schwartz didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Fox News, Irena Briganti, said the chief executive, Suzanne Scott, wouldn’t be available for an interview.

Fox shifted over the weekend into round-the-clock protest coverage. But Mr. Shah’s new team suggests that the criticism of its coronavirus coverage has stung hosts and alienated advertisers. But it also seems a kind of ineffectual, corporate re-enactment of Mr. Ailes’s once-feared opposition-research tactics, which included private detectives, aggressive hunts for leaks and smear campaigns against reporters. The new Fox executive team shares Mr. Ailes’s ambitions, but doesn’t seem to have the stomach for his tactics.

MSNBC has been scrambling in a different way. The channel thrived from 2017 until earlier this year, lifted by its nonstop coverage of the Trump-Russia story and the story’s denouement in impeachment. It signed up former spies and prosecutors as contributors, and dangled the hope that Robert Mueller would end Mr. Trump’s presidency. But the Russia show came to a disappointing conclusion for its audience with Mr. Trump’s acquittal on Feb. 5, and ratings plummeted.

“We didn’t lose viewers,” MSNBC’s president, Phil Griffin, insisted in an interview. “They may have taken a few days off from watching out of, ‘Oh boy, I’ve got to regroup.’”

MSNBC’s audience numbers did rebound with the coronavirus story, but the network’s DNA is politics, and Covid-19 is not at its heart a political story. Rachel Maddow, the network’s star, saw her audience in the 25-to-54 demographic, the one most prized by advertisers, fall below CNN’s Chris Cuomo for the first time.

“We’re using the same muscles that we use to cover politics covering this pandemic and how the country’s reacting,” Mr. Griffin said.

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Credit…Jesus Aranguren/Associated Press

Behind the scenes, NBC’s corporate dramas continue to unsettle its scattered staff. The new chairman of NBCUniversal’s news group, Cesar Conde, hasn’t described his vision for news. He made his name with an insufficiently covered television coup, Telemundo’s rise against Univision on the back of sexy “narconovelas.” Now, news executives — Mr. Griffin; the NBC News president, Noah Oppenheim, who was conspicuously passed over for the top job; and the senior vice president, Rashida Jones — are waiting to learn what his plan is, and whom Mr. Conde will elevate to carry it out. While they wait, they sought to impose a 3 percent salary cut on the remaining contracts of NBC’s producers and stars, only to face a revolt from the nation’s restive talent agents. They settled for a voluntary 3 percent reduction that its journalists can reverse at any time.

Mr. Conde’s boss, the new NBCUniversal chief executive, Jeff Shell, has suggested in private conversation that he wants to make a more dramatic change at the company’s other cable news network, CNBC, two NBCUniversal executives said. Mr. Shell, the two executives said, is considering turning the network’s prime-time hours, currently occupied by “Shark Tank” reruns and business-focused reality programming like “The Profit,” over to right-wing talk shows. A similar plan was floated years ago — a development executive even met with the talk-radio flamethrower Mark Levin, a CNBC executive said. But it could allow Comcast to extend an olive branch to Mr. Trump and his avid supporters.

CNN once positioned itself between MSNBC and Fox on the political spectrum. But during Mr. Trump’s tenure, the network concluded that there was no profitable middle ground with a president who seeks confrontation with the media. The channel adopted an increasingly political focus, hosting dozens of Democratic primary town halls and debates. It also competes more directly with MSNBC than ever before for audience, offering Don Lemon and Mr. Cuomo as a more emotional, less cerebral alternative to Chris Hayes and Ms. Maddow.

And as much as MSNBC seemed thrown off by the coronavirus, CNN was ready, flexing its still-supple muscles for covering all-consuming news stories. Now it focuses primarily on the coronavirus, interlaced with impassioned and often viral monologues denouncing President Trump.

CNN remains a network identified with and defined by one man, Jeff Zucker, the chairman for news and sports at WarnerMedia as well as CNN’s president since 2013. He runs the 9 a.m. news calls, and his refrain has been to stay on the coronavirus. His fingerprints are all over the programming, and CNN’s confidence tackling the dangerous, physical scrum of breaking news paid off in its vivid coverage of Mr. Floyd’s death and the aftermath. He has been telling his staff for months that the pandemic is the central story, and he told me he anticipated it to dominate the rest of the year.

“Between now and November, there’s no chance it’s a normal political year,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “That’s just not conceivable between now and the end of the year.” And while the network is now focused intensely on the crisis in America’s cities, coronavirus “is still the principal story of our time,” he said.

Lurking in the background for all the networks, though, is the question: How long can this last? Cable news appeared, like much of linear television, to be in terminal decline before Donald Trump turned it into the greatest, most terrifying show on earth.

CNN, the original cable news network that turns 40 on Monday, is at the heart of that question. Its commitment to on-the-scene reporting produced the riveting coverage, and arrest, of its correspondent Omar Jimenez on Friday morning. Its iconic status drew protesters on Friday night to its Atlanta headquarters, where they vandalized its globally recognized logo and defaced the building, putting CNN where it has often found itself in the Zucker years — right in the center of the story.

“They are telling our stories, and you are disgracing their building,” Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, told demonstrators. But Killer Mike, whose real name is Michael Render, spoke for a nation exhausted by the endless adrenaline shots of news and conflict when he told the network to “stop feeding fear and anger every day. Stop making people feel so fearful. Give them hope.” A CNN spokeswoman declined to respond to his comments.

Mr. Zucker, the signature television executive of the Trump era, has more than anyone shaped that always-on, always-breaking, hyper-charged way that news — including politics — is covered nowadays. He has always been a hands-on leader. But now it seems Mr. Zucker may want to drive events even more directly.

Four years ago, he told me he was considering a future in politics. On Thursday, I asked him whether he was interested in the most obvious role, which will be open next year in a city aching for leadership: mayor of New York.

He paused, and said he didn’t want his answer to cause a storm of news.

Then, he said, “New York City is going to need a very strong mayor in the aftermath of this, and I always like a challenge.”