By Marin Cogan, GQ
Past the crowds of fans cheering on a live set of Hardball, the anchor box photo booth and MSNBC button makers and the latte stand making Morning Joe foam imprints, MSNBC president Phil Griffin is leaning forward in his chair, chattering excitedly about ratings as he bounces his left knee like an impatient child. MSNBC beat CNN and Fox in overall viewers in primetime all last week, coming in first in cable ratings for primetime (a first in the network's history, save for the night they aired a GOP primary debate) and on Tuesday night came second in overall ratings to NBC. He trashes a recent New York Times article he thinks falsely equates MSNBC and Fox, declaring the fact that his network has never landed an Obama interview a "badge of honor" and advising the president to watch what MSNBC is doing. Griffin spins aggressively -- but does he believe his own hype? We suspect he does.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GQ: Your network was beaten by Fox at the RNC but beat them at the DNC. Is MSNBC the liberal counterpart to Fox?
Griffin: Despite a major piece in The New York Times, which I thought was out-rage-eous--I don't think the writer watched our coverage -- I was really pleased with our coverage here. And see everybody tries to make an equivalence between us and Fox. You tell me when Fox praises the Democrats! Lawrence O'Donnell said it was one of the best speeches he heard by Romney. Ed Schultz talked about how a star was born with Ryan -- even though he disagreed with everything he said. Steve Schmidt the former McCain manager in the '08 election talked about strategy and helped us understand what they're doing. We're totally open to -- we don't have to agree with it but we totally understood it and tried to dissect it and appreciate it for what it is. You never see that at Fox -- there's no equivalency! And by the way: Every. Republican. Candidate, politician who's in trouble or needs help or tension, where do they go? They go to Fox and they get their one-on-one interview. President Barack Obama has never done an interview on MSNBC. He's done one on CNN on Fox and the other networks. He's never done MSNBC. The Dems don't come to MSNBC because they know we don't lay down, we're not their voice, we're independent. There are a lot of things we agree about, but we're not -- we live by facts we go deep and don't let people get away with just making statements and we're not going to shill for them. And that is why I can't stand it when people are making the equivalency.
GQ: Why does it persist then?
Griffin: Because we're in a world where people talk in labels. It's easy. The very thing people like to criticize about they are doing. We don't talk in labels and if you notice we're getting deeper and deeper with our shows -- Chris Hayes will do two hours on Foxcon in China -- not in a negative way but to figure out, could you replicate this in America? Could Apple actually manufacture Apple products in the United States, is it even possible to have that kind of success? We have found our niche in depth and in smarts and going in areas that TV doesn't normally do.
GQ: Do you begrudge the president for not giving you an interview?
Griffin: Honestly? I'll wear it as a badge of honor.
GQ: Come on. That'd be objectively awesome for you.
Griffin: I welcome him but I welcome it because he knows and we know that we're not going to lay down, we're not the place you go for a freebie.
Look, if I'm friggin' the Obamas I would be watching what we're doing. What I've loved about our stuff is every day we talk about what works and it is about substance whether it's Rachel's write-throughs at the beginning of the segment or Ezra Klein's detailed analysis of some economic issue, I come out of here thinking more substance. Substance works, that's what's going to drive us. Everybody did better when Obama was positive. The SOTU for a few days was unbelievable, the reaction to it. There's a lot of stuff going on but when Obama was positive everybody loved it and if I were them I would be studying that and have figured it out.
This story originally appeared on GQ.com: The GQ+A: With MSNBC's Phil Griffin