As a professor of Rhetoric and Composition, for six years strong, first at the University of Arizona, and now in Miami, social science issues are a part of my job. Consequently, my television is constantly tuned into the news, all three cable networks (Fox, CNN and MSNBC).
I'm not a contributor to Mediaite, nor claim to be an expert like Howard Kurtz, but I do watch the news, appreciate nuance in character, and know how to competently maneuver around a keyboard. This list is more for entertainment purposes than anything -- for it seems that's all cable news is these days anyway. Although this focuses on MSNBC, the next one could easily be Fox.
It Was the Best of Times
1. The Daily Rundown, with Chuck Todd, 9 A.M.
Chuck Todd is undoubtedly the hardest working individual in the NBC family and deserves the top spot. From Morning Joe to the Last Word, Mr. Todd appears throughout the day representing his role as Chief White House Correspondent and Political Director. His show, The Daily Rundown, may seem drab and a little wonky, but it delivers political news with precision and context. His guests are A-level politicians from both sides of the aisle, and it's hard to gauge any bias in his reportage. Todd's keen insight into politics is razor sharp; his form has never been better; and, to top it off, he's from Miami and sometimes represents the city on-air (personal bias).
2. NOW with Alex Wagner, noon
Alex Wagner's a rock star. Some may disagree, but her show is highly entertaining, fast paced and witty. It's totally an afternoon delight. Her (rectangular) round table always features an eclectic panel balancing seasoned contributors like Ed Rendell, Michael Steele and John Heilemann with reporters from less mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, New York, and Vanity Fair. Ms. Wagner's bio reads like a hipster's dream journal: editor at Fader, worked under George Clooney in Darfur. Although a beltway baby, there's something intangible about Ms. Wagner; for example, how she reads a TelePrompter: with an impish look in her eye. She's great for a younger demographic, and serves as a powerful and playful lead into the one o'clock hour.
3. Andrea Mitchell Reports, 1:00 p.m.
The NBC veteran deserves all the respect and reverence she has dutifully earned during her 46-year career as a broadcast journalist. Her show, Andrea Mitchell Reports, is straightforward, (generally) unbiased and informative. Like Chuck Todd, Mrs. Mitchell lands A-list politicos from both sides of the aisle, and more than anyone on MSNBC, she pursues leads and breaks news!
4. The Rachel Maddow Show, 9:00pm
Rachel Maddow may be the most human pundit on television. Her humble, almost dorky demeanor makes her fun to connect with, organically, naturally, even if the subject matter is awkward. Ms. Maddow is also the most intelligent person in the room. The former Rhoades scholar (and her team) are amazing at researching, reporting and articulating stories that everyone else seems to miss. Her show truly is in a class of its own. If her fallback issue wasn't abortion, she'd probably be number one on this list. The issue is important, just exhausting.
5. Hardball with Chris Matthews, 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.,
It's hard not to pay respect to Chris Matthews. His show Hardball basically made the network (along with the sycophantic Countdown w KO). Although there are plenty of cons with Mr. Matthews (hubris, liberal bias, talks over others), the pros outweigh them. He's such an astute historian and political maestro; in addition, his heart seems pure, which makes him relatable.
News Nation with Tamron Hall, Morning Joe, Up with Chris Hayes
Ezra Klein, John Heilemann, Michael Steele, and (the obligatory) Howard Fineman
It Was the Worst of Times
1. Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, 6:00 P.M.
It's hard to take a news show seriously when the host is a civil rights activist with the word Reverend in his title. With all due respect to Mr. Sharpton's laudable activism, an Alabama native who speaks Brooklynese was not born to deliver the news, nor interview guests. In addition, the show's progressive bias is just too much. When Politics Nation comes on after Hardball, the television starts tipping so far to the left it practically falls off the stand. For balance, the remote control immediately must summon Wolf Blitzer or Brett Baier.
2. The Cycle, 3:00 P.M.
This show is an obvious rip-off of Fox's News's The Five but it's nowhere near as good. The Cycle features four contributors, none of whom are seasoned enough to handle hosting duties on their own, and when you add them all together, it still feels like leftovers from a Dylan Ratigan barbecue. They are definitely articulate and intelligent, but sometimes it feels like they are talking to themselves and not an audience. No offense to any of them as individuals, especially S.E. Cupp whose brand of snark is quick and refreshing, but it just doesn't work. The most embarrassing part of The Cycle occurs when there is actual Breaking News. Having them represent the NBC name during Breaking News requires a quick exit strategy over to CNN.
3. The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 10:00 P.M.
This show feels like a residual from the Keith Olbermann school of self-aggrandizing. Although entertaining and controversial at times, Mr. O'Donnell often seems disinterested and way too eager to blow his own horn. Whether trying to coach Governor Deval Patrick into choosing the interim Senator of Massachusetts or reminding his viewership how astute he was in predicting the Debt Ceiling showdown, Mr. O'Donnell can come off as a bit of an arrogant blow-hard.
4. The Ed Show, 8:00 P.M.
Mr. Schultz may be charismatic and passionate. His blue-collar values and get-to-work ethos do represent a traditional Americana which is often passed over by the east coast intelligentsia. But sorry -- he still belongs on this list. His show is just too biased. If you want to hear Democratic talking points and Republican bashing, you know where to go. In addition, his guests are always liberal pundits or overtly progressive Congressman; there's no balance or wiggle room. The most annoying part of The Ed Show is his texting poll which is always silly and obviously leading.
5. Melissa-Harris Perry, 10:00 A.M., Saturday
This is not fair to the extremely intelligent and unintimidating professorial aura of the host, but why do my girlfriend and I have to hear about abortion on a Saturday morning? We just drove the Bible belt from New Orleans to Miami -- those pro-life billboards were more than enough.
Honorable mention: Martin Bashir, Morning Joe
Worst Contributors: Jonathan Capehart, Mark Halperin, Joan Walsh, Mike Barnacle