Friday, June 08, 2018
"My parents are empty-nesters, but a visit home feels crowded. There are Joe and Mika, flirtily bickering over breakfast. After dinner, Rachel holds forth like a beloved fictional boarding school teacher. Looking for a phone charger during the day, I walk past panels of ethics experts, muted and forgotten.
This is life with an MSNBC mom: a liberal woman whose retirement years coincide with the rise of Donald Trump and who seeks solace, companionship and righteous indignation in cable news. (Not pictured: my father, a Republican-turned-independent, absorbed in his iPad, pretending to be out of earshot.) MSNBC is not my mom’s only news source — nor her only act of political engagement. But if sheer hours spent watching MSNBC index a certain strain of liberal occupation, they are at an all-time high, and not just in our house.
In April, MSNBC posted record-breaking viewership for the first quarter of 2018 — up even from the heady inauguration days of early 2017. The network crows about large gains in the advertiser-beloved demographic of viewers ages 25 to 54, but its total day audience among the 55-plus set has tripled since 2015, according to Nielsen — the work of MSNBC moms (and dads, aunts and uncles and grandparents). During the same period, the audience tipped from slightly male to 54 percent female, a small but — anecdotally speaking — enthusiastic majority whose new MSNBC habit can be observed during holiday gatherings and Sunday afternoon catch-up calls.
It’s logical that an unpredictable president is a boon to news outlets. But as a password-borrowing millennial, I was surprised that the Trump effect touched television. Didn’t many people decide cable news was bad when Fox News gave birth to President Trump? What do all those talking heads actually talk about all day?
What I learned from my MSNBC mom, my MSNBC mom’s friends and my friends’ MSNBC moms is that cable news can play a symbiotic role with social media and straight news. MSNBC makes an authoritative narrative out of reports, takes and jokes that feel fragmented on Twitter. It is a safe space to contemplate issues viewers feel they can’t bring up in mixed company (especially when mixed company liked a post about “Spygate” on Facebook). An evening with Ari, Chris, the other Chris and Rachel isn’t just about licking the wounds of 2016. It shores up progressive bona fides called into question by both-sides-ism and liberal hand-wringing.
MSNBC’s popularity mirrors the rise of conservative media, said Sarah Sobieraj, a Tufts University sociologist and author of “The Outrage Industry.” For the past 20 years, right-wing talk radio and Fox News have assured conservatives who felt their way of life was threatened that their politics didn’t make them bad people (and did little to address their suspicion that women, people of color and immigrants — as opposed to, say, outsourcing and wage stagnation — were to blame).
Today, it’s liberals who feel that their way of life is under siege, Professor Sobieraj told me, because a president was elected for views his conservative peers had been shamed into suppressing. For liberals, watching beliefs they find abhorrent “be applauded, voted and institutionalized is unnerving, upsetting and probably confusing,” she said. Consuming liberal media — whether it’s MSNBC, “Pod Save America” or John Oliver — is like “going to a political church.” “You listen to someone say the things you feel in a more powerful, dramatic way,” Professor Sobieraj said.
My MSNBC mom, Maggie Stoeffel, isn’t new to cable news. As a stay-at-home parent, she followed Katie Couric from her reporting on the Gulf War to the tamer waters of anchoring “Today” and, after Sept. 11, ditched Martha and Oprah for CNN. After going back to work, she woke up to “Morning Joe” and kept up with Twitter throughout the day. Now retired, she can tune into an entire lineup covering “the Trump White House downfall mini-series,” as she wishfully put it.
Before I could formally interview her about MSNBC, my mom put her thoughts in a 700-word email, organized by an anchor; the longest section was about Nicolle Wallace."
Opinion | The Age of the MSNBC Mom - The New York Times