June 28, 2022

In a long-anticipated announcement, MSNBC has picked a permanent replacement for Rachel Maddow’s much-coveted weeknight prime-time spot.

Alex Wagner, an MSNBC veteran, has been chosen to take over one of the more valuable pieces of real estate, so to speak, in cable news: 9 p.m. Eastern.

Maddow, who is cutting way back on her show to concentrate on other projects for NBCUniversal, will still host the program — “The Rachel Maddow Show” — on Monday nights and make regular appearances whenever there’s major news. But Wagner will host Tuesday through Friday on her own show, which will be named soon. It debuts on Aug. 16.

The selection might come as a surprise to some, but it’s a logical one.

Wagner hosted a daytime program on MSNBC for several years starting in 2011. She stepped away from the network in 2015 to work on other projects, including as co-host of Showtime’s “The Circus,” before returning to MSNBC in February as a senior political analyst and guest anchor. She also served as a special correspondent for CBS News and co-host of “CBS This Morning: Saturday.” Previously, she was a senior editor at The Atlantic.

It was also earlier this year that Maddow and MSNBC announced Maddow would cut back on her prime-time show, and that led to speculation on who might be her replacement. Guest hosts have been filling in for the past several months.

In a statement, MSNBC president Rashida Jones said, “Alex Wagner in the 9pm hour was a clear choice. Her unique perspective — built on more than two decades in journalism — and tenacious reporting in the U.S. and abroad will help our audiences contextualize what matters.”

While Maddow is known for her strong opinions, MSNBC’s choice appears to be in line with the kind of show Maddow has hosted since 2008.

In an interview with The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin, Jones said, “This is not a show where our hair is on fire and we’re yelling past each other, and we’re creating these manufactured moments of tension. I really want the takeaway from this show to be a better understanding of what’s happening in the world.”

Jones told Mullin that Maddow was not consulted on who would host the show Tuesday through Friday.

Jones told Variety’s Brian Steinberg that Wagner has “got something to say,” adding, “She knows politics. She knows everything from foreign policy to culture.”

In a statement, Wagner said, “I’m honored to be anchoring a key hour of television in such a critical time for American democracy. In many ways, the stakes have never been higher, and there’s no better place to explore this moment than MSNBC. I’m thrilled to be coming home.”

It is a critical time for cable news. Fox News typically leads cable news in prime-time viewers and CNN is under new leadership with Chris Licht. Steinberg writes, “MSNBC is betting that Wagner can gather the sizable live audiences that advertisers and cable distributors crave — just months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, an event that is expected to boost viewership after a downturn following President Biden’s election in 2020. While Maddow’s appearances in June to discuss hearings held by the January 6 Committee have fared well, last month CNN’s primetime schedule outperformed MSNBC’s in the critical 25-to-54 viewership demographic that determines what advertisers pay for news programming. CNN also won that category in primetime in the first quarter of the year. MSNBC has typically outdrawn CNN in terms of overall viewers.”

New York Times v. Sullivan stands … for now

The United States Supreme Court sent shockwaves across the country by overturning Roe v. Wade on Friday, but its work for the session didn’t end there. Another big decision, this one impacting the media, came down on Monday. The court declined to revisit the landmark First Amendment decision of New York Times v. Sullivan, the ruling that created a higher bar for public figures to claim libel.

Here’s how it went down: On Monday, the court denied a petition to hear the case of Coral Ridge Ministries Media v. Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC was accused of designating the evangelical Christian ministry as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. In 2021, an appeals court ruled that the SPLC hadn’t acted with actual malice when it added Coral Ridge Ministries to its “hate map.” Coral Ridge Ministries Media asked SCOTUS to reexamine the New York Times v. Sullivan ruling that hinges on “actual malice.” The court refused with one dissent — Justice Clarence Thomas.

Previously, Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch had hinted that New York Times v. Sullivan should be revisited.

The Verge’s Adi Robertson wrote, “If it had overturned the ruling, the Supreme Court would have greatly increased the odds of public figures winning libel cases in the future. Instead, the decision delays (but likely won’t end) a long-running push to expand the scope of defamation law.”

Robertson is correct. This doesn’t put an end to the New York Times v. Sullivan discussion and it will likely be challenged in future cases.

Speaking of Thomas …

Many people have noted that in overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court might set its sights on other rights the court has previously affirmed, including same-sex marriage and contraception. The majority decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, said last Friday’s decision was only about abortion. Alito wrote, “Our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

However, in his concurring opinion, Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Those are cases referring to Americans’ fundamental privacy, due process and equal protection rights.

Obergefell is Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the 2015 landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Obergefell is now accusing Thomas of purposefully leaving Loving v. Virginia off his list of cases that the court should “reconsider.” That’s the case that made it unconstitutional to ban interracial marriage. Thomas is Black and his wife, Ginni, is white.

On CNN over the weekend, Obergefell said, “It’s a clear indication that if it’s a case that impacts him directly, it’s safe. But if it’s a case that protects other people, other people who are unlike him, then we’re not very safe.”

Meanwhile, actor Samuel L. Jackson, who is Black, went after Thomas on Twitter, writing, “How’s Uncle Clarence feeling about Overturning Loving v Virginia??!!”

On Monday’s “The View,” co-host Whoopi Goldberg, who is Black, said, “What’s next, as Clarence Thomas is signaling? They would like to get rid of contraception. Do you understand, sir? No, because you don’t have to use it. … You better hope that they don’t come for you, Clarence, and say you should not be married to your wife, who happens to be white.”

‘Will anything change?’

A month removed from the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, USA Today had this powerful front page today with outlines and names of some of those killed in mass shootings since 1989.

(Courtesy: USA Today)

Tony Dokoupil re-ups with “CBS Mornings”

Tony Dokoupil and “CBS Mornings” have reached a new contract agreement that will keep Dokoupil with the show. Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes the show has now locked in the team that includes Gayle King and Nate Burleson for the “next few years.”

Steinberg adds, “It’s a sign that CBS and parent company Paramount Global are confident in the show, which, even though it remains in third place behind ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ and NBC’s ‘Today,’ has been making viewership gains in important categories as the current battle for A.M. news viewers enters an interesting new phase.”

A new phase?

Steinberg continued, “For the past several weeks, ‘GMA’ has edged out ‘Today’ in a critical audience category; people between 25 and 54. It’s the kind of viewership advertisers pay more for, and the ABC show has for the last seven weeks trumped the efforts of its NBC rival. Typically, ‘Today’ dominates the crucial demographic. Meanwhile, ‘CBS Mornings,’ with a new format that launched last September, has seen its share increase among female viewers in that age range — the core audience Madison Avenue wants from the programs. Under executive producer Shawna Thomas, ‘CBS Mornings’ has, quarter to date, seen its female audience between 25 and 54 rise 6%, while ‘Today’s’ has fallen 13% and ‘GMA’s’ has declined by 15%. All three of the programs have seen viewership in the overall 25-to-54 category decline in recent weeks.”

Jan. 6

There weren’t supposed to be any more public House select committee hearings about Jan. 6, 2021, until next month. But that has changed. The committee announced there will be a hearing today to “present recently obtained evidence.” Look for all the cable news and networks to cover as warranted.

On a related note, The Associated Press’ David Bauder with “No reruns: Committee tries new approach to break through.”

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC)


Kristi Noem is the governor of South Dakota. In Monday’s newsletter, I listed another state.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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