When it was announced that Thomas Roberts was returning to MSNBC dayside to anchor a straight newscast, TCG was dubious. The anchor doesn’t have an especially good record of sublimating his political views. Today’s debut clearly positioned itself as traditional news rather than opinion. There was a fair amount of apolitical content: a lengthy package on road rage (that might have been borrowed from NBC broadcast), and several lighter segments dealing with pop culture matters and the like.
Among the more serious topics, the upcoming Netanyahu speech got the most attention. In the first hour Roberts had State Department spokesman Marie Harf on to give the administration’s side of the controversy. Then in the second hour, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett was brought in to give the administration’s side of the controversy. Neither was particularly challenged on any points, let alone interrupted. In both instances Roberts made it a point to bring up the $13.1 billion of “taypayers’ money” set to go to Israel, and in the Doggett segment he phrased his reference in a particularly revealing fashion:
Explain how diplomacy, vs taxpayer dollars, really adds up to a mess in what we’re seeing with this invitation and speech before Congress.
The most-promoted aspect of the premiere was a one-on-one with Donald Trump, which turned out to be a phoner like the ones he does every Monday (today included) on Fox & Friends. Unlike the typical Fox segment, a good chunk of Roberts’ discussion dealt with marriage equality, with the anchor accusing Trump of “evolving backwards.” The Donald did not agree with that characterization. Roberts recovered by expounding on the feasibility of Trump besting Einstein in an IQ contest, or something.
The production was blandly professional (the occasional glitch notwithstanding); if the premiere gets any social media talk it will probably center around the host repeatedly donning, then removing his spectacles. The bias will be mostly overlooked, but that’s what The Cable Game is here for.
TV Newser’s Chris Ariens scoops that MSNBC is dumping their Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow hours, and installing Thomas Roberts to anchor a two-hour afternoon news block:
At the same time, “Way Too Early” anchor Thomas Roberts heads back to dayside, as the network returns to a more traditional news day.
Thomas anchored a “more traditional” newscast on MSNBC before being shunted off to the pre-dawn hour. But don’t be fooled by his return. What you may think of as straight news isn’t what MSNBC has in mind. Because Thomas Roberts has always had free reign to push any point of view he likes, whether by story/guest selection or flat-out campaigning.
Can you picture Walter Cronkite, or Bret Baier for that matter, telling his viewers “you’re a chicken-eating Judas” if you patronize Chick-Fil-A? That’s Thomas Roberts. Does an impartial news anchor look into the camera and tell viewers how “dirty” and “ugly” a political committee is? That’s Thomas Roberts. How about tweeting insults at political figures he doesn’t agree with? That’s Thomas Roberts. And then, as election-day approaches, warning his audience that Republicans are trying to keep you from voting? That’s Thomas Roberts.
MSNBC may want you to think they are planning to emphasize news over opinion with this move, but the choice of Roberts means just the opposite. It will be merely the appearance of journalism. That’s how The Cable Game is played by Thomas Roberts.