Phil Griffin: MSNBC ‘Comes From A Progressive Stance’; Isn’t ‘Ideologically Driven’

Mediaite: In public comments you have taken more ownership of, “Yes, our audience wants a more liberal progressive point of view, and we’re okay with that, and we’re owning that.”

Griffin: Our audience has a progressive point of view. Now, it’s not an ideology, because we differ often in how we get there, but it’s challenging all the status quo and trying to figure out how to make the world better. It’s challenging what’s going on in Washington. We’ve got smart people, and they do their research. But yes, we do have a sensibility and we embrace it, but we’re about ideas.

I can’t imagine a better show in the morning than Morning Joe because when you watch Morning Joe you’re set for the day in terms of what are the topics and ideas that are going to be discussed of importance. Obviously, it’s more progressive at night, the point of view’s a little stronger, but that’s our niche. If people want to say we’re an alternative to Fox, great. That’s what we want. Fox is a big voice out there. There’s got to be somebody else saying something different.

I think if it’s pure ideology where it’s not fact-based, then it’s a problem.

Mediaite: Is there a concern that you limit yourself with that opinion and that point of view? That “one side of the story is not enough”?

Griffin: You can’t say it’s purely that one point of view. We come from a progressive stance, but that’s a wide berth. One of our best nights in the last few months was last December when everybody was debating whether or not to repeal the Bush tax cuts. If you watched our coverage then, it was crazy. From Joe to Chris to Lawrence to Rachel, everybody had a different take on whether we should do it or not.

So that night, every show was getting huge audiences because that’s what they expect from MSNBC, to be challenged. And we don’t send out a memo and say how people should react. We’re not ideologically driven.

Mediaite: What would you say is the most distinct difference between MSNBC and your competition with this regard?

Griffin: I’m not saying that sometimes our people can’t be very opinionated, but you can be very opinionated without being rude, and you can be opinionated while listening to other people. You can also be smart. I love when Rachel talks about the military and the respect she has for it, because so often she’s against some of the ways our military handles things. S he studied the military. She understands weapons systems.

Mediaite: MSNBC and Fox News are having a lot more commercial success in large part due to a strong and well-honed point of view, but do you think it’s healthy for our society at large that opinion media has become the dominant media outlet?

Griffin: I think if it’s pure ideology where it’s not fact-based, then it’s a problem. If it’s based in fact, you support what you have to say. It’s existed over time and always will, and I think it’s healthy. The amazing thing this last decade is you have better informed people than ever before. Now by the very nature of democracy and having different parties, people are going to be passionate, they’re going to argue, and it’s going to get very passionate. But people care, and they should care. And that’s what our country is about, our system of checks and balances. And they’re going to work it out.

I don’t think it’s good to put on armor and not be receptive to anything else. I don’t want our people to have armor on, I want them to be able to accept other ideas, and I want people to be able to reach out and talk to the other side. I think you see that with all our people now.

(On Mark Halperin) “Look, we’re human, people make mistakes. They apologize, and as long as it doesn’t happen too often, you’re forgiven, but…”

Mediaite:: One of the biggest critiques of MSNBC is that there are times of, not of dearth, but there’s a lack of dissenting opinion on the network.

Griffin: I don’t want armor; I don’t want this idea that you just plow through regardless of what people are saying to you. That’s not who we are. I don’t think that’s healthy. But I do believe in a strong, fact-based point of view that’s willing to take a position and willing to bring in others and discuss it.

Mediaite: But if I go back and I look at the guests that have been on air for the last week, and I see apart from Michael Steele and one or two other people, I don’t really see many dissenting opinions.

Griffin: I’d say you see a few. I can name the shows and what they are. Sometimes it’s not easy, because people don’t want to come on because they’d like to point us in a different direction, but that’s not our goal. I like dissenting opinions. We’re breaking a different kind of ground, and we’re threading a needle, but it’s worked.

Mediaite: Do you ever get pushback from any of the NBC News talent, like Brian Williams, about your focus on opinion and analysis over news?

Griffin: When this first started, I’d say it was complicated, but ultimately, we’re different from NBC News. We put NBC news people on, but they are labeled as as NBC news people appearing on MSNBC. When Andrea Mitchell’s on MSNBC, nobody’s thinking any differently of her than when they see her on the news. They get who she is, they get who Ed Schultz is. The audience is smart, and you can respect both.

Mediaite: Moving on…when do you think we can expect to see Mark Halperin back on air, if ever?

Griffin: On our programs we have a lot of robust discussion. We encourage people to talk. Everybody’s human, people make mistakes. They apologize, and as long as it doesn’t happen too often, you’re forgiven, but you have to penalize people for remarks like that because it’s wrong. You can’t say that.

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