Anyone who tunes into MSNBC during the daytime has no doubt seen excellent anchor Tamron Hall and been enthralled by her astute analysis and no nonsense approach to world events. I know I was, so I reached out and asked for an interview. She graciously agreed, and offers us all her perspective on racism, the media’s place in society and how news outlets screwed up the Shirley Sherrod story.
“People have a love/hate relationship with the media,” declares MSNBC’s daytime anchor, Tamron Hall. “People will curse the media, but as soon as something goes wrong, they call the media.” Considering the 39-year-old beauty has been in the business for two decades, it’s a pretty good bet Hall knows what she’s talking about.
The daughter of a master sergeant and an educator, Hall grew up in the small Austin suburb called Luling, Texas, amidst a family culture soaked in politics. “We spent every evening watching the news, and politics was hot topic in my house, to say the least,” Hall recalled during our interview last week. “We watched the evening news, every single day my mom and dad would start their day with the paper, over coffee. It was just a part of my DNA, if you will, my learning curve as a child.” Not in her DNA? The singing gene.
“In my family, we would have these big birthday parties, and there were kids who could sing, or could dance, and I couldn’t sing or dance, so I was the MC, so I thought that I would be Johnny Carson.” From Carson, Hall’s imagination traveled to 60 Minutes, and then, following her dreams, to a local news station in Bryan-College Station, Texas. Hall eventually migrated to Chicago’s Fox affiliate, where she worked for ten years before joining MSNBC in 2007.
Hall’s star has never been brighter now that she’s on MSNBC, and that means she gets an earful about how “liberal” her network has become. “I hate that,” she admits without hesitation. “It makes me mad, to be honest with you, because like the day side coverage on MSNBC is balanced; my colleagues are not huddled in a corner saying, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do today to get the message out for the liberals.’” And to prove her point, Hall readily admits that she receives angry emails from both sides of the political divide “who feel that you are not doing justice to their side.” She describes the virtual outcry as a “badge of honor,” and proof positive that her reporting falls in the middle.
The journalist does concede, however, that MSNBC’s prime time does lean left, but that it serves an important purpose: “Certainly [our prime-time coverage] is different, and they are needed to balance what is out there on, not just Fox, but other sources that are conservative media outlets.”
Of course, neither side of the media divide gets it right 100% of the time, and Hall specifically cites the already infamous Shirley Sherrod case, in which conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart edited video to imply that Sherrod, an African-American former USDA official, had withheld aid from a white farmer. Sherrod was asked to resign, and now plans to sue Breitbart.
“[The media] should be ashamed of ourselves at what happened. Even though it was a certain blogger that started an irresponsible journey, we didn’t stop it,” Hall confesses. “But I think that’s part of the learning curve, the ‘teachable moment.’ It was a real kick in the gut for credible journalists.”
The Sherrod situation was only a small moment in our nation’s seemingly endless conversation about race a concept with which Hall’s all too familiar. Asked whether she could recall her first experience with racism, Hall laughed, “I remember my first, my last, the other day! Listen, I grew up in Texas; I actually experienced fewer situations that would be a ‘racist’ scenario, than I did in Philadelphia, than I did in Chicago, than I do in New York.” One example, the “dirty eye” she sometimes receives when walking into retail shops.
Despite confronting racism on a regular basis, Hall insists that it doesn’t “bother” her: “It saddens me, but I don’t feel anger. I’m not saying that I’m used to it, or numb to it; I do think it’s intriguing that people attempt to have real conversations about race, when I think in our hearts we know we’re not having that real conversation.” She continues, “Quite honestly, I don’t know if we’re capable of it.”
Hall then points to a blogger’s recent post highlighting MSNBC’s “color-blind” inclusion of her lovely mug on their website. “MSNBC added Token Hall, I mean Tamron Hall to their diverse lineup of featured hosts,” wrote the blogger. “This is a victory for not only those in the black community, but also for those who have been fighting for racial progress.” Hall was not amused.
“It’s not as if MS dragged me off the street. This is not Trading Places, where they took me off the corner and dusted me off and put me up there. Good grief! I’ve been doing this a long time; I’ve been on TV since I was 18-years old!” Even if Hall weren’t black, race would naturally come up during her on-camera hours, daily at 11am and 2pm.
Just last month things got a little lively with Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, who called the NAACP “racist” for using the word “colored” in their name. He also blamed political foes for the off-color, offensive signs so often brandished at Tea Party rallies.
As you can see with in the video above, Hall didn’t quite know what to make of Williams’ argument, and still doesn’t. “I’ve seen no proof of what he says is true,” asserts Hall when asked about Williams’ signage defense. “Until he provides proof that members of the NAACP snuck those signs in, or whatever he was saying, then I can’t believe that version. But I’m open to proof.”
Back to the media, and its impact on the political realm at large: I asked Hall whether she thinks pundits and journalists play an “oversized” role in pushing policy. Bill O’Reilly, after all, makes no secret of his right-wing leanings.
Though she disagreed with my adjective of choice, Hall acknowledges that some viewers rely too heavily on news personalities when going to the ballot box. “I do think that you have some voters who depend on those big voices to make their decisions for them. You have a story line that’s creating, and the next thing you know, people form an opinion based on no research of their own,” says Hall.
“It’s your vote, and you have to own that. It’s not mine. It’s not Rachel Maddow’s. It can’t be Bill O’Reilly’s idea of what a vote should be. It’s yours. I just wish people would own it more.”
Despite their “official” separation, however, media and politics are intrinsically linked. And, as MSNBC’s slogan proclaims, “Politics matter.” Hall whole-heartedly concurs: “Politics effects our daily lives. It sets the policies for everything we do, from my ability to vote to somebody else’s ability to get married. Politics is not the government, because we are the government, and it effects everything that we do.” Hall continues, “What else is more important?”
As the nation moves forward into the midterm elections, Hall will remain as dedicated as ever to exploring the issues of the day, whatever they maybe, and she couldn’t be happier. Asked whether she wishes she had received the aforementioned singing gene, Hall laughs, “Not at all, because I’m happy I can do what I do.”