Melissa Harris-Perry says she is "ready to talk." The Wake Forest University professor and the former host of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry opened up about her public, often contentious split from the cable news station on BuzzFeed's Another Round podcast.
This is Melissa's first in-depth interview since the official end of her show. She reached out to Another Round hosts Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu to discuss what happened between her and the network, what the fallout has been like, and what is next for her. (NBCUniversal is an investor in BuzzFeed.)
I'm fine. I am not a civil rights case. I don't want anyone to march on nothing. I am not a cause. Go to Flint. Real horrible shit happening in the world. I'm a relatively well off, way over educated black girl who had like eight jobs, and now seven. I am fine.
What I do think is not fine is that the end of the show is the end of a space where a lot of voices otherwise can't be. I do think mass media has a responsibility to put those voices there. I don't care if I'm not on air. I want those people there. What I do hope is that an outcry about Nerdland forces, encourages, emphasizes, pushes people who do have a platform to say, "Wait a minute: there is room, interest and an audience for that thing." Whether I have another cable show is pretty irrelevant.
Listen to BuzzFeed's interview here.
In February, Harris-Perry sent an email to her staff at her show — nicknamed "Nerdland" — and her MSNBC bosses that detailed her reasons for walking away. Former staffer Jamil Smith published the letter in full on Medium.
At one point, Harris-Perry was replaced two weeks in a row with a campaign coverage program. She later refused to host her weekend program, saying she felt "worthless" to MSNBC.
Harris-Perry said at the time that MSNBC "silenced" her after four years. She adds, "I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by [Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC Andy] Lack, [MSNBC President Phil] Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back."
Harris-Perry says it started when she noticed that the particular branding, music, and graphics for Melissa Harris-Perry were missing from her show, and many other MSNBC shows.
Nobody told us anything. It just went...It was clear to me at that point, that we did not have a show.
Her frustration wasn't with the changes to the show, but a lack of communication from her bosses.
People who are at the top of an organization that is governed by hierarchy have a right to change the direction of the organization. When Andy Lack came to MSNBC and made a decision to take MSNBC in a new direction, and that direction was "The Place For Politics," and it did not have room for Beyoncé and Dave Zirin and a conversation on the Super Bowl, that is 100% fine. But it also needs to be made explicit not only to me as a host, but to my team, and my viewers.
I was not invited back to host. ... I was clearly, 100%, being told, 'You are not invited to be part of political coverage.' Which again: 100% fine. But rather than simply saying that, there was nothing.
I said, 'How long is there going to be no Melissa Harris-Perry show? Are we going to be able to come back after Super Tuesday?' And I was told at that point, 'For the foreseeable future, there is no Melissa Harris-Perry show.'
She said that she felt like MSNBC did not stand by her.
Whenever things went bad, and I became the subject of public controversy, [MSNBC] never, as a company — no, one time they did, very early on — were supportive and helpful. Every time after that that there was any kind of controversy on the show, it was completely clear that the priority was to protect [MSNBC] and [MSNBC]'s reputation. There was never much of any concern about the personal costs, emotionally, fiscally, sometimes literally in terms of safety. So to accept there was a straw that broke the camel on this one, there was a very scary encounter in Iowa.
On the her use of "little brown bobble head" in her letter:
This is the thing is that is irritating to me consistently about [MSNBC's] response to this. When they keep saying 'Everything was fine.' I think it's both true and not true. I don't think MSNBC had any intention of firing me. And I think it's pretty clear that if I had been willing to be an interchangeable anchor, willing to go on at any given hour and talk about whatever they wanted, then I could have kept my job. I was not willing to do that. So when I talk about being a 'little brown bobble head,' that's what that role is.
On her refusal to sign a non-disparagement clause before her departure from MSNBC:
Let me just be really clear. The reason I wouldn't sign the NDA wasn't because I wanted to talk about [MSNBC]. I wouldn't sign it because I'm an academic. Even in my very first book, before I ever even thought about a TV show, I wrote about race and the media. The word BET is in my first book — Barbershops, Bibles, and BET. I could not have an agreement that closed off the possibility that I could write about anything ever. I wasn't leaving mad, I was leaving hurt.
On whether she plans to return to TV:
I would love to have some kind of platform that allows me to bring and convene all those voices that I cared so much about in Nerdland. But on cable TV, I don't really want to go work for somebody again right now.
On what's next:
The one good thing about this whole thing is: I've been hungry for four years. So I might just start having a sandwich and try to get a radio show.
When asked for comment on Harris-Perry's statements, MSNBC SVP of Communications Mark Kornblau said:
We're proud of the diverse backgrounds of MSNBC's journalists, hosts and analysts. We'll gladly put that up against everyone else in the news business. We're also proud that MSNBC identified Melissa as a unique voice four years ago, gave her a platform and stuck with her. And — despite her claims to the contrary — it absolutely would have continued had she not sent a destructive email. The MHP show was safe – plain and simple. It was not being canceled or even altered and there was no consideration of that. We're surprised and sad about how this ended but we wish her the best.
This marks Melissa's second appearance on Another Round. Listen to her first interview here.
Subscribe to Another Round on iTunes.
Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton cover everything from race, gender and pop culture to squirrels, mangoes, and bad jokes, all in one boozy podcast.
Contact Another Round at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eleanor Kagan is the director of audio for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Eleanor Kagan at email@example.com.
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