Interlude—Who is Chris Hayes: Christopher Hayes seems completely sincere. But then again, so did Tim Russert.
Hayes is young—just 33. He brings a puppy-dog air to the cable set and to his somewhat peculiar new book. In his enthusiam, he sometimes seems to be shaking his head with a favorite chew toy, sometimes with sloppy results.
Hayes seems completely sincere. In the acknowledgments of his new book, he captures the air MSNBC is promoting as it sells its young new cable elite to the liberal world:
HAYES (page 241): Throughout the development of the book, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with friends and colleagues about its main themes. And these conversations inform every page of the work. Our crew in DC comprised an intellectually vibrant and loving community during our time there...By "crew," he seems to mean friends, not co-workers. Hayes names nine names from this loving community, before moving on to thank Ezra Klein, who apparently played no part in the lovin’. Soon, though, he’s back on the peace and love trail, thanking “the Hunter crew [his high school friends], who I’ve known since adolescence and look forward to growing old with.”
Hayes has been “blessed with talented and industrious research assistants”—seven are named—and with a “kind and fastidious” fact-checker. His agent is “fiercely loyal.” He goes on about his parents and his aunts and uncles, and even about his in-laws, who “have been endlessly supportive, providing me with everything from child care to wise career advice.”
“Every day,” Hayes’ brother Luke “faces the grueling, indispensable work of citizenship with grace, humor, cheer and passion.” There’s nothing additional to explain this rather odd declaration.
Regarding Hayes’ wife, let’s just say that her “depthless compassion, kindness, strength and openness have taught [Hayes] how to be a better person.” Before we learn that, Hayes lets us know how great she really is.
Is that the theme song to “Friends” we’re hearing? In theory, it’s rejuvenating when a new generation is merged into a sclerotic elite—and make no mistake, Hayes is now part of the failing elite known as the upper-end “press corps.”
We're not sure Hayes knows that. At the heart of his book, he sometimes seems to be wringing his hands about the fact that he attended a meritocratic Manhattan high school—a high school specifically designed to train a rising elite.
That said, Hayes seems to have endured the trauma of attending Hunter College High School, then Brown. In his acknowledgements, he thanks Lawrence Lessig for being “gracious enough to invite me into the fold of the Edmund J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard, where I spent a year as a nonresident fellow.” As it turns out, “the imaginative and generous scholars to whom” Hayes was exposed during that sojourn “had a huge influence on the direction the book took.”
Given the bags of air which blow through this book, that may not speak well of the Center.
There’s nothing wrong with being a nonresident fellow at the Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, of course. There’s nothing wrong with that unless there is—and one thing can certainly lead to another! In his book, we see Hayes at Davos in 2011, where “your first instinct is to feel a bit of satisfaction that you are one of the elect few chosen to hobnob with the most powerful people on earth.” Only later does it strike you, Hayes says, that you haven’t yet reached the top:
“This constant envy is the dominant experience of the Davos conference, an obsessive looking over the shoulder instilled by the participants’ knowledge that the reality of fractal inequality means there are infinite receding layers of networking happening that one doesn’t even know about.”
There’s nothing wrong with going to Davos, unless in some way there is. In Hayes’ acknowledgements, he says this about the corporate player who gave him his greatest job yet:
“At MSNBC, Phil Griffin has enough faith in me to entrust me with four hours a week on his network, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
At 33, serving as host of his own cable show is the best job Hayes ever had! Last weekend, Hayes returned the favor to Griffin, offering an absurd remark to TPM about the lunacy of the idea that MSNBC could be drifting in the direction of Fox in some minor way or other.
Did Hayes believe the odd thing he said? We don’t know, but TPM did. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/12.)
Who is Chris Hayes? We have no idea! But make no mistake: MSNBC is big business, and Hayes is part of the press corps elite, an elite which largely gets disappeared in his sincere new book. Hayes spends page after page telling us about the effects of outsized compensation on major league baseball players. He barely mentions the effects of such pay on his colleagues and friends within the press corps, the people he surely knows best.
Unfortunately, the mainstream press is a very important elite. It has failed us very badly in the past few decades. But we think you know the first rule of Fight Club. It may be that Hayes knows it too.
Christopher Hayes seems completely sincere—but then again, so did Russert. (In most ways, we'll assume that Russert was sincere.) In the time of Russert and Brian Williams, NBC News built its endless promotions around the idea that its major stars were just humble men of the people:
Russert was just a Buffalo kid. Williams was once a volunteer firefighter, plus he always loved Nascar.
A very different promotional play is under way on behalf of NBC’s new young elite. As NBC sells its idealistic cubs, it is stressing several themes—it’s stressing the theme of youth and sincerity, and it’s stressing the theme of brainpower. As it markets Maddow, Harris-Perry and Hayes, MSNBC flatters its audience by telling the oldest liberal tale: Our team is smarter than theirs is.
Hayes’ book fits into that sell, though it’s nowhere near as smart as it seems, and it may be somewhat slippery to boot. On the other hand, it does mention fractal inequality.
Before we started reading the book, we made a helpful suggestion: Hayes should tell us his salary, we suggested. he should tell us the salaries of those above him on the MSNBC chart. In large part, Hayes’ book concerns the destructive role played by great wealth within our elites; it would be nice to know how much he is being paid as he says the kinds of things he said to TPM last week. Meanwhile, as Hayes discusses our broken elites in his book, a funny thing occur:
The role of vast pay within his elite completely disappears. In fact, the failures of that major elite are hard to find in his book.
Baseball players are thoroughly frisked. Big major journalists aren’t!
In his column about Hayes’ book, David Brooks avoided the role played by wealth and greed within our horrible, failing elites. Is it our imagination, or does Hayes—completely sincere as he is—do some things very much like that?
Tomorrow—part 3: “Social distance”
Friday: Nothing to look at! Move on!