News & Politics

MSNBC’s New 3 PM Show, “The Cycle,” Demonstrates Its Overreliance on Pundits

The program to replace Dylan Ratigan’s show has four hosts, only one of whom has any political background.

The word out from MSNBC last night that it has replaced
Dylan Ratigan’s canceled 3 PM show with a new concept called
The Cycle, which will begin airing on

shows how fully cable news has abdicated expert authority to
professional pundits.

The show’s four hosts are all existing MSNBC contributors: Two women (conservative author
S.E. Cupp and
Krystal Ball, a onetime congressional correspondent) and two men (music and culture journalist
Touré and Salon writer
Steve Kornacki).

There’s been much speculation about what would fill the underperforming afternoon slot. The
Mark Leibovich joked on Twitter that “far more words [have been] spilled on
‘Who will take the MSNBC 3 p.m. slot?; question than actual viewers of MSNBC 3 p.m. slot.”

And yet the final answer to the question actually turns out to be interesting: It’s a striking lineup of hosts, specifically
for its window into how political talk shows have evolved nearly a decade after
Jon Stewart confronted the hosts of CNN’s political debate
Crossfire for how they were “hurting America.”

Crossfire mostly featured people who had worked in politics and campaigns—its rotating set of hosts included accomplished political
minds such as
Robert Novak,
James Carville,
Geraldine Ferraro, and
John Sununu—the decade since has seen the arrival of the professional pundit, famous only for giving controversial opinions.

In announcing the show, the four parried the standard political talk show talking points about wanting to reject the standard
political talk show talking points.

“Hopefully we can prevent it from turning into ‘This
is a Team Blue talking point’ or ‘This is a Team Red talking point,’”
Kornacki told Huffington

And yet that’s almost exactly what MSNBC has offered viewers.

Effectively, only one of the four new MSNBC hosts has
any actual political background—Kornacki
politics for
Roll Call and the
New York Observer. The other three hosts are only famous for being pundits. None has ever held elected office or worked in government. Only
Ball has actually worked in politics (if you count the single losing congressional race that made her famous).

Touré’s Wikipedia bio lists him as “an American novelist, essayist, music journalist,
[and] cultural critic.” Cupp is a former
Glenn Beck radio host and lists herself as a “political columnist and culture critic” on her website.

Most notably, the announcement of the show’s makeup
caps a stunning rise from obscurity by Ball, who just two years was

Last fall, the
Washington Post’s
Ben Pershing profiled Ball, tracing how she’s
been remade into an MSNBC “Democratic strategist” despite a near-total
absence of political


As Pershing wrote, just two years ago, “Ball was a
28-year-old political novice who was running an educational software
with her husband and launching an uphill campaign against Rep.
Rob Wittman (R) in Virginia’s GOP-leaning 1st District, which
stretches from Fredericksburg to Newport News.”

Thanks to her odd name and some racy

(not entirely safe for work, FYI) her campaign gained national
attention, even though she was never truly competitive politically—she
lost by 29 points.

The race, though, transformed her career and brought
her into the bizarre circus that is daytime cable news talk shows and
she became an MSNBC
. Pershing’s piece showed how
Ball was playing along, gamely
researching news topics just in time to commentate on them:
“Her recent booking was about the latest jobs numbers, but Ball
also has to be comfortable talking about anything from Libya to
labor policy. On Friday, she got the day’s topics roughly
two hours before the show, giving her time to scroll through a
few articles on her pink-cased iPhone.”

Now she’ll be in the mix every day—at least for those precious few watching MSNBC at 3 PM.