Working with Steve Kornacki has been one of the early joys of moving to NBC/MSNBC. He is, however, a Patriots fan, so he joined me this morning to discuss that game, that coach, and the business of broadcast news in the era of President Trump:
HH: A guy who used to get up early in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays was Steve Kornacki. And since I joined MSNBC and NBC in April, I have gotten to know Steven, very much enjoy being his guest on Kornacki every afternoon on 4 on MSNBC. And I thought it was the start of a beautiful friendship, because he’s very smart, and it’s always engaging, and most Mondays, I am a guest on his show. And then come to find out that this poor, young man, this rising star of journalism carries a handicap. He is in fact a supporter of the organized crime family in the NFL otherwise known as the New England Patriots. So I thought it was appropriate to bring him on right before the Super Bowl and find out how this happened. Steve Kornacki, welcome.
SK: Thank you. Well, now come on, you have to admit, there is a small part of you that would get a kick out of this team Sunday night if Roger Goodell has to stand up on that stage at the end of the game and hand over the trophy to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
HH: Steve, you don’t know how much I don’t like the Commissioner because of the way he’s handled Flash Gordon. But you also know that I am a lifetime Browns fan, a season ticket holder since their return in ’99. I attended every home game from 1965-74, and many thereafter. And Bill Belichick single-handedly tore that team down and allowed the man who must not be named, their former owner who’s now deceased, to leave the team. So I blame Belichick. How can I ever root for Belichick? How can you ever root for Belichick?
SK: (laughing) Well, to me, it’s easy, because he’s created the best dynasty New England has ever seen. But I understand, and I don’t much believe what he did with Bernie Kosar. I kind of look at it like you know, Cleveland kind of has a bullet for New England, because Belichick got all the mistakes out of his system there. And I think by the time he got to Foxboro, he kind of, he kind of had it down to perfection. So I understand your perspective, I suppose, but I’ve got to say, I hate that, obviously, I understand people hate the Patriots today. I get that. I thought that the suspension of Brady was just nuts, and I just love the idea that Goodell has spent all year coming up with every excuse he can to stay away from a Patriots game, and now he may have no choice but to stand there and hand him the trophy. I would really enjoy seeing that.
HH: That would be interesting. Now tell me the key thing. Should the Browns trade a number 12 overall for Jimmy Garoppolo?
SK: Well, I’ve got to say this. I keep remembering, go back about seven or eight years, Tom Brady missed one season, 2008. And you remember the guy, Matt Cassel…
SK: …who stepped in, and he went 11-5, and everybody said oh, my God, this guy’s the next star. And of course, Kansas City gave up draft picks and everything to bring him in, and it turned out, outside of New England, outside of the Belichick system, you know, he couldn’t do too much. And I, Garoppolo, look, I think he’s got a lot of potential, and he stepped in there for at least that one game this year, but I think Cassel is a cautionary tale about what happens with these Patriot backups.
HH: Now Steve, I want to, even though it’s Super Bowl weekend, I want to talk about you, because one of the comments I get, I get a lot of comments about being on MS from my conservative friends. And routinely they say Kornacki, interesting, that guy is fair. And I tell them that you’re kind of a data download nut like Chuck Todd and Mark. What is your background, and are you glad to hear that, that conservatives think you’re fair?
SK: I am very glad to hear that, and I appreciate you saying that. And that is my goal. And the way I kind of look at politics right now is, and it is a thing that really frustrates me, and I think social media has done a lot to kind of worsen this and heighten this. And I just think there is this divide, this is no revelation, a divide in the country that really has put people in two tribes, almost, a red tribe and a blue tribe, I almost feel sometimes. And I feel there is not nearly enough communication just between the tribes. And my goal with, and I do this 4:00 show on MSNBC, and then when I do other programs there, my goal is to try to get the two tribes talking with each other, to try to get somebody on from red America, somebody on from blue America, and have the conversations, and have them engage with each other. And I just, it’s something I’ve become more and more aware of. I think it’s a problem, and I think there are a lot of incentives built into sort of the media world right now to make it worse, really, to accentuate it, because there’s a lot of rewards for sort of being tribal. So I try to…
HH: Well, what’s interesting to me is that, and at MS, and I’ve learned this, there are people like me from the left like Rachel and Chris, and everybody knows what they believe. But there’s this effort to bring the Kate Snow’s, the Steve Kornacki’s, the Brian Williams’, and the Chuck Todd’s, who are just going to play it straight. And I looked at your bio, out of BU, sad that you had to go to school in Boston, very sad. You went to PoliticsNJ.com, then you worked for News 12. But this is interesting – Roll Call, the New York Observer, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Boston Globe and the Daily Beast. I look at that roll call, and I think of Mark Preston, another sad member of the mafia that roots for the New England Patriots, but Roll Call has all, and Drucker was a Roll Call guy. They’ve always been reporters up there.
SK: Drucker actually sat across from me when I was there.
HH: I’m sorry to hear that. That’s sad.
SK: Yeah (laughing) No, he’s a good guy. Roll Call was, and here’s my story with Roll Call. When I was there, it was sort of the very, very end of the sort of glory years there. There was no such thing as Politico, and Roll Call just owned that world, you know, Capitol Hill reporting. It was sort of almost like the student newspaper of Congress. I don’t know if you can, the company newsletter, I don’t know how you want to call it. I mean, it’s real reporting, real journalism, real, real insidery stuff that mattered to a pretty small, but very important audience. My beat was, I was there 2005-2006. My beat was the House Democrats, and that was, you know, George W. Bush had just been reelected, the House Democrats were, you know, going on ten-plus years in the minority at that point, so it was sort of, I was the low man on the totem pole when I got there. And I ended up leaving just as they became the majority party in ’06, so my timing wasn’t necessarily great. But I thought it was, I’d learned Congress. I really felt like I learned Congress, and I got a sense of not just the rules and the procedures, but the part that really interested me with that job was getting both sides, the Democrats and Republicans, getting to know who these members were, what their backgrounds were, how they got to Washington, learning their political stories. And you know, these folks had to fight for, you know a city council seat and their career would have ended if they didn’t win that election, or they had to fight for a county commissioner seat, and if they didn’t win, their career would have ended, and just realizing that you know, how much it took them just to get to Washington, even if they were a freshman or you know, early member without much seniority. I got an appreciation of sort of what that, what that job was, and sort of what it took to succeed in politics. It was a valuable experience. I also realized after about a year I didn’t want to be a lifer in the Capitol. I think I learned it. I didn’t want to spend 20 years there.
HH: Well, I have a theory. I’ll test it out with you using both you and Chuck Todd from MSNBC, because Chuck did Hot Line, which makes him so knowledgeable, but also from other places. Michael Barone covered Congress endlessly in the Almanac of American Politics, John King at CNN, AP beat reporter out there. When you bring daily Congressional or campaign reporting to television, you inevitably have an advantage over people who have only done television. Do you agree or disagree with that?
SK: Yeah, well, you mentioned the Almanac, and boy, that was, I mean, that was my Bible, you know, when I was there, because you had to, you know, you learned these members, and that was just, just reading about the districts, and you got a sense of what made them tick just by reading that. Yeah, no, I think, and I think understanding the districts and understanding the members can be essential to understanding politics. I mean, in this past campaign, you know, they had me at, my big job at MSNBC was to do the big board there with the maps and poll numbers and everything, and when it wasn’t malfunctioning, which was like every other day.
SK: But when it worked, it was, I actually, it was my background in covering Congress helped with that, because we were looking at trends across the country. We were looking at specific areas of the country, and I knew about them already, because I had basically, you know, learned the Congressional district map, and sort of the geography of Congressional districts, you know, ten years earlier. So it was, I was able to go into Ohio or go into, you know, Massachusetts or wherever I needed to look, and I could say something, and reasonably intelligent most times, at least, I think, about sort of the political demographics of the state.
HH: Now Steve, I look at the media right now, and if the media was the NFL, most of us would still be in the NFL concussion protocol after the consequences of November 8th, we were so shocked. And I do view a lot of the coverage as overkill on President Trump – every day, another raft of negative stories. For example, the appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast, the clips made it look like he was a clunky, out of touch person. In fact, it was kind off a triumph, because he touched on the Johnson Amendment on free exercise, and his back and forth with Mark Burnett, his friend, was taken out of context, and his jabs at Arnold amplified. I know that crowd. That’s my crowd. Those are my people. They’re not upset by him using the word hell, and our friend, Lawrence, said how dare he say churched. He grew up in a churched home. That’s actually common parlance. Do you think the media has adjusted, yet, to the fact that President Trump won, and that their overkill is not playing well in middle America?
SK: Yeah, what I am seeing, I am seeing a lot of the same things that I saw during the campaign, and I think it’s creating a lot of the same dynamics. I used to, I think one of the things you hear from people on the left during the campaign who didn’t like Donald Trump, who wanted Hillary Clinton to win, you would hear them, and I get this on Twitter a lot, but you get it off the air, too. You know, they say why aren’t you, why aren’t you calling out Trump more aggressively? Why aren’t you going after him harder? You’re giving him a free pass. You know, the idea was hey, the media really needs to put its thumb on the scale here. Donald Trump would not have a chance of winning if the media did. You know, all people need to do is hear the media talk about how terrible, horrible, awful Donald Trump is, and Donald Trump won’t win. And I think, my best conclusion to this is the dynamic that’s at work here in this country is really the opposite. I think when the media gets more and more aggressive, there’s a half of the country, that blue tribe that likes it, that rewards it, that gives it 28,000 likes and retweets on Twitter. And there’s another half of the country, I think, that takes it as confirmation that that’s why I’m not with the blue tribe.
HH: That’s it. And you know what’s happening is that both extremes are being amplified, and I do think Kornacki is a good show where they’re de-amplified when I appear with my old friend, Bill Press, or Jonathan Alter, someone like that. It’s just, it’s good journalism. Last question for the journalism students out there, you know, it’s a tough business to go into. You’ve succeeded wildly. And you are casually dressed on set.
HH: And I want you to explain that’s a choice made in consultation with Eric, your amazing show runner, and everybody else. But you just don’t show up for work that way, right?
SK: Well, I have to say, this is my biggest revelation about the television world. And I’m going to sound like an idiot here, because this is pretty obvious, I’m sure. But I can’t believe how much people care about what I wear, because I sort of, my background is in print, so I started going on the air, it was a number of years ago, just as a guest, you know, not paid or anything, and I just wore what I had on in the office, which is you know, sort of what you see on the air. Then they put me on a sort of a panel show, and I just kept wearing it, and then you know, I got this thing, and I said well, why stop now? And it’s some days I get feedback from above that’s like great, we think you’re unique, we want you to dress like that. And other days, you get feedback that’s like how can you do that, please, dear God…
HH: Steve Kornacki, don’t change, except your affiliation with the Patriots. Go dirty birds, and Steve, we’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks, if not before. Follow @SteveKornacki on Twitter.
End of interview.