As a tenured professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans, a columnist for The Nation magazine, and, as of February, host of an eponymous weekend talk show on MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry maintains a schedule that would make even the most intrepid working mother break out in hives.
During a lunchtime interview in her spartan office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, Harris-Perry provides an exhaustive rundown of her jam-packed week. The explanation itself takes close to 10 minutes, during which time Harris-Perry barely pauses to take a breath — much less a bite of her salad.
From Monday through Thursday, Harris-Perry is in New Orleans, where she lives with her husband of just over a year, politician and housing activist James Perry, and her 10-year-old daughter, Parker. Wednesday is her marathon day: She teaches two classes, conducts office hours, then takes a conference call with her team of MSNBC producers while en route to a “Women and Politics” reading group. By noon the next day, she’s on a plane to New York, where she spends the ensuing 36 hours frantically prepping the her show, which airs live on Saturday and Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. Pacific time. Perry and Parker fly out on Friday evenings and, once Harris-Perry’s show wraps on Sunday, the whole family returns to New Orleans to start the process all over again.
“It really did blow up my entire life,” admits Harris-Perry, 38, whose distinguished resume includes stints at the University of Chicago and Princeton University.
But as a black feminist and academic, Harris-Perry says the opportunity to bring her unique perspective to a broad television audience, particularly during a heated presidential campaign -- and to be one of just a handful of African-American women anchoring a cable-news program -- makes the grueling schedule worthwhile. “It is more than I could ever do with my books,” she says.
Harris-Perry’s windowless office does double duty as a conference room for the show’s production staff. On the wall hangs a white board where words like “Syria” and “Spanx” are scrawled in black ink. The space is evocative of the show Harris-Perry is trying to create, one that mixes political prognostication with thoughtful analysis of cultural trends — especially ones that relate to women and minorities. She’s used the same approach in her more scholarly work, including the book “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women In America,” published by Yale University press last fall.
Brian Lamb, the onetime news reporter who built C-SPAN into a cable television mainstay and a bastion of political nonpartisanship, announced Monday that he is turning operation of the outlet over to two of his top lieutenants.
Lamb’s 33-year tenure as creator and guiding force behind C-SPAN covers the period from the early days of cable television to the current multi-channel universe in which most channels apply considerable spin to their subjects.
Lamb, 70, said he plans to continue hosting “Q&A,” his Sunday interview program, to take a teaching job and to advise his two successors as executive chairman of the C-SPAN board. The new chief executives, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain, have both worked at the outlet since the 1980s and served together, most recently, in the twin roles of president and chief operating officer.
Public radio's popular weekend feature program “This American Life” on Friday retracted one of its most popular stories — about conditions for factory workers who make Apple products in China — and prepared to devote its entire program this weekend to an account of how the report misled listeners.
"This American Life" founder and host Ira Glass said in a statement that performer Mike Daisey had lied to the “This American Life” staff when producers tried to fact-check his detailed, firsthand account of meetings with Chinese workers who make iPads and other products.
The radio host said Daisey manufactured characters and settings in his report, drawn from his acclaimed stage performance, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” Glass said the fabrications came to light when Rob Schmitz of public radio's “Marketplace” tracked down Daisey’s Chinese interpreter.
The interpreter reportedly said that Daisey had concocted not only small details but some of the more dramatic moments in the piece, including reported meetings with child laborers and with a man whose hand was mangled as he made iPads for the Apple supplier Foxconn. The interpreter said those accounts were concocted.
The ironies of the story and its reversal were many, including this one: Daisey admitted in the radio program to a subterfuge: He told the interpreter he would pose as various American businessmen, to gain access to factories.
“And she says, ‘You will lie to them,’" Daisey says at one point in the monologue. “And I say, ‘Yes Cathy, I'm going to lie to lots of people.’ " After initially balking, the interpreter, who went by the name Cathy Lee, went along with the ruse, Daisey said.
Daisey said his mistake was not the stories he told but the fact he presented them on a news program like “This American Life.”
“What I do is not journalism,” Daisey said Friday on his blog. “The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed ‘This American Life’ to air an excerpt from my monologue.”
In his own statement, Glass said: “Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”
Listeners downloaded Daisey’s 39-minute report 888,000 times, making it the single most popular podcast in the history of “This American Life.”
Daisey’s one-man show on the same material ends its run at the Public Theater in New York on Sunday. The theater released a statement Friday saying that “we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.”
But the theater planned no changes. “In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth-- that's what a storyteller does, that's what a dramatist does,” The Public's statement said. “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ reveals, as Mike's other monologues have, human truths in story form.’
“In this work, Mike uses a story to frame and lead debate about an important issue in a deeply compelling way. He has illuminated how our actions affect people half-a-world away and, in doing so, has spurred action to address a troubling situation. This is a powerful work of art and exactly the kind of storytelling that The Public Theater has supported, and will continue to support in the future.”
-- James Rainey
Photo: An abbreviated performance of Mike Daisey's show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" became a huge hit on public radio's "This American Life." Credit: Chris Bennion
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton is joining NBC's "Rock Center With Brian Williams" and "NBC Nightly News" as a special correspondent assigned to highlight stories within the "Making a Difference" franchise.
"Making a Difference" segments "have a history of profiling organizations and individuals who represent the best of what works in the United States and around the world, frequently emphasizing stories about everyday people doing everyday things," said a NBC news release. "Clinton's dedication to public service, solution-based advocacy and focus on empowering people across the country and around the world resonates with the purpose and content of 'Making a Difference.' "
Clinton's role with NBC News will allow her to continue her work with the nonprofit Clinton Foundation and her studies in parallel.
Clinton is not the first presidential daughter to be hired by NBC News. Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of George W. Bush, works as a correspondent for the "Today" show.
Said NBC Anchor and Nightly News managing editor Brian Williams: "Chelsea Clinton has led a remarkable life. She possesses an uncommon understanding of humanity -- on city streets, across this country and around the globe. We are so excited she's joining us to tell the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things."
Clinton said in a statement: "People who imagine and implement solutions to challenges in their own lives, in their communities, in our country and our world have always inspired me. I hope telling stories through 'Making a Difference' -- as in my academic work and nonprofit work -- will help me to live my grandmother's adage of 'Life is not about what happens to you, but about what you do with what happens to you.' "
-- Greg Braxton
Photo: Chelsea Clinton in 2004. Credit: Mannie Garcia/Reuters