The Hayes Code

It was a moment of beauty in a time of profound political ugliness–and that moment has endured, thankfully.

Five years ago today, MSNBC debuted Up with Chris Hayes, one of the most intellectually stimulating programs in the history of cable news. Hayes was an immediate natural, an engaging, charismatic host whose mind moved faster than Usain Bolt’s legs.

Hayes could take any issue and skillfully analyze it from multiple perspectives; he was scrupulously fair to both conservatives and progressives, but refused to play pattycake with any guest. What Firing Line allegedly was in the 1960s and 1970s, Up actually was in the early-2010s–a vibrant and spirited forum where ideas were debated, examined, cherished.

I will always appreciate Hayes for his extensive efforts to remedy the lack of climate coverage on cable news. Hayes made it clear that climate change affected all other national and international issues–and that climate-change denialism was a moral atrocity. His episodes were master classes on the climate crisis, earning the enmity of fossil-fuel industry shills–and the appreciation of future generations. As Hayes noted in 2012:

[On climate,] we have this asymmetry of passion. On one
side of the ledger, a concentrated set of interests and voters who care, in a
near life and death way, about the continued exploitation of dirty energy,
and on the other side, a public with a weak, nonchalant preference for us to
do something about “that whole climate change thing.”

Barack Obama isn`t going to rectify this imbalance. The only way to get a
sane climate debate in our national conversation is to create a
cadre of activists and citizens and voters who will balance that ledger, who
care as passionately about saving the planet from ruin as those on the
other side do about their industry, because they see and understand just
as viscerally as the other side that, yes, this really is a life or death
issue. Not for one industry, or one region of one state, but for the
planet and every single person that we love who lives on it.

I was disappointed when Hayes was moved to weeknights in April 2013; I feared that Hayes would be toned down by MSNBC executives more interested in beating Bill O’Reilly at all costs than in maintaining the legacy of quality Hayes was known for. I was wrong, as Hayes is still going strong, still asking the hardest questions, still reaching the highest standards, still being the classiest man on cable.

There is a drive to Hayes, a recognition that a society that fails to value well-developed minds is a society that will be left behind. Hayes recognizes that in both climate science and political science, there are tipping points. It’s possible that carbon pollution could become so extreme that it will be virtually impossible for humanity to avert the worst impacts of human-caused climate change; it’s also possible that a society could become so dumbed-down, so disinformed, so celebrity-obsessed, so contemptuous of facts that it essentially collapses into cynicism and chaos. Hayes has always been determined to fight back against both of these tipping points. He wants CO2 levels to be reduced and IQ levels to be increased.

If I had a few billion dollars to form my own cable network, I would spare no expense to sign Hayes away from MSNBC. He is vital to our political culture; there would be a gaping hole in our knowledge of the world without his presence.

It’s a shame that Hayes doesn’t receive the appreciation he deserves. It would be so easy to dumb it down, to make it easy to digest for the masses, to play to the lowest common denominator. It’s hard as hell to declare, in the lion’s den of the conservative-leaning cable news business, that ideas and intellect matter, that facts are damn important, that truth is a thing.

Yet Hayes continues to do that hard and necessary work; he keeps fighting, night in and night out, to bring about a more informed and tolerant world. Those of us who recognize the importance of what he’s doing are all in with him.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.