For as long as the Erik Wemple Blog watches cable news, we’ll never understand just what MSNBC saw in Greta Van Susteren. During her many years as an anchor on Fox News, she conducted lackluster interviews, propagated an adoring series on Donald Trump and his family, provided Trump an excuse for his failure to release his tax returns and stood up for then-Fox News boss Roger Ailes when he was sued for sexual harassment by former host Gretchen Carlson. Here’s what she said about Ailes:
“Of course, the first thing that occurred to me is that, unfortunately, we have a disgruntled employee, a colleague,” Van Susteren told People magazine. “I read that her show wasn’t being renewed and, being a lawyer, I thought she got angry. I deal with Roger Ailes often. I’ve often been alone with Roger Ailes in his office over the course of 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like what I’m reading about in the papers and the magazine. … People come to me because I’ve been there so long. That’s why this doesn’t have any ring of truth to me. I would have heard it. People don’t keep things silent.”
History would vomit on those remarks, as multiple women came forward with consistent stories about his harassment; he was ousted from the company. (He died this year.) Van Susteren later expressed regret.
She abruptly departed Fox News in September 2016, an occasion that we headlined like this: “Good news: Greta Van Susteren out at Fox News.”
Somehow, though, Van Susteren was good enough for a retooling MSNBC, taking over a hard-to-conceptualize 6 p.m. time slot. That’s where Mark Halperin and John Heilemann had done their brand of political analysis — in a rebroadcast of Bloomberg’s now-defunct show “With All Due Respect” — and, before that, the Rev. Al Sharpton uncorked his ranting style of cable-news anchoring. Turns out that Van Susteren wasn’t the answer. “MSNBC and Greta Van Susteren have decided to part ways. Greta is a well-regarded television veteran and one of only a few broadcasters who can say they’ve hosted shows at all three major cable news networks. We are grateful to her and wish her the best,” wrote MSNBC President Phil Griffin in a note to staff Thursday. Unsaid: that Van Susteren’s show is getting killed on the ratings front.
Thus ends a very brief cable-news-hosting tenure, as Van Susteren’s move to MSNBC was announced shortly before Trump took office. She arrived at a steadily evolving network. Back in 2015, MSNBC ditched its lefty tilt during the daytime for more of a hard-news approach. It sounded like a solid move then, and the execution has largely vindicated it. The network assigned young and eager correspondents to the various presidential campaigns, yielding a newsy brand of political coverage that has started to pop during the Trump presidency. Reporters who were all over the candidates during campaign 2016 — Katy Tur and Hallie Jackson, for instance — get a great deal of exposure on daytime coverage these days.
At the 4 p.m. hour, MSNBC recently installed “Deadline: White House” under the direction of Nicolle Wallace, a former aide to President George W. Bush as well as a key official in John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. With a strong grounding in politics, an almost aggressive bonhomie and great skill in questioning guests, Wallace anchors a promising hour of television.
For a rejuvenating network, Van Susteren was always an odd choice.
To replace Van Susteren, the network is tapping Ari Melber, its chief legal correspondent. In his memo, Griffin says Melber has a “natural ease with the anchor chair.”