I Survived the MSNBC Experience

FEATURE: WFB Reporter Journeys to Democracy Plaza, Feels Thrill Up Leg

November 8, 2012

New York, N.Y., Nov. 6 — "Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times," read the words over the entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the home of NBC.

The message also loomed over "Democracy Plaza," MSNBC’s interactive Election Day extravaganza. The network's liberal anchors, though, are not exactly known for their wisdom, knowledge, or "stability."

At one corner of the plaza, MSNBC morning news shows were filmed from a small studio perched above the ice rink, isolated from the messy democracy below.

Around the plaza were various entertainments, including demonstrations of Windows 8 (Microsoft must be among the corporate sponsors of democracy), and booths where one could have one's caricature drawn alongside images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Waiting in line for his caricature, 12-year-old Luke was arguing with his father about polls in swing states.

"Pennsylvania is more of a toss-up right now than Ohio," said Luke, who was wearing a novelty top hat.

Luke told me that on his way to Democracy Plaza he had stopped by the News Corporation building to kick a picture of FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly. He was told to stop by a security guard.

"You seem like a high-information, yet-to-be voter," I said. I asked who he thought would win.

"I guess I trust Nate Silver, so I’m going with Obama," Luke said, referring to the New York Times’ poll guru. "I mean, if Obama’s ahead by five points in all those swing states, that’s pretty much a 100 percent chance of winning."

Inside 30 Rock, the "MSNBC Experience" gift store hosted book signings and hand-shakings by some of the network's brightest stars, including Andrea Mitchell, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews, and Chris Hayes.

When I arrived at the Al Sharpton event, the MSNBC staff inside "The Experience" insisted that I not get close to the Rev—not even to stand aside and observe—but encouraged me to stand in line and shake his hand.

"I never thought I’d find something positive to say about Al Sharpton," said Susan Levin, a Jersey Shore resident. "But he’s done a wonderful job. He has totally, totally reinvented himself."

She was referring to Sharpton’s weight loss as well as to his career change. Levin was less enthusiastic about Obama’s opponent.

"We survived Sandy, but I don’t think the country can survive Willard," Levin said, referring to GOP presidential candidate Willard "Mitt" Romney.

Also in line were two criminology graduate students, Jason Williams and Sean Wilson, who came to Democracy Plaza to thank the hosts "for their service" and provide suggestions for news coverage.

Although they described themselves as "avid fans" of the cable network, Williams and Wilson were dismayed by the lack of coverage of the criminal justice system this election cycle. Public policy issues such as the drug war and Second Amendment rights barely received coverage, they said. When such matters were discussed, pundits and lawyers appeared on the network instead of real experts like, say, criminologists.

Their suggestion likely will not be taken up by Sharpton, who has said he would never criticize Obama under any circumstances.

Another crowd lined up later in the day to receive signed headshots of juice-box star Chris Hayes.

Paula and Mark Saunders had travelled from Greenwich, Conn., where they had been without power for eight days, to meet the host of UP With Chris Hayes.

"I think watching his show is like sitting in on a college seminar," Paula said of Hayes. "And I like the fact that he has both sides on."

At 6 p.m., MSNBC staff admitted about 70 lucky visitors upstairs into the Morning Joe Café for an election watch party. Initially, with everyone crammed awkwardly into a small space and with no booze readily available, the event had all the excitement of a middle-school dance.

However, as the returns started to come in and Obama began locking down key states, the audience broke into whoops and hollers.

Outside, the famous building was bathed in red and blue light. The ice-rink map below turned red and blue—and blue.

And the MSNBC experience rolled on, toward its triumphant Democratic climax.