When breaking the news of the Trump Administration’s tender age shelters in Southern Texas, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow cried while reporting the news on national television during The Rachel Maddow Show.
Having just received the report from her producing team, she began, “This is incredible. Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children …”
There was a pause. Then she continued, “to at least three…” and paused again.
Her physical discomfort at delivering the news was clear and relatable; as a viewer, I was transplanted into some of my own untimely moments where I’ve had to think to myself, “Don’t cry, this is not the time, don’t you dare cry,” and yet, the tears fell. She choked through her words a few more times before calling it quits, saying, “Sorry, that does it for us tonight. We’ll see you again tomorrow.”
This isn’t the first time a host has cried on national television. We saw it in 2005 with Anderson Cooper, whose emotional coverage of Hurricane Katrina was named a “breakthrough for television news,” and with Kate Bolduan, who cried as she reported the story of Omran Daqneesh, the young boy from Syria whose bloodied, stunned face became the symbol of the crisis in Aleppo. We saw it after the Parkland shooting, when counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd became inconsolable in the middle of his reporting and said to host Wolf Blitzer, “I can’t do it, Wolf, I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”
Still, in the hours after she aired, Maddow apologized to her audience over twitter.
“Ugh, I’m sorry,” she tweeted. “If nothing else, it is my job to actually be able to speak while I’m on TV.”
While she has a point that it is her job to deliver the news, no matter how horrific, is her apology actually warranted? Do television journalists face a binary choice, where the news must be delivered sans emotion or not at all?
Her apology made me think of an exchange earlier this year between CNN’s Alisyn Camerota and political analyst April Ryan. Camerota was in tears as she read a tweet from Bill Kristol regarding President Trump calling Haiti and African nations “sh*thole countries,” and when Camerota admitted feeling “lame” for “getting emotional,” Ryan shook her head and offered an alternative reflection.
“It’s your humanity,” she said, repeating the phrase three times. “And it’s appreciated.”
There’s certainly something to be said for bringing your whole self to work: More and more professions are welcoming the idea of openness in the workplace and we’re seeing that authenticity and vulnerability are key components of modern leadership. In light of that, when I think about Maddow’s apology for her understandably humane reaction to a national atrocity, I’m left wondering if broadcasters will be able to reap those same progressive benefits. Perhaps her crying on air is a product of the television industry’s growth, and audiences can expect to see more raw emotion accompanying their nightly news.
What do you think? Do journalists have a responsibility to deliver the news without emotion? Or, as we recognize that there is an advantage to bringing our entire selves to work, and to practicing compassionate directness in the workplace, should we expect anchors like Maddow to do just that—meaning that she certainly wouldn’t owe an apology for how she handled last night’s news? Personally, I hope the latter is where we’re headed.