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When Stephanie Ruhle took over MSNBC’s The 11th Hour a year ago, she did so as a self-described “huge fan” of the show.
It was Brian Williams who launched the program in 2016, quickly establishing an approach that recognized the late time slot it occupied, and the audience most likely to tune in.
“I loved it, because in a really chaotic time in politics it was a show at the end of the day that said, ‘here’s all the crazy that happened today, and here’s the most important stuff,’” Ruhle says. “I definitely wouldn’t consider the show a show rooted in ideology, but it’s a show that tries to be smart and thoughtful.”
Now firmly ensconced at 11 p.m., Ruhle has put her on stamp on the hour, leaning in to her background in finance (she was an anchor at Bloomberg TV and a banker at Credit Suisse before joining NBC, where she also is senior business correspondent), while also serving MSNBC’s political sweet spot.
“I wanted to take the torch that was handed to me and over the last year, keep the ship steady, and then kind of make it my own. That was my goal and I think we’ve done that,” Ruhle adds. “I think that one of our main focuses beyond ‘how do we get better and smarter’ is really to follow the money.”
Indeed, it seems these days that money and power go hand-in-hand, and that has been apparent in some of the biggest stories of the last few months, whether it be the implosion of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried, or the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio.
“A huge goal for me is to get people to understand and care more about business and economics. We all care about money. We all know when we get a new job, we want to maximize the most amount of money we make…. And it was always a frustration for me when I worked only in business news that it felt like we were always just covering markets, and we’re covering markets for a very specific audience. And I don’t think it should be just a specific audience. I think everyone should be financially literate,” Ruhle says. “And whether you’re talking about the train derailment or whether you’re talking about FTX, these stories aren’t just this company, or this business. They’re about money and influence. The more money individuals have, the more money companies have, the more they are influencing politics.”
“Go back to the train derailment. It goes to lobbying, it goes to deregulation, right? And that’s because these companies have an enormous amount of money,” Ruhle adds. “Think about FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried — what we are learning is that he was giving enormous amounts of money to politicians on both sides of the aisle. Which, by the way, takes us from a news perspective out of this brand that we are hyper-partisan, we aren’t hyper-partisan. We want to follow the money.”
Of course, MSNBC is not CNBC, and Ruhle says she tries to balance her personal interests with what her team thinks will make for a compelling interview or segment.
“Now, I do have the tendency because my background is in business and economics that I can get too dorky, and I would say I’m definitely the biggest economic nerd on our show. But we’re in a constant debate and the team pulls me back from it,” Ruhle says, adding that when her show staff convene for their daily meeting (the next day, as everyone tries to rush home at midnight when the show is over), they break down the previous day’s program to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
The results speak for themselves: The 11th Hour consistently beats CNN in the hour (in February it more than doubled CNN in total viewers), though Fox News’ Gutfeld remains the top show on cable news at 11 p.m. ET.
But Ruhle also says that she does not want to come across as someone who books a guest or runs a segment hoping to get attention.
“I do like to cover cultural issues, like to really try to cover them with experts, and not in a way that’s going to quote unquote, ‘go viral,’” she says. “It’s hard because everybody in theory wants to be hot. And I just think being the hot thing means you can quickly get burned. And I can tell you from experience and the mistakes that I made when I get too glib or I get too sassy or I get over my skis, I always lived to regret it. And I think pulling back 20 percent And not going over the top serves you in the long run.”
That could mean an extended interview with NYU professor Jay Rosen about the power of Fox News in the Republican party, or an interview with Rep. Lauren Boebert amid the House Speaker race in January.
But it also means detailed reporting on the collapse and influence of FTX, and segments on topics like inflation or the carried interest loophole (“it’s an absolute giveaway, a hookup for the private equity industry,” Ruhle says).
“I think it’s essential for us to continue to cover these stories and educate the American people,” she adds. “We say in general, ‘the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,’ ‘they don’t pay their fair share,’ but that’s just a headline. And I’m definitely not subscribing to that. I’m not subscribing to the idea that capitalism works or it doesn’t work. I’m subscribing to the ‘let’s find individual stories that don’t work, or find where the system is being taken advantage of,’ and carried interest is a perfect example of it.”
“And if we’re going to explain that to our audience, you might lose the audience on night one, you might lose them night two, but I’m not looking to make the hottest show that goes viral every night of the week,” Ruhle adds. “I’m looking to make something where every night we’re planting another seed and planting another seed and if we’re growing something thoughtful and smart, that’s our goal.”
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