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For most of her professional life, every time Symone Sanders would go on TV, it was to represent someone else.
As the national press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, she was his surrogate voice in the media. In 2020, she joined Joe Biden’s campaign, once again representing the politician in the public sphere. After Biden’s election, Sanders joined the administration as chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris.
But Sanders is now set to embark on a new venture, and this time she is doing so on behalf of herself.
“I spent my career being a spokesperson for other people, and now it is just me,” Sanders told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview.
This weekend Sanders will debut Symone on MSNBC, joining the cable channel’s lineup while also producing original episodes for the MSNBC section of the Peacock streaming service. First Lady Jill Biden will be her debut guest.
And while politics will be a central focus of the show, Sanders says it will be broader than that, including the “news you need to know from politics to pop culture.”
“We are not just going to do D.C., we are going to do stories of interest to you, we are going to get into conversations you and your friends are having, the group chats you are having,” Sanders adds.
It’s a perspective that, to hear Sanders tell it, has been sorely lacking on TV.
“For a long time you did not see people that looked like me on television. I am talking about Black women. I am talking about young people. I definitely haven’t seen any young bald Black women from the midwest,” Sanders says. “There is no one who is doing what I am setting out to do. There is no one on television with my experience and my insight, I intimately know the current president of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and some of the biggest names here in politics.”
“I am a self-described culture queen, I care about what is happening and what is happening in the music industry and entertainment and fashion and the arts. I am bringing all of that to my show,” she adds. “That is what makes me different, and I hope that will make people want to watch.”
It’s all part of what Sanders describes as three “guiding principles” for the show, themes that she is betting will be appealing to regular MSNBC viewers, but also to younger viewers who may not regularly watch cable news.
“First, I am not a spokesperson for the Biden administration. They have spokespeople. I am not one of them,” Sanders says. “It is not my job to be a spokesperson, first and foremost. And I feel that viscerally. If I still wanted to be a spokesperson, I would have stayed in the job.”
“The second guiding principle that I have is that, because I have been in the room, at the table — not just in this administration but in campaigns — I have really great connections to the progressive movement, it is my job to give some insight, and to help pull the curtain back a little bit, to explain the ‘why,’” Sanders adds.
“Third, I believe in being honest. I have a reputation for telling it like it is, ok?” Sanders says. “You can ask people I have worked with at the White House, folks I’ve worked with on the Sanders campaign, you can ask my former colleagues at CNN, the people I work with now. I tell the truth, and sometimes telling the truth has gotten me into a little bit of trouble, but I tell the truth. And the truth is not always something that my former colleagues in the White House are going to agree with, but I am gonna keep the bar high and substantive, and tell the truth, that is all I can do.”
Sanders joins an MSNBC in flux, with Rachel Maddow stepping back in primetime, a corporate push into streaming, and a desire to bring more voice to the weekends. And she is unlikely to be the last former White House official to join the channel. Her Biden administration colleague Jen Psaki is expected to join as well, after she departs the White House in the coming months.
But there is hope that fresh faces and formats can shake up the cable news landscape, developing the next generation of TV talent.
Symone will feature both political panels and culture panels, and Sanders says she intends to feature journalists prominently as guests to discuss their reporting, both her colleagues from NBC News, and local journalists from around the country.
Rather than focus on breaking news (and knowing that the program will be watched on-demand on Peacock or on the weekend on TV), Sanders wants to try and put a fresh spin on the big news of the week, or highlight things she thinks the rest of the media missed.
But she also recognizes that being a host is very different than being a commentator.
“It is just a much larger responsibility,” Sanders says. “I can no longer pontificate from the sidelines just saying ‘oh why are people not covering this,’ or ‘they didn’t do their due diligence to get the backstory,’ it is now my job to do the diligence, to get the backstory, to illuminate some points that are missing.”
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