To Conversate


It really was an honor to be with Chris Hayes on Up With Chris this past weekend. I generally try to limit the amount of television I do. I've been lucky enough to receive invitations to offer my thoughts on few prominent shows. I generally try to hold a high bar to such things. My job is to write. I don't do it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. This is the bigger and better thing. This is what I dropped out of college for. And now I have the job I always wanted, even if I did not know it. I aim to hold it -- the craft, and maybe even the job -- in my clutches until the day I wholly retire. As much as possible, I would like every working moment up until that good day to be devoted to the practice. 

This is not a statement of principle or morality. It's a statement of intended selfishness. It's what makes me happy, not what will save the whales. Nor is this a statement on the relative worth of written words. I think Chris's show -- for its reach and its intelligence -- is a more potent weapon in the war against stupid than almost (almost!) anything any writer can muster. Writers simply aren't to the culture, what they were a century ago. Anyway, I'm platform agnostic. My only hope is that you get some knowledge from somewhere out there.

With that said, the dynamics of a talk-show are interesting. The point is in the name -- it's a "talk" show and it tends to reward panelists who really enjoy doing just that. Some folks on twitter were amazed at some of the faces I offered my panelists. I'm certainly not in the rudeness business, but I also don't have much of a filter. 

I enjoyed my conversation with Mort Zuckerman very much. He was very pleased with The Atlantic's success. But I was stunned to hear him, and to an extent, Elliot Spitzer actually claim that the problem in Washington was a lack of "leadership" from Barack Obama. Pressing Zuckerman on that point, he offered a story about Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neil. Pressing him as to why he didn't include John Boehner in his calculus he said something to the effect of, "Because in this country the president leads, whether you like it or not."

He had not answered the question. He'd simply stated a truism. Later I asked Spitzer what, specifically, he'd have the president do. He then went to filibuster reform, something that has to do with Congress, and talked about Obama, essentially, giving better speeches. At that point, I realized that some of what I was hearing was rooted in specifics and reasoning, but some of it was also, essentially, religion. It was immune to evidence and citations. It could not really be rationally argued with.

This is not a criticism of Chris's show, which I really think is essential viewing. (The show a few weeks ago on Martin Luther King, and particularly Melissa Harris-Perry's comments, was a real stand-out.) But I had never actually seen anyone argue like that, before a national audience, live and in person. 

Call me naive. But I really was taken aback. I guess it showed.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Jump to comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



From This Author