MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi talks about media’s internal harassment crisis

A portrait photo of MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi.

Ali Velshi has covered the news for over 25 years, working as a journalist at CNN, Al Jazeera America, and currently NBC and MSNBC. But within the past two weeks Velshi has become the subject of the news. He is rumored to be a possible replacement for fired NBC anchor Matt Lauer and was singled out for his diverse background by the lawyer for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. He candidly spoke to the Yale community about the role reversal from news reporter to newsmaker during a Jonathan Edwards College tea on Nov. 30

The day before the tea, NBC fired Matt Lauer, host of its “Today” show and Velshi’s colleague at the network. The reason for the firing was allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Velshi said it is the media’s responsibility to keep the issue at the forefront.

We are going through a sort of national reckoning. The prevalence of sexual harassment in and outside of the workplace is a thing that a lot of people are coming to terms with. To those who question the allegations of the women, I don’t believe there is ever any gain for women in coming forward with these allegations. It is not a winning situation for women in any circumstance,” said Velshi.

Currently host of two MSNBC shows and business correspondent for NBC News, Velshi has been named as one of the men at the network who could fill Lauer's position. New York Magazine’s Vulture blog described Velshi as “a superb interviewer with the sort of easygoing personality that’s a decided advantage for morning anchors.” However, based on his remarks at the tea, Velshi doesn’t seem to be pursuing the open position.

Why do we assume it will be a male replacement? Maybe it would be great to have an all-female cast,” Velshi said, though he mentioned that written reports seem to suggest either Willie Geist or Craig Melvin, both NBC hosts.

Velshi also spoke about the interview on his MSNBC show with Trenton Garmon, lawyer for Roy Moore, a Senate candidate in Alabama accused of sexual misconduct. When asked about Moore's dating habits, Garmon suggested that Velshi's “background” would help him understand Moore's “process.” Velshi is a self-described Kenyan-born Muslim raised in Canada.

It was a weird conversation, a weird moment. Right after that, I had more interview requests than ever. I deliberately decided not to do any interviews about it. Identity politics is tricky and there are very few instances where I have talked about my background on television. All of our backgrounds inform what we do in some way, but I don’t choose my news stories or guests because of it,” Velshi said.

Despite the internal crisis of sexual harassment in the media and external critiques of journalists, Velshi said he sees a positive future for his field. While a few years ago he was tempted to dissuade young people from pursuing jobs in a dying and unprofitable news industry, he said, the election of Donald Trump changed everything.

I think journalism has become a calling again. Journalism has seen resurgence because of Donald Trump. There is new value coming into this field. We are at the front lines of this thing and we have a responsibility to hold power to account,” he said.

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