Dylan Goes Eclectic: As ‘An Advocate Who Hosts a Show,’ Can MSNBC’s Ratigan Broadcast Nuance to the Masses?

Cable loudmouth Dylan Ratigan is ditching anger for Deepak, paddleboarding, and compassion (even for bankers). Has the stark raving madman found enlightenment, or gone off the deep end?

ratigan as roosevelt001 1 Dylan Goes Eclectic: As An Advocate Who Hosts a Show, Can MSNBCs Ratigan Broadcast Nuance to the Masses?

Illustration by Drew Friedman.

“THIS IS NOT SOME OPINION! This is a mathematical fact!”

In a now-infamous Aug. 9, 2011, taping, a cable news host has just boiled over at his assembled panel of guests. He’s yelling, at full volume. “I’ve been coming on TV for three years doing this,” he bellows, exasperated. “And the fact of the matter is that there’s a refusal on both the Democratic and the Republican side of the aisle to acknowledge the mathematical problem, which is that the United States of America is being extracted!” He has now erupted. “It’s being extracted through banking! It’s being extracted through trade! And it’s being extracted through taxation! And there’s not a single politician that has stepped forward to deal with this!”

Five months and a couple hundred thousand views later, answering The Observer‘s call from a hotel room in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the 39-year-old host of MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show sounded nothing like the man whose unhinged, frothing-at-the-mouth rants on unmitigated corporate greed went viral last summer. Nor did he sound like the man who frustrated Ed Schultz, of all people, to the point where he ended the segment in disgust, or the man who has been known to cut off guests completely. It didn’t even sound like the guy whose favorite New Yorker was Teddy Roosevelt, and whose first book, hitting bookstores in barely a week, bears the unsubtle title Greedy Bastards!

Dylan Ratigan answered the phone sounding like a calm, collected New York City bachelor enjoying a tropical vacation. One couldn’t help wondering if maybe the apoplectic, vein-popping madman wasn’t perhaps a bit of a TV creation?

Not quite. Mr. Ratigan’s rants, he assured us, were “100 percent spontaneous.”

Even the notorious “extraction” rant, the episode the show’s website refers to as his Network moment, was pure, unvarnished Ratigan, he insisted. “It’s terrible and embarrassing behavior,” he said. “It’s unprofessional to behave that way in public, for God’s sake.”

Not that he regrets the outburst. “If I had just gone on and said those things, then no one would have watched it,” he explained. “So I walk away and I’m like, ‘At least everyone is going to hear about the bank extraction.’ Not because they want to, because they want to hear Ratigan lose his shit. It’s kind of funny,” he laughed. “If I could do it on a premeditated basis, then I’d do it more often. I’d be more famous.”

Instead, the host, whose live show airs weekdays at 4 p.m., said he would rather promote a more thoughtful sort of discourse. More calm, nuanced, and positive—conversation that is, in his own words, “fuelled by compassion.”

MR. RATIGAN, who is 39, grew up in Saranac Lake, N.Y., the only child of a single mother, a social worker, whose Hungarian, Jewish father (a “hero” to his grandson) came through Ellis Island without knowing any English, but somehow built a flourishing carpet business. Mr. Ratigan’s grandfather died in a work-related accident, climbing spools of carpet in his Astoria warehouse. “Having watched how hard that man worked,” he said with a sigh, “you always kind of feel like … the nature of the work that I’m doing? It’s really not that hard.”

After graduating from Union College upstate with a bachelor’s in political economics, he worked for a time as an auditor for parking garages around the city, winding up living in a townhouse owned by his boss. His neighbors happened to include Susan Brown, the ex-wife of Michael Bloomberg—”We used to sit in the garden and smoke cigarettes together”—and the couple’s two daughters, Emma and Georgina, the three of whom he became friendly with. After leaving New York briefly to travel the country by train for a year (he was in his 20s, he explained: “It sounded like fun, so I did it”), he returned to the city and paid Ms. Brown a visit. She asked what he planned to do with his life; Mr. Ratigan had no idea. So Ms. Brown harangued her ex-husband about hiring the young man, and finally Mr. Bloomberg relented.

The timing was good. As Mr. Ratigan tells it, “The company was in the middle of an explosion of growth, and it went from 8,000 to 250,000 terminals while I was there.”

At Bloomberg, Mr. Ratigan went from reporting on mergers and acquisitions to editing. He eventually landed on-camera, winning a Gerald Loeb award for his reporting on the Enron scandal. Despite his sometimes overbearing demeanor (most notably, a loud voice that sometimes caused Mr. Bloomberg scream at him lovingly across the newsroom to “Shut up, Ratigan”), he was ultimately elevated to global managing editor for corporate finance, a position created for him. He hated the work, though, particularly the endless rounds of meetings. He left the company for a brief consulting job with Boeing, and was eventually lured to CNBC, where he co-created and hosted the daily stock market analysis show Fast Money.

Comments

  1. Arf Fartlander says:

    Criminals always remain calm and use the passion of those being swindled to question their character. That’s what they mean by the banality of evil. Crook are simple and stupid and disorganized, but calm so you can’t see them for what they are.  

    Meanwhile they rob you blind with zero emotion about it.  Thugs always believe that they are going to screw someone else before they get screwed because they know how scummy and dishonest they are and assume everyone else is a punk like them.  Reminds me of Los Angeles where It’s OK t quietly steal, but to yell that you’ve been robbed is considered pushy and unstable. It is a way of dismissing the victim.  You don’t fool me Foster. a fact is a fact. it doesn’t become less true because someone is angry about it.So your argument is that your surprise that someone who gets emotional about facts could ever be taken seriously. That’s a good raquet you got gong their.  It reminds me of the Palestinians firing rockets at villages and then playing victims when they get hit back.Dylan owns you and your shallow simple mind.

    1. Foster Kamer says:

      Mr. Fartlander – 

      Your input is appreciated.

      Regards, 

      – Foster.

    2. Bob Jacobson says:

       …And your point is?

  2. Bob Jacobson says:

    I remember Dylan’s outburst.  I turned to my partner and said to her, “My god, for once someone on commercial TV said something sane, something meaningful and actionable.”   It was a moment to be remembered and savored.

    Dylan’s analyses are more often accurate than not, even though he may blur the details a little  and leave some edges unsanded.  He can tell a good story and make the morale stick.  I can’t say the same for his guests who are often cookie-cutter pundit dough.  Get some real radicals on, people who are in the same camp as, or to the left of, say, Paul Krugman and George Stiglitz … that would catch fire!

    Whether the TV medium suits Dylan’s expository methods is a another question, however.  Perhaps if he imported those swell whiteboard cartoon animations that describe complex phenomena in one-minute expositions.  Use TV to advantage, rather than futility trying with ephemeral words and static charts to overcome the viewers’ disposition to seek visual novelty. 

    A real media designer could do wonders with this show, as would some sly humor.  It would quickly move from afternoon delight to counter-convention mainstay, the news equivalent of the Smothers Brothers Show when it was on or That Was The Week That Was. 

    Dylan’s got the stuff.  Now can he strut it?

  3. Droid says:

    Zing from Arf fartlander. I didn’t think the author was too taken aback by the anger, but rather that he was merely following Dylan’s trial by fire process of dealing with the madness, the humanity, the horror. We all need some compassion, anger was so 2011. (ha).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dylan can get rid of his weight and need for instant downers (cigaret = nicotine/carbon monoxide) if he eats only live food(no extra shelf-life) to maintain connection with life itself. The residual animal-world bacteria input gets going in places they only find out in autopsies. During this process he can read and practice “Self-Remembering” (Robert Earl Burton, 1995) and connect all points of his important life with the empathy his mother awakened in his soul.
    Transform that useful as-a- signal-only anger into quiet determination. John Bonifaz of freespeechforpeopledotorg has already done the heavy lifting.
    With the corporations marked as hostile tigers, life is good.

  5. Troy says:

    I like Ratigan. I just wish he would understand that we can’t fix these problems right away, he is way too tough on Obama. That being said, most voters don’t handle nuance, and I’m glad there is a show out there like Ratigan that doesn’t care.

  6. BurgersBytes says:

    I ALMOST felt sorry for Susan that day, but hey, she’s a Republican… Despite that fact I think Dylan is winning her over… let’s hope so anyway.

  7. And if MSNBC doesn’t like it, there is always Current TV!