Jonathan Lemire Ups the Stakes of the 2024 Election for MSNBC: Can’t ‘Just Cover the Horse Race’

The “Way Too Early” anchor ramps up election coverage with a grueling wake-up time and multiple roles between MSNBC and Politico

Jonathan Lemire MSNBC

Jonathan Lemire says while it is part of his job to cover 2024 “even better than 2016 and 2020 because the stakes are so high,” the MSNBC anchor warns that “We can’t lose sight and just cover the horse race.”

“We are now dealing with a major party nominee who is not only on trial but also fueled an insurrection,” Lemire told TheWrap. “Obviously, the polls matter, developments matter, campaigns matter and we’ll cover all of that, but we also have to cover the stakes of the election.” 

Lemire is the regular host of “Way Too Early,” MSNBC’s morning program that fitting to its name, starts promptly at 5 am ET daily. Lemire was named the host in Oct. 2021 and has since committed to setting the agenda for early risers, policymakers, and business leaders, while previewing stories that “Morning Joe” will discuss in depth. 

In March, “Way Too Early” saw its third consecutive month of double-digit year-over-year viewership growth. In the first quarter of 2024, the early morning program had double-digit year-over-year viewership growth for the 4th consecutive quarter, up 22%. 

“It’s like a curtain raiser,” Lemire told TheWrap of “Way Too Early’s” relationship with “Morning Joe.” “It’s a lot of the same people. It’s all under the same umbrella.”

While led by similar teams, Lemire says the programs have very different paces, with “Way Too Early” representing a “straightforward news show,” whereas “Morning Joe” is “famously more freewheeling.”

Jonathan Lemire MSNBC

After starting to appear on “Morning Joe” during the summer of 2017 and quickly becoming a regular contributor, Lemire is now present for all four hours daily and often assumes co-hosting duties. Lemire is seen as the connective tissue between the two programs, which allows for a seamless viewer experience with MSNBC’s morning coverage. 

“Part of what makes ‘Morning Joe’ so special is Joe and Mika leading the way and then the chemistry we all have,” Lemire said.

Not only does the MSNBC anchor sit for five hours of straight coverage starting at 5 a.m. daily, but he also serves as Politico’s White House bureau chief. Lemire is a veteran Washington journalist who has covered both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump extensively. He is the only MSNBC anchor to also be a beat reporter covering the day-to-day workings of both men’s presidential administrations and campaigns. 

“The jobs complement each other,” Lemire said. “There’s a real through-line with everything that I do.”

Occasionally, Lemire added, “There’ll be an idea that sparked a conversation on the show that will turn into a story that I write for Politico, or bring something back from Politico and then bring it here.”

Lemire also serves as a political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. He also published his first book, “THE BIG LIE: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020,” in 2022, which was an instant New York Times bestseller. An updated paperback version will be released on May 7. 

Prior to joining Politico, Jonathan was a White House reporter for The Associated Press where he covered two presidential administrations, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He previously covered New York City and State politics, spending more than a decade at the New York Daily News. 

Lemire spoke to TheWrap in depth about his grueling but rewarding schedule and how he is approaching the 2024 election and Trump’s trials from a coverage standpoint. 

I would love to know what a typical day looks like for you. What time do you wake up and what kind of media do you consume before “Way Too Early”?

My alarm goes off right at about 3:15 am. My rule is my feet need to be on the floor by 3:30. And I try not to wake anybody else up. First of all, credit to the team at “Way Too Early” and “Morning Joe,” where a lot of the work that goes into the finishing touches on the show is done overnight. I’m on a long-running text chain with our producer and our team of bookers, and other producers all day long. It’s a running conversation on what guests we want, what stories do we want to do. As soon as the show is over, we’re already thinking about the next. Of course, it changes as the day goes on, but then at a certain moment, I do have to try to get a little bit of sleep. I try to get to bed around 9:00 and I’m not always successful. 

In the morning, what I do is I read in again using Twitter/X, looking at my email, and for final touches I use a last flurry of texts with them as I’m getting ready in the car, on the way in. Then here, I touch base one more time, once I arrive at the studio and then I’m into makeup and those wizards make me look presentable and awake. Then I’m on set and we’re off to the races. It’s magic. 

I’d be lying if I said I’m not tired, but it’s a privilege. It’s such an important moment in the country in terms of news and the election and everything else, that I feel like seizing the opportunity. I’m grateful for the chance. 

You have a lot of different roles between “Way Too Early,” “Morning Joe,” and Politico White House bureau chief. How do you balance all of the metaphorical hats you wear? 

Well, the jobs complement each other. There’s a real through line with everything that I do. I host “Way Too Early” at 5:00 am and then I seamlessly transition, I’m sort of the connective tissue with “Morning Joe”. It’s really an important job. I shift into playing a co-host role. It dovetails nicely with what I do at Politico. 

Certainly, there are sources who are more inclined to talk to you because you’re on television, so therefore that helps with the Politico job. When I’m working at Politico and really getting into the nitty gritty, and talking to people who wouldn’t be comfortable talking on camera, but I’m getting information that I can present through my sources and I can manage to inform viewers via MSNBC. It’s a lot and the days are long. I write stories more days than not or at least contribute to my colleagues’ stories. I also will sometimes do hits later in the day for MSNBC as well. It’s a balancing act, to be sure but it’s one that with the support of my colleagues and my understanding family, I can pull off. 

You mentioned the makeup of the demographics of the viewership that would be up at that time to watch the show. I’m wondering how you approach your coverage with that in mind. 

I think it’s a mix of early risers and insomniacs. We definitely know that we get some West Coast viewers who are who have been working late and are just settling down for the night. It’s our job and we take responsibility to present a really tight, clean hour of news to prioritize the stories that matter. Here’s what you need to know to get out the door. We have people tell us all the time that if they only have an hour to catch up, they’ll either watch live or they’ll record it and watch it when they wake up because it’s such a good introduction. Hey, here’s what I need to know today. That’s our guiding philosophy and we play it right down the middle. We call things up when we see them or we speak truth to power. We’re not afraid to do that. But we also try to have a little fun. We make sure we have a sports segment every day. I occasionally indulge in a bad joke. The planet things I talk eternally too much about the Boston Red Sox. 

With Trump’s hush money trial underway, how would you say you are approaching coverage of this trial and his other legal challenges in general? 

We’ve been covering it pretty exhaustively. I mean this matters. We have a small team of legal experts who we can call upon. We’re grateful for that and also smart political minds who can talk to us through the attack on the election. We’re not going to indulge him in his nonsensical claims of witch hunt. We’re not going to let him blame things on President Biden when ministration has nothing to do with it. I mean, we consider ourselves fact-checkers. That’s an ethos I still have in the work I do at Politico and with MSNBC. We’re gonna make sure to provide smart context smart fact checks, and tell people really what’s going on. 

But it’s an important moment while also not the only story we’re going to cover. The trials are a big part of what we’re going to do over the next few months. I do think it’s so easy to be lost in the day-to-day, almost become numb to it, because we’re just living with this for so long. Our job is to break through that to tell viewers, this is history. This is the first time a sitting president and the nominee for his party again, has now become a criminal defendant. That matters. It’s a cliche, but it’s watching history unfold in progress. 

Speaking to how unusual this presidential election is, do you think that the media is prepared? 

I think that we continue to learn. I have spoken previously, and I’m far from alone on this, we certainly made our fair share of mistakes in 2016. Every media outlet across the board made its mistakes. We gave too much unedited airtime, and probably felt trapped in the game, but I think we’ve improved during the time of Donald Trump’s presidency. You have to provide fact-checking and you have to provide context. If something he said was offensive, you say it’s offensive because if it’s something that’s racist, you say it’s racist. Not just for Donald Trump but for anybody. You have to go into that with that mindset. 


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