“Joy’s fearless authenticity is perfect for this moment, when people feel like, ‘Am I crazy? Are things absolutely bonkers right now, or am I losing my mind?’’’ says her fellow MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “To find someone who is as commanding as Joy is, who’s like, ‘No, things are pretty nuts, and here’s why,’ that really resonates.”

Reid never thought she’d be the one in the host’s chair, but her childhood couldn’t have scripted that path more clearly. Growing up in Montbello, Colorado, she was a word vulture, calling dibs on the crossword and front page of the newspaper and plowing her way through a set of bound classic books her mother had bought from a door-to-door salesman.

“As a woman of color,” Cross notes, “there’s often this unspoken pressure to dot your i’s with hearts to avert the presumed angry Black woman stereotype. But Joy skirts past that and gets right to the business of unapologetic truth telling.”

Reid also looks for what she calls “ideological diversity,” although that can backfire in cases like the dustup that earned her Rhimes’s attention. “I’m not trying to do Barnum & Bailey’s circus. If you’re coming on to do a circus act and say that Hillary Clinton murdered 40 people, we can’t have a conversation,” she says. When she appears on Meet the Press, she’s been known to run upstairs, in heels, to her own studio between breaks to check a fact. “You have to act fast, because once something’s said on TV, people think it’s true. So that’s one of the reasons I will interrupt people.” Notes Hayes, “She has this deep centeredness I have come to really value and appreciate. She doesn’t really raise her voice. She’s not a ranter; she’s not a yeller.”

Still, every viral clip earns cries of approval from the rah-rah arm of the left-wing media—and ire from the far right. Reid tells me the harassment has spread beyond Twitter; she recently had to inform NBC of a rape threat.

Her philosophy, she tells me, is just to keep on keeping on. “We’re trying to fill the show with as many fact-vitamins as we can, to inoculate our audience against the fact-free nonsense they’ll deal with the rest of the week. We’re trying to load you up with nutritious facts, so when you go into the world and are arguing with your argle-bargle uncle who’s trying to tell you Seth Rich was murdered [referring to the conspiracy theory that the Clintons were somehow involved], you’ve got some facts; or they tell you that Uranium One was a scandal, you’ve got something. We’re delivering people some ammunition to be able to fight in a fact-free world.”

This article originally appears in ELLEmagazine

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