The life of Chris Hayes: How a working-class boy from the Bronx became an award-winning news anchor for MSNBC

Chris Hayes at 30 Rock's Studio 6A on August 23, 2019.Chris Hayes at 30 Rock's Studio 6A on August 23, 2019.Anthony Rudick/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

  • Chris Hayes is the host of the MSNBC show "All in with Chris Hayes."
  • Born and raised in The Bronx, New York, Hayes dreamed of a life in the theater. Instead, he began to write and report when he moved to Chicago after graduating college.
  • By 28, he was the Washington editor of The Nation.
  • He transitioned from print to television and has since hosted two shows and won several Emmys. But it hasn't all been a smooth run.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Chris Hayes might be the most earnest news anchor in America.

Bookish and serious, he sometimes lacks the charm or charisma of his competitors. He's been described by numerous news organizations as "an intellectual."

For years, Hayes had lower ratings than his competitors in the same much-coveted 8 p.m. timeslot, struggling to compete with rival anchors Anderson Cooper and the now-disgraced Bill O'Reilly.

But he's hung in there. He's an unlikely success at MSNBC, coming from the relatively small world of left-wing magazines as an editor of The Nation and a socialist newspaper in Chicago before that. He transitioned from print to television thanks, in part, to a shoulder tap by MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.

He told the Chicago Tribune that his first job on television simply fell into his lap. "One of many, many, many lucky and fortunate breaks to which I've been subject," he said in 2011. But it hasn't all been luck.

Here's his life so far.

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Chris Hayes was born in 1979 and raised in the Bronx, New York, by an Italian-American mother and an Irish Catholic father. He comes from a working class background. "My mother was a teacher, my father was a community organizer," he told Politico.

Chris Hayes was born in 1979 and raised in the Bronx, New York, by an Italian-American mother and an Irish Catholic father. He comes from a working class background. "My mother was a teacher, my father was a community organizer," he told Politico.

Sources: Curbed, International Business Times, Pew Forum, Politico

He went to Hunter College High School in Manhattan, one of the best public schools in the United States. It has a competitive entrance exam that Hayes later criticized in his book "The Twilight of the Elites" as a system that favors the privileged.

He went to Hunter College High School in Manhattan, one of the best public schools in the United States. It has a competitive entrance exam that Hayes later criticized in his book "The Twilight of the Elites" as a system that favors the privileged.

Sources: Observer, Vox, T

He caught the bus from Riverdale to 94th Street, back when "96th was considered by many a scared white person to be the dividing line between civilization and chaos," according to Esquire. He's said he and his friends were often mugged.

He caught the bus from Riverdale to 94th Street, back when "96th was considered by many a scared white person to be the dividing line between civilization and chaos," according to Esquire. He's said he and his friends were often mugged.

Sources: Esquire, Chicago Tribune

His dream, when he was 14, was to be a writer and to have a David Levine caricature of him in The New York Review of Books.

His dream, when he was 14, was to be a writer and to have a David Levine caricature of him in The New York Review of Books.

Source: The New York Times

At high school, he was friends with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who he rode the bus with. Miranda said Hayes was the only friend who visited and spoke Spanish to his grandmother. Hayes was also Miranda's first director.

At high school, he was friends with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who he rode the bus with. Miranda said Hayes was the only friend who visited and spoke Spanish to his grandmother. Hayes was also Miranda's first director.

Source: Esquire

In 1997, Hayes moved to Rhode Island to study the philosophy of mathematics at Brown University, where he also wrote and acted in plays. There, he started dating his now-wife Kate Shaw.

In 1997, Hayes moved to Rhode Island to study the philosophy of mathematics at Brown University, where he also wrote and acted in plays. There, he started dating his now-wife Kate Shaw.

Sources: Observer, Esquire, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times

For Hayes, acting in Brown's theater company was one of the most formative experiences of his life.

For Hayes, acting in Brown's theater company was one of the most formative experiences of his life.

"It was probably the most important education I got in college, in terms of a practical sense for adult life. A huge amount of it was getting together with other people in a room to have a meeting to make a decision — which basically is what all adult life ends up being," he told the Chicago Tribune.

He had another formative experience in 2000, when he was 21.

He had another formative experience in 2000, when he was 21.

While attending the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, he was caught with marijuana by security. What was eye-opening for him was that security let him off. It showed him the difference between his treatment as a privileged white male, and what could have happened had he been African-American.

"I can tell you as sure as I am sitting here before you that if I was a black kid with cornrows instead of a white kid with glasses, my ass would've been in a squad car faster than you can say George W. Bush," Hayes told Huff Post.

In 2001, after finishing university, he moved to Chicago. The plan was to pursue his dream of theater.

In 2001, after finishing university, he moved to Chicago. The plan was to pursue his dream of theater.

Hayes worked as the managing director of Walkabout Theater in Chicago and was described by Kristan Schmidt, its founder, as a young man full of intelligence, curiosity, and energy. But he still wasn't sure what to do with it.

"My theater training I think is with me every day because I perform for a living at some level, making a show," he told the Chicago Tribune. "There's lights and a call time and a collaborative entity, there's a stage manager. So all of that I think is both Chicago theater and my theater upbringing in high school and then in college."

Around this time, he began to work as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly, which is where his "political juices kicked in."

Around this time, he began to work as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly, which is where his "political juices kicked in."

"He'd always been cause-oriented, but writing about social issues and political issues kind of crystallized who he was going to be," his father-in-law Andy Shaw, a well-known television journalist, told the Chicago Tribune.

Sources: International Business Times, Politico, Chicago Tribune

He then worked as a labor reporter for the socialist newspaper In These Times. Along with hard reporting, he began to write essays and opinion pieces.

He then worked as a labor reporter for the socialist newspaper In These Times. Along with hard reporting, he began to write essays and opinion pieces.

"Chicago is the place I learned to be a journalist, and I'm incredibly lucky to have learned the trade in what might be the best reporter's town in all of America," he told Time Out.

In 2006, he moved to Washington, DC and started working as a fellow for The Nation. By November 2007, at 28, he had worked his way up to its Washington editor. He wrote on politics, economic policy, foreign policy, and the American right.

In 2006, he moved to Washington, DC and started working as a fellow for The Nation. By November 2007, at 28, he had worked his way up to its Washington editor. He wrote on politics, economic policy, foreign policy, and the American right.

Sources: International Business Times, The Nation

The Nation's editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said people thought it was a gamble to put a 28-year-old at the head of the Washington office, but she wasn't worried. She knew he had integrity and independence and that he was committed to journalism.

The Nation's editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said people thought it was a gamble to put a 28-year-old at the head of the Washington office, but she wasn't worried. She knew he had integrity and independence and that he was committed to journalism.

Sources: International Business Times, The Nation

A publicist at The Nation sent MSNBC a clip of Hayes speaking on C-Span, about an article he'd written about a Texas highway then-Gov. Rick Perry was trying to build. The network liked what they saw and signed him up as a paid part-time contributor.

A publicist at The Nation sent MSNBC a clip of Hayes speaking on C-Span, about an article he'd written about a Texas highway then-Gov. Rick Perry was trying to build. The network liked what they saw and signed him up as a paid part-time contributor.

Sources: International Business Times, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune

In 2007, he married Kate Shaw, his long-term girlfriend.

In 2007, he married Kate Shaw, his long-term girlfriend.

Hayes says she's the reason he hasn't lost his soul to the TV business.

He's also said she is the most accomplished person in their house — Shaw graduated Magna Cum Laude from Brown University, clerked on the Supreme Court, and served as counsel for Obama when he was in the White House. They have two boys, Ryan and David.

Sources: International Business Times, Observer, Fatherly

Outside of his family and the news, one of Hayes' great passions is basketball.

Outside of his family and the news, one of Hayes' great passions is basketball.

He says he plays like Billy Owens. He told GQ,

"If I could wave a magic wand and it wouldn't mean taking time away from my job, my wife, my kids, and my sleep, I would play pickup basketball five days a week," he told GQ. "If you're a basketball player and you're reading trade rumors, you gotta go out and play. So, I just play. If I didn't do that, I would lose my mind."

In 2010, when MSNBC suspended host Keith Olbermann for donating to Democratic candidates.

In 2010, when MSNBC suspended host Keith Olbermann for donating to Democratic candidates.

Hayes was announced as Olbermann's successor, but the network reversed that decision as well.

Politico noted Hayes had also made donations to Democrats, in 2008 and 2009, but Hayes said he pulled out of the role because he "did feel comfortable doing it given the circumstances."

Sources: The New York Times, Politico

In 2011, Hayes began regularly filling in for "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell and impressed management. By September, he had his own show called "Up with Chris Hayes."

In 2011, Hayes began regularly filling in for "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell and impressed management. By September, he had his own show called "Up with Chris Hayes."

Sources: The New York Times, Broadcasting Cable

He says he would never have been a host if it hadn't been for Maddow.

He says he would never have been a host if it hadn't been for Maddow.

She backed him as an anchor and gave him advice with his own show. For instance, he doesn't dwell on his voice cracking during a monologue, after Maddow taught him content mattered more than a perfect delivery. Like Maddow, Hayes is "forensic" in his analysis, according to The New York Times, which allows him and his fans to position themselves as "smart, sane, and righteous."

Sources: Reuters, The New York Times

For 18 months, he hosted the show. His first rule was no sound bites or talking points.

For 18 months, he hosted the show. His first rule was no sound bites or talking points.

As far as he was concerned, his two-hour slots on Saturday and Sunday mornings were more like conversations or debates rather than typical television. And even though it was in a slot that was typically filled with religious programs, he saw it as a good jumping-off point to begin a career on television.

Sources: The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times

He was also grateful for television's "megaphone" capability, especially after watching his father and mother spend their lives working hard with little money or recognition.

He was also grateful for television's "megaphone" capability, especially after watching his father and mother spend their lives working hard with little money or recognition.

"I'm totally blessed to be able to do it in this way," he said to the Chicago Tribune.

Because news is very white, male, and straight, and because Hayes is also all of those things, he felt he had to have a diverse guest list.

Because news is very white, male, and straight, and because Hayes is also all of those things, he felt he had to have a diverse guest list.

"I feel extremely strongly given the fact that I can't do anything about my own white male straightness that I have the duty to double down in efforts to make sure what we present is reflective of the diversity of the country at large in a way that cable news doesn't always do a good job of," he told Reuters.

In 2012, he trod on more than a few toes when he questioned the meaning of the word "hero."

In 2012, he trod on more than a few toes when he questioned the meaning of the word "hero."

He said he was uncomfortable with the way politicians used it, in a way he viewed could justify more wars.

He quickly felt the wrath of the nation — or, at least, the conservative pundits who came down upon him.

So he apologized, showing he was willing to back down on contentious issues.

Source: The New York Times

In 2012, he published his first book "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy."

In 2012, he published his first book "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy."

The book looks at recent calamities like 9/11, the Iraq War, New Orleans' slow recovery, and blames the country's ruling class. One of his main arguments is that "meritocracy" has warped so that it is no longer based on merit.

Sources: New York Magazine, Rolling Stone

In 2013, Hayes took over the 8 p.m. slot for MSNBC, replacing Ed Schultz. At 32, he was the youngest anchor at the channel. His show is called "All in with Chris Hayes."

In 2013, Hayes took over the 8 p.m. slot for MSNBC, replacing Ed Schultz. At 32, he was the youngest anchor at the channel. His show is called "All in with Chris Hayes."

Source: The New York Times, The Observer

It wasn't a perfect transition from weekend host to weeknight host.

It wasn't a perfect transition from weekend host to weeknight host.

Two years into "All In," he still had occasional problems reading the teleprompter. During interviews, he could get too caught up in ideas and arguments, or speak too fast and have a jarring effect on segments.

Asked by International Business Times if he had any regrets about each show, he said, "Of course. Do I go home and spend an hour on the way home beating myself up about the question I asked, or the convoluted way I read the prompter? Yes, constantly. But generally, we all care. I care tremendously."

In 2014, Hayes did some reporting outside of his show for two episodes of a nine-part series about global warming called "Years of Living Dangerously."

In 2014, Hayes did some reporting outside of his show for two episodes of a nine-part series about global warming called "Years of Living Dangerously."

His episodes were about the impact of Hurricane Sandy and how polarizing climate change could be in politics.

Source: Brown Alumni Magazine

In 2015, "All In" was still underperforming, losing to its 8 p.m. competitors CNN, with Anderson Cooper, and Fox News, with Bill O'Reilly.

In 2015, "All In" was still underperforming, losing to its 8 p.m. competitors CNN, with Anderson Cooper, and Fox News, with Bill O'Reilly.

Traditionally cable news either informs its viewers or entertains them. Hayes was doing something in between, and it wasn't working, according to the New Republic.

Rumors of being imminently axed hung over Hayes' show, and it looked particularly likely when hosts Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid had their shows canceled early in 2015.

Rumors of being imminently axed hung over Hayes' show, and it looked particularly likely when hosts Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid had their shows canceled early in 2015.

Sources: Variety, International Business Times

But, according to CNN, three factors kept him in the game.

But, according to CNN, three factors kept him in the game.

The first factor is that MSNBC chairman Andy Lack was too busy dealing with the fallout from exaggerations made by anchor Brian Williams at the time.

The second was that Lack was also busy trying to find someone to fill a weekend anchor slot first.

Source: CNN

And perhaps most importantly, Hayes' show won an Emmy for its coverage of American poverty.

And perhaps most importantly, Hayes' show won an Emmy for its coverage of American poverty.

The series "Fifty Year War: The Changing Face of Poverty In America" received an Emmy in 2015 for Outstanding News Discussion & Analysis. The win made cancelling Hayes' show difficult.

As an MSNBC source told CNN, "It's sort of hard to ax the guy you're promoting."

Another source said, "It's possible that by the time Andy comes up with a solution, the solution is to let Chris stay."

Sources: Deadline, CNN

Soon enough, Hayes found his feet.

Soon enough, Hayes found his feet.

One thing became clear: He was often most at ease out of the studio. He reported from Ferguson on riots in 2014, and was told by the police they'd mace him if he tried to get past them.

"I do love field reporting," he said. "I love being able to sort of bring some of that thoroughness and storytelling to this medium that you would, say, put into a feature magazine article. That is very satisfying."

Sources: International Business Times, Vox

He continued writing, too. In March 2017, he published his second book "A Colony In A Nation," about the police state and incarceration in America.

He continued writing, too. In March 2017, he published his second book "A Colony In A Nation," about the police state and incarceration in America.

He told Esquire he felt he had a unique perspective since he had grown up in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, when police were working on policies that would later be used in Baltimore and Ferguson.

Sources: Esquire, Chicago Reader

In an interview with The Nation about his book, he discussed the silver lining of President Trump.

In an interview with The Nation about his book, he discussed the silver lining of President Trump.

What Hayes liked about Trump was the lack of subtlety. The subtext behind his policies was clear. He said things like Trump's declaration that Mexico was sending in rapists showed the "driving force" behind his politics.

"It's harder and harder for people to pretend, for instance, that the immigration-restriction movement isn't fundamentally animated by some sort of bigoted animus," he told The Nation.

In 2018, his show won another Emmy for its coverage of violence in Chicago.

In 2018, his show won another Emmy for its coverage of violence in Chicago.

Source: Newsweek

In May 2018, he launched his podcast "Why is This Happening?"

In May 2018, he launched his podcast "Why is This Happening?"

In it, he interviews thinkers, politicians, and experts on the subjects that "keep him up at night." The idea stemmed from convoluted monologues he made during his daily editorial meetings at MSNBC, which his staff jokingly called "The Chris Hayes podcast."

Sources: Billboard, Tune In

In April 2019, Hayes hosted a climate change town hall with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In April 2019, Hayes hosted a climate change town hall with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Fox News' Tucker Carlson pounced and said Hayes was, "what every man would be if feminists ever achieved absolute power in this country: apologetic, bespectacled, and deeply, deeply concerned about global warming and the patriarchal systems that cause it."

Source: Salon

In October 2019 Hayes' show took a turn.

In October 2019 Hayes' show took a turn.

He started putting his theatre background to good use at MSNBC by hosting a live version on Fridays.

He had an audience too, that was warmed up by a comedian. Although the audience has to be reminded that not everything on the show was funny. The idea was to harness Hayes' enthusiasm, which he showed while doing a live tour of his podcast, in 2018.

Source: Variety

In October 2019, Hayes made headlines when he called out MSNBC's leadership for how they handled Ronan Farrow's story about Harvey Weinstein.

In October 2019, Hayes made headlines when he called out MSNBC's leadership for how they handled Ronan Farrow's story about Harvey Weinstein.

"The path of least resistance is always there, beckoning seductively with an entirely plausible cover story," he said at the end of an episode. "But of course, it's the very ease of that path that makes it the enemy of the very work that we as journalists are supposed to do."

After a long period of adjustment, Hayes told Variety he's finally gotten his head around the world of cable news.

After a long period of adjustment, Hayes told Variety he's finally gotten his head around the world of cable news.

He's going to continue holding truth to power and leaving his mark.

Source: Variety

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