Van Jones Mixes Activism with Entertainment on CNN Show

by: Nadine Matthews Special to the AFRO
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This isn’t Tennessee native Anthony “Van” Jones’ first time at the rodeo. It is however, the first time he is riding by himself. Van Jones previously co-hosted a talk show on CNN called Crossfire. His new weekly show (also on CNN) has him going it alone. “You know,” he tells the AFRO, “on Crossfire there were four co-hosts and if it went well no individual host would get much of the credit and if it went badly no individual host would get much of the blame. This thing is called ‘The Van Jones Show’ he laughs, “so if it goes well or badly, it’s kind of more on me.”

Van Jones will be hosting his own show on CNN.

The first episode, which aired just a few weeks ago during the weekend of the Grammys, started off with a bang. Music mogul Jay-Z was the guest and some of his comments about President Donald Trump being a “superbug” caused Trump to not only take notice, but to do what he perhaps does best- tweet a response. Asked if he thought this might become a regular thing Jones replied, “I doubt it. I’m not worried about Donald Trump and his little silly tweets.”

Jones came away wholly impressed by his first guest. “I thought Jay-Z’s comments were very,very nuanced and wise,” he says. ”I also appreciated how open and honest and vulnerable he was. He’s moving hip hop into a more confessional and less braggadocious space.”

The father of two, news commentator, author and lifelong social activist is excited about incorporating some new elements into the show such as the use of social media. He says, “I want to use more social video. We went on social media and asked people to send in their videos. We were able to actually integrate some of those videos into our programming. I want to do more of that. I also want to go out and do more of “Van in a van” because although we talk about those communities, we don’t talk to the people in those communities enough.”

The self-professed geek, (“I’m a comic book and science fiction geek so I love anything related to superheroes,”) has his own opinions on the ways in which social media can work against the democratic process. He says, “I think people are mistaking liking and sharing Facebook posts for political activism. There are a lot of things we do now that scratches the political itch without making a political difference.”

Ideally he says, “We are trying to create a show that can be reflective and show some real emotional intelligence and capture the part of the audience that feels they don’t have a campfire they can sit around where they really come away feeling refreshed.”

When it comes to guests, look out for the politics-adjacent crowd. He says, “I want to talk to people who are consequential and close to the political world but not always and only politicians. Through Donald Trump in 2016 and with the women’s march, #metoo, and #timesup movements pop culture turned around and took over politics. We have a lot of celebrities with a lot to say and that’s also true of outspoken athletes and other entertainers so I just want to have a show where we talk about politics but sometimes bring in celebrity voices talking substantively, or grass roots individuals.” The ultimate question is he says, “who is consequential in the culture and might have something interesting to say?”

On Feb. 10 Malcolm Jenkins, the Philadelphia Eagle who says he will not join his team in visiting the White House after winning the Super Bowl, will be a guest.

In terms of the responsibilities that journalists of today have toward the viewing audience, Jones says, “We are in a transitional moment for humanity right now with technology and ecological change and these really wild political movements that are popping up everywhere. The challenge as journalists is to be able to share not just the content of what happened but the broader context. If we focus on getting the content and the context right, I trust society to get the politics right.”

Besides taking in his sons’ athletic exploits, “I have two sons who are great athletes. I was a terrible athlete so I live vicariously through them,” there is virtually nothing Jones says he enjoys more than his life’s work. “People always ask ‘What do you do when you’re not doing this?’ Well, I’d be getting ready to do this because this is what I like to do. I love helping people, I love fighting bad guys, I love elevating truth, I love poking sacred cows. It’s a blast. When you’re doing what you really like to do, it doesn’t feel like work.”

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