Effect Measure

The Maddow era

I confess that I am a political news junkie. In the 2004 election my main source of information were blogs (DailyKos, MyDD and Eschaton were my mainstays, with lots of others being hit on a regular basis). I still read them (I’ve added OpenLeft, AmericaBlog and ThinkProgress to the must read list, hitting lots of others almost as often), but unlike 2004 Mrs.R. and I also watch cable news, usually MSNBC’s 7 pm to 10 pm line-up. It’s mainly entertainment value. We don’t learn much we didn’t already know. It’s sort of like the old days when the family gathered around the TV set each night, except now it’s just the old gal and me. The kids have families and lives of their own. Still, Mrs.R. and I still enjoy each other’s company so it has become a nightly ritual. Chris Matthews is so monumentally superficial and uninformed I could scream sometimes (I’m pretty relaxed, so I just talk back to him instead). I used to like Keith Olberman’s Countdown when he was pretty much the only progressive voice with a regular cable show, but he has gotten insufferable. His “special comments” are stylistically like self-parodies (although I usually agree with them), and the questions he asks his inside the beltway guests like Howard Fineman are simultaneously leading and stupid. But the big event of the season has been the debut of Rachel Maddow in the 9 pm slot on MSNBC.

Maddow took over for the truly — I mean truly — insufferable Dan Abrams, which Mrs. R. and I always referred to as “the twerp.” I’m not sure why we bothered to watch him at all. I guess Mrs. R. and I were passing the time with each other. But Maddow has become worth watching for the substance, something Olberman never managed. She’s astute and well informed, unafraid of her “fake uncle,” the odious Pat Buchanan (whom she seems to like despite the fact that the is a vile piece of shit), intellectually honest (something Olberman never was or is) and almost always civil with a wisp of kindness. Apparently I am not the only one to find her refreshing:

Ms. Maddow and every other cable news anchor are beneficiaries of the heightened interest in the presidential campaign. Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor,” the highest-rated hour on cable news, reached an average of four million viewers in September; it had two million during the same period a year ago.

Still, Ms. Maddow’s ascent is unique in its swiftness. Her program immediately drew almost half a million viewers ages 25 to 54 in a slot where a quarter of a million is more common. Even if her ratings decline after the election — and history suggests they are likely to — Mr. Griffin contended that Ms. Maddow’s performance confirmed that cable news was “a three-way race now.” (New York Times)

Maddow lives in a farmhouse in western Massachusetts with her partner. She doesn’t own a TV. For the last 6 years her “regular” job has been a well regarded slot on the progressive radio network Air America (title is the same as her MSNBC show: The Rachel Maddow Show). The reason we watch every night is election obsession. Will we keep watching after November 4 (assuming we haven’t committed suicide because McCain – Palin won)?

Don’t know. I have a stack of books two feet high on my “next book” list, a big grant up for competitive renewal, having fun with my research, additional responsibilities as chair of the Faculty Senate and two little grandchildren living nearby (both here at the moment). Oh, yes. The blog. So once the election is past I’m hoping to return to a more normal routine. Which doesn’t include obsessive blog reading, the Newshour on PBS, three hours of MSNBC and then The Daily Show. It’s a wonder I get anything done.

In any event, the question here is whether the success of Maddow’s show is finally a signal that progressive views will get an airing on mainstream media (MSM). The lie that the MSM is “liberal” is just a right wing talking point. The primary print, cable and network media are not right wing, but they are definitely right of center (the reference being where the American public is politically). The success of MSNBC’s center-left programming, modest as it is, shows that there is an audience. Is this the dawning of the Maddow era?


  1. #1 gilmore
    October 22, 2008

    The bride and I were thrilled when RM got her own show. A new face with a non confrontational style that still allows her to respectfully disagree.

    She should toss her “fake uncle,” Pat Buchanan under the (campaign) bus and find a more reasoned view from the right…


  2. #2 Ann
    October 22, 2008

    I follow almost the exact same routine every night. It may well be true about the Maddow era.

  3. #3 C. Corax
    October 22, 2008

    I used to listen to her morning show on the local rock station. Darn, she was good! It’s been fun to watch her rise to the Bigtime. However, I don’t watch TV, so all I see are snippetsonline brought to my attention by blogs.

  4. #4 Dylan
    October 22, 2008

    Rachel has a genuinely compelling personality; and she exudes warmth that clearly is neither manufactured, nor superficial. Contrast that with Sarah Palin. She’s also very bright, and extremely well informed. She is exactly the sort of person that anyone with half a brain would love to have as a sister, or a daughter.

  5. #5 Rene Theberge
    October 22, 2008

    I’m able to say that “I knew her when” as she and my wife and I worked together with others over the course of a couple of years on prison abolition issues. This was a number of years ago (and its been years since I’ve seen her) when she was the host on a local radio station. I can testify from our experience that she is absolutely brilliant, passionate and hilarious. She’s a lot of fun to be around and I learned a lot from her. She’s the real thing, very genuine. When we ran into her once after she began on Air America and was getting known nationally, she was still the same old real person with no pretension and lots of interest in what we were doing.

    I generally agree with Revere’s comments on the rest of the MSNBC lineup. Let’s hope she continues to be successful and her audience grows.

  6. #6 caia
    October 22, 2008

    One thing I appreciate about Rachel Maddow is how she’ll call Democrats onto the carpet when she thinks they’re screwing up, either strategically or principles-wise… or both. She’s unabashed in her partisan preferences, but that doesn’t make her an uncritical cheerleader.

    And she just seems so real, unlike the grandfathered in blowhards and seemingly vat-grown newsclones. I’m amazed that she can like Pat Buchanan when she’s said how much his speech at the 1992 Republican Convention shook her at the time. But I suspect it does have to do with some fundamental kindness… and perhaps she’s improving him by being friends with him, as well

  7. #7 Abel Pharmboy
    October 22, 2008

    I’m watching her now, just after Buchanan ranted at her about Joe Biden after she asked real questions about Palin. I think that her attitude makes Pat look like her crazy old uncle.

    I saw that NYT mag interview with her this past Sunday. She made me long for my old pickup and home in the country.

  8. #8 Faith
    October 22, 2008

    The husband and I have exactly the same routine and can I just say, Thank Maude for someone intellectually honest! It’s about time!

  9. #9 MoM
    October 24, 2008

    I’m late getting here, but ATC on NPR did an interesting piece on her tonight. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96039037

    I really like listening to her.

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