Maddow’s Magic, Megyn’s Misfire

How else can I say it? Rolling Stone’s recent interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is required reading for any serious student of politics and history; it should be included in any university course that looks back on how the mainstream media handled the unique controversies of the Trump administration.

Asked about her coverage of Trump, Maddow observes:

We have a mantra when it comes to this administration: “Don’t pay attention to what they say, focus on what they do.” And that is very helpful, because it’s easier to cover a fast-moving story when you’re not distracted by whatever the White House denials are. It’s fascinating that H.R. McMaster and Dina Powell and Rex Tillerson, these very impressive people, all came out and denied that the president gave the Russians secret intelligence in the Oval Office. But, then, the next morning the president was like, “Yeah, I did tell the Russians!” So that’s a sign to not get too hung up on what the White House is saying at any moment, because even their most credible people are being put forward to lie, bluntly, regularly . . . and it’s [considered] OK!

The magazine notes:

Though Trump’s so-far chaotic presidency has helped boost cable ratings across the board, no program has benefited as much as Maddow’s, whose audience has almost tripled, from 849,000 nightly viewers in 2014 to more than 2.3 million today, and growing. In mid-May, The Rachel Maddow Show was second only to the NBA playoffs as the most-watched program on cable, period.

While Maddow thrives, her NBCUniversal colleague Megyn Kelly continues to fail, with her Sunday Night show nosediving in the ratings for the fourth consecutive week. After the headache-inducing controversy surrounding her interview with a notorious conspiracy theorist, one can hear NBCUniversal executives muttering, “What the hell were we thinking?!”

Maddow is presumably prevented by a non-disparagement clause in her contract from speaking her mind about her fellow NBCUniversal employee. Even if she were not restricted by such a clause, Maddow would be too classy to call out Kelly as an overhyped fraud and an embarrassment to journalism. However, Maddow would be more than justified in resenting Kelly’s unearned and unmerited media spotlight. She would be right to wonder whether her employer would have sounded the trumpet for the hiring of someone not right-wing and not straight.

Kelly’s move to NBC News is already one of the worst big-media failures in history. Did it ever dawn on the NBCUniversal executives who hired Kelly that she would not be able to bring her Fox News fan base with her, that she was nowhere as big of a name as they thought she was? (They seem to have come to that conclusion about Greta Van Susteren.) Did it ever dawn on these folks that they already had a star and proven ratings draw in-house? Why not have Maddow on NBC on Sunday nights?

Maddow further observes:

From the very beginning, I’ve had a deal with MSNBC that they don’t tell me what to cover, what not to cover or how to cover what I cover. I’m not trying to make people happy. I’m trying to do an excellent job telling the stories that I think are important. That’s all I can do…

When something important is happening, I want people to feel like they should come to me. Sometimes news will break during our hour, and whether or not we’re first, we’ve got to absorb it, figure out that it’s important, fact-check it, turn it around, present it to the viewers, and we nail it, and that can be a real source of pride.

Kelly will never know what’s it’s like to feel the sort of pride Maddow feels. It’s the pride that comes from refusing to contribute to the dumbing down of American political culture and standing up night after night for truth and wisdom. It’s hard work, and it’s good to see hard work rewarded.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.