by Mark Hemingway
Friday, 1
July 2022
HerdWatch
17:15

Goodbye and good luck, Rachel Maddow

The MSNBC host left her mark as one of the most entertaining Trump critics
by Mark Hemingway
The Queen of MSNBC

MSNBC recently announced that Alex Wagner would be taking over the timeslot of Rachel Maddow, the network’s highest-rated primetime anchor, four days a week. Maddow took a hiatus earlier this year to work on the film adaptation of her book on Spiro Agnew, and has appeared on the network only sporadically since. With Maddow gone, ratings in her time slot are down 40% in ‘the demo,’ as they say in the biz. And though her contract keeps Maddow affiliated with MSNBC in some capacity through 2024, it looks as though the end of the Maddow era is upon us.

The MSNBC host became a dominant figure in cable news because she was supposed to be different from her peers in the industry. She was a Stanford and Oxford-educated intellectual. A sarcastic uptalking lesbian trailblazer in hipster glasses whose image and sensibilities would skewer the GOP and give the proudly liberal consumers of more august news outlets such as NPR and The Atlantic an excuse to go slumming in primetime cable news. It was Maddow, they believed, who alone could transcend the icky tabloid sensibilities of the medium.

Instead, she gave them all that and more. During the Trump presidency, she floated increasingly deranged Russiagate conspiracies to her credulous audience, making absurdly overconfident pronouncements such as: “Above all else, we know this about the now-famous dossier: Christopher Steele had this story before the rest of America did. And he got it from Russian sources.” (We now know it’s more accurate to say that Steele’s “primary sub-source” was Igor Danchenko, a Russian who worked at The Brookings Institution who in turn was getting his information from a Clinton campaign lawyer who was just making stuff up).

But the most devastating critique of Maddow’s journalism eventually came from the heterodox journalist, Matt Taibbi, who pointed out her nightly nonsense on Russiagate was uncomfortably close to the WMD boosterism of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that helped push America into the Iraq War.

While it is true that nearly the entire American media establishment fell for the Russia-Collusion story, Maddow was a particularly vocal cheerleader. In doing so, she turned herself into the figurehead of the Trump resistance, playing the game better than anyone else did. Essentially, this is what her audience was clamouring for — and she duly provided. As one legendary figure in the cable news told me: “The thing you have to understand is that it’s an entertainment medium first, and a news medium second.”

Unlike MSNBC, Fox News makes no bones about this, even if the network does get carried away some times. But the other thing going on here is that Fox caters to an audience that college-educated liberals profess to care about and have largely abandoned. As Batya Ungar-Sargon writes in her recent and incisive book Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy: “Conservative media is conservative because it caters to the working class, and not the other way around”. Besides, whenever MSNBC does pay attention to the working class, it’s to hector them about being duped by Fox News and Trump with no attempt to win them over.

Perhaps the air of superiority would be warranted if hosts like Maddow had really made a stab at elevating cable news — and there were sporadic highlights in this regard — but overall she never lost sight of the fact she was working first and foremost to entertain her audience. As such, she transformed her show into the kind of buzzy Prestige TV Drama that flattered the sensibilities of its viewers without actually challenging them intellectually.

Did Maddow deserve better? On a recent podcast, even her cable news rival Tucker Carlson said she was a very nice person. True or not, I look forward to her second act as someone who lives in the Berkshires and writes middlebrow books about Spiro Agnew. It suits her talents, and unlike being a cable news host, it’s a career I’m genuinely envious of.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
1 month ago

As one legendary figure in the cable news told me: “The thing you have to understand is that it’s an entertainment medium first, and a news medium second.”
Yup. And the legacy print media is now a mouthpiece for mostly progressive (sometimes strongly conservative) extremists, and if they fail to pander to their core readership they will fail.
Publications such as The Economist, The Spectator, and Unherd try to provide balanced and thoughtful commentary. It remains to be seen if enough people are still willing to pay for that type of content.

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 month ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The Economist???

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The Economist went down the Guardian/BBC hole at least ten years ago. I don’t know any businesspeople who rely on it anymore. It’s more of a house journal for aspiring NGO/UN types these days.

michael harris
michael harris
1 month ago

I gave it up very long ago. In the Heath years to be exact when they kept on proposing ‘rational’ solutions to the out and out power struggle between unions and government.
They are still at it. Still imagining they are sensible and middle of the road while their biases throb like unhealed bruises.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago
Reply to  michael harris

Business is the engine that provides everything for the state but it’s hard to find any decent informative, let alone unbiased, journalism about what’s happening.
Partly I suspect because anyone who knows is actually doing it, not working for a media outlet.
The best unfiltered business news is frequently to be found in local papers and websites, or some trade journals.

Last edited 1 month ago by Brendan O'Leary
Art C
Art C
1 month ago

I gave The Economist up years ago too, having had long term subscriptions in the nineties and again from 2002 on. It’s uniform political correctness, achieved in the late 2000s, was nauseating; and definitely not worth wasting good money on!

Everett Maddox
Everett Maddox
1 month ago

Never spent a minute watching the deviant R Maddow. Time is too precious for TV drivel.. but thoroughly enjoy Unherd, mostly because of the articulate comments that tend to be good debate and contribution instead of vitriol.

Art C
Art C
1 month ago
Reply to  Everett Maddox

You certainly didn’t miss anything. I used to watch occasional clips out of fascination for the “show” aspect of what used to be news. Maddow is indeed a consumate “showman” (or should that be “showthing”). For the rest, the woman is a liar, a fraud & a coward to boot. Her performances during the early Trump presidency indeed bordered on the absurd. And her follow-up posturing during the covid drama invite contempt. This is a person who would have been a devout bootlicker of Dr Goebbels.

john O'Neal
john O'Neal
1 month ago
Reply to  Everett Maddox

I never had cable until the lockdown. She is utterly twisted and spastic. Seriously spastic.
Even her mouth is twisted as she speaks out of one side of a crooked mouth.
It is scary to me that a large segment of society takes her lunatic act seriously, and actually believes the bald lies she tells them.
It is bizarre and frightening.
There is no mystery, the Dems aren’t blundering, they are fulfilling their intention to destroy the USA prepatory to UN totalitarianism over the planet.

T. Lister
T. Lister
1 month ago
Reply to  Everett Maddox

Deviant? Is your homophobia showing? Is an ad hominem attack the best you have?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

Never thought I’d be nostalgic for the days when Jerry Springer was the trashiest thing on television. As bad as he and his ilk were, at least their shenanigans had very little serious impact on anything meaningful, while cable news has a huge influence in our political environment.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago

Never head of her. Or of MSNBC.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

i’ve pulled one of the arrows out of your back. We have obviously not been watching the “Correct” newsfeeds.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Thanks!
Something else I don’t know: Which side was shooting at me?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Big Trump fan.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I’ve seen the name but had no idea why she was famous. Actress, journalist, politician? No idea. Had to be one of those though. Or all three.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
1 month ago

A farewell to Maddow, by Mark Hemingway. Excellent comment.

Monty Mounty
Monty Mounty
1 month ago

I give Rachel several Ds: Disgusting, Divisive, Destructive, Damnable, Dangerous.

john O'Neal
john O'Neal
1 month ago

She is not a nice person. Nice people don’t tell lies that hurt other people.

Rod Miller
Rod Miller
1 month ago

If nuclear war is the upshot of the Ukraine mess, Maddow will bear major blame.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 month ago

She entertained her dwindling audience by telling lies.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 month ago

Maddow made a fool of herself over the ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ hoax but given that she made millions lying to the public nightly, I am guessing she’s laughing all the way to the bank. She’s rather despicable.

0 0
0 0
1 month ago

Her coverage of the water catastrophe in Flint was outstanding. Her understanding and expose of the underlying politics of the oil industry in Russia was also outstanding. Even her coverage of the connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian intelligence operatives was very good. That some of the items she discussed has been discredited is not unusual. Have any of you ever compared her erroneous reporting to that of Fox News?

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago
Reply to  0 0

No I haven’t. I pay little or no attention to American political coverage. When I have listened in, it seems to be nothing more than propaganda masquerading as informed analysis.

Henry Cunha
Henry Cunha
1 month ago

How do I unsubscribe this website?

Eriol 0
Eriol 0
1 month ago
Reply to  Henry Cunha

If you mean UnHerd, I’m thinking the same, this site has gone downhill