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MSNBC: Rachel Maddow — The Mary Poppins of the Left

Posted on July 9 2009 9:49 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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mary_poppins6a00e54f05d430883400e554ddf66d8833-320wiSurely I’m not the only one to see the resemblance?

Perhaps it’s best to begin with a heretical statement: I like former Air America host Rachel Maddow. She’s funny, entertaining, and brings a much lighter touch than the ideological battering ram of her MSNBC colleague, Keith Olbermann. I don’t mind watching her even though I no longer share her politics. If more cable news hosts imitated her style, we’d have a much more pleasant media.

That being said, she’s not going to get a free pass from me from when she’s out of line.

Maddow’s the Mary Poppins of cable news. (Just look at the resemblance!) If she herself is frequently likable, it’s more often than not her guests — her soot-covered chimney-sweep radical journalists and pundits — that usually deliver the dirtiest tricks. It’s really a rather clever strategy. She can stay clean while her guests fling the darkest mud at her political enemies on the Right.

Here’s a summary of Wednesday night’s program, both her ups and downs:

1. Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff (who recently engaged in a debate with David Horowitz and Ben Johnson about their book Party of Defeat) was first up to talk about whether the CIA misled congress and Nancy Pelosi. I found this first story a confusing he said/she said that served only to muddy the debate.

2. A brief story talked about how Greenpeace, an environmentalist group whose disaffected co-founder describes as being “dominated by leftwingers and extremists,” unfurled a banner on Mount Rushmore jabbing at President Obama that said, “America honors leaders, not politicians. Stop global warming!” Maddow quipped that the activists now have to decided whether to “shop the photo-op to [socialist magazine] Mother Jones or to Men’s Health.” (I imagine the latter would probably pay more.) Not her funniest joke of the night.

3. Then the episode’s “slime the Republicans” segment began with some “news” about Senator John Ensign’s recent infidelity. (It’s only “news” because Maddow and MSNBC want it to be news.) A letter from Ensign apologizing to his former mistress, her children, and her family was published. Maddow read it on air and had it on screen. She then tied it to the South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s affair before making a transition into talking about whether or not Sarah Palin is wanted to campaign for Republican candidates. Maddow knits all these stories together — as though they’re somehow related — before introducing professional Republican- basher Frank Rich.

“This is all they have left,” Rich said of Palin. Rich said that the core sentiment of the Right of the party would be “a sense of grievance against the elites.” He then described this faction of the party as “nihilistic” and “scary.”

Rich’s comments could only be made by someone who doesn’t really interact with the actual people that make up the conservative base. He doesn’t explain how he’s gotten these impressions of the base — who is he talking to? — so it seems far more likely that his analysis is more a projection of what he wants the Right to be rather than what it actually is.

4. Maddow then had some non-partisan stories about North Korea waging cyber warfare against US and South Korean websites and a jihadi in Iraq named Baghdadi who may or may not exist.

5. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA,) a Blue Dog Democrat and Iraq War Veteran was on to promote his cause of overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Gay rights issues are frequent story on Maddow’s show for obvious reasons.) Murphy gave a sincere, persuasive, patriotic case for repealing the policy. It was the show’s intellectual peak.

6. David Kaczynski — brother of the “Unabomber” — was interviewed. It was an occasionally touching interview of a man who misses a brother lost to schizophrenia that’s all the more cheapened by Maddow’s attempt to tie it in to her argument against Guantanamo. Kaczynski didn’t really go for it and didn’t offer her argument much support when answering her questions. There’s no connection between the Unabomber and the Islamofascist enemy we face today. Sorry, not the most effective argumentative piece — some intriguing moments, though.

7. “Just Enough” with Kent Jones — a mildly humorous little throwaway segment talking about Iran’s anti-Semitic leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attempt to kill a moth in comparison to Obama’s successful fly-killing. Jones joked that insects aren’t to be messed with and could take out the human race if they wanted.

In conclusion, Wednesday’s episode was far from Maddow’s strongest show. It alternated from a confusing anti-CIA opening to the rantings of Rich to joke segments. Interestingly its strongest moments were when Maddow interviewed her non-left guests — Murphy and Kaczynski. In other words, drop the ideology and the Daily Showisms, and Maddow’s capable of facilitating some worthwhile thoughts — which is more than can be said of many of her peers. One could hope that she might steer more in that direction but it’s unlikely she could resist the temptation to devolve into anti-Republican smears.

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