By Nick Paleologos
OK, I admit it. When Rachel Maddow first cracked into a prime time slot on MSNBC, I watched for a little while and thought, geez Louise, are we going to devote every single show to The Gay? More than once in the early days I found myself changing channels while muttering, “I’m liberal. You’re gay. And there’s nothing wrong with either. I get it, already.”
Six years later, however, I swear this bookish newshound in a boyish do is a bona fide American national treasure. What exactly happened to me--an aging boomer--over these past six years? How is it that I now believe the phrase “must-see-tv” might as well have been coined to describe her show? When did 9pm EST become appointment viewing? Why--if I miss Rachel on any given weeknight—am I listening later to the broadcast’s podcast on Stitcher before drifting off to sleep?
Certainly not because I’m feeling that much more secure in my own sexuality. Definitely not because of her nerdy sense of humor--which still rarely lands with me (although I do get a kick out of how much she gets a kick out of her own goofy jokes). When interviewed by somebody else, she’s just ok—not great. As part of a round table discussion, again she’s nothing special. But somehow when that red light goes on at 9pm--and its just Rachel, me, and the news of the day--an incredible transformation happens.
First of all, she never begins in the present. When congress bailed out on the war powers vote, Rachel opened her show in the Gulf of Tonkin—50 years ago. When gun control was on the front burner, Rachel began with congress killing President Kennedy’s bill--which would have outlawed the very gun that ultimately killed him. She does this kind of thing all the time. Rachel Maddow knows how to tell the whole story—which is what true journalism is supposed to be about.
By doing something so basic, so seemingly obvious, as putting each story in its historical context, Rachel stands absolutely alone among network news anchors. No matter where else you go on television, stories are popping in and out of existence like sub-atomic particles. Now you see them. Now you don’t. Who knows where they came from? Or why? No wonder we understand less and less about more and more than we ever have before.
But that’s not all that sets her apart.
On the rare occasions when she does get something wrong, she practically flogs herself on her own show. It’s as if the degree of self-inflicted punishment must be more severe for her in order to preserve the sanctity of the accuracy standard to which she holds everybody else. Whenever she introduces an expert guest by summarizing an issue, she invariably asks, “Did I get that right? Did I leave out anything important?”
Who else does that? Nobody. That’s who.
Even her loopy diversionary segments like “Best New Thing In The World Today,” “Debunction Junction,” and the occasional Friday closer, “How To Mix My Favorite Cocktails” have all managed to grow on me over the years--because what happens in between is unlike anything else available on television for citizens who flatter themselves into thinking they’re well informed.
Let’s clear up one more thing--once and for all. Rachel Maddow is not the Loony Left’s answer to Sean Hannity. She is much more important than that. Both have strongly held (and mostly opposing) worldviews. The difference—which is on stark display every weeknight—is that Maddow actually cares more about getting it right than about being right. She believes the facts should shape her opinion--not the other way around. And that, my friends, is what separates a journalist from a buffoon.
Watch this space.