Saturday, June 7, 2008

Deserving Hyperbole: Rachel Maddow

I've often wondered if institutions like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Air America Radio really have allowed the left a greater role in the national political discourse. I'd argue that they do, which necessarily leads me to think a lot about the pundits and hosts responsible for putting across a point of view that differs both from conservative media outlets like Fox News, and from the mainstream press. Who are these anchors, hosts and pundits? Do they, in fact, represent my political views? My values and concerns? Pundits are not anchors, after all, and their political opinions are expected to inform their analysis. So, the question becomes: do pundits on the political left do an adequate job of countering conservative punditry?

Too often, I get the feeling that liberal pundits or news analysts who have a national stage are moderates or centrists (think Juan Williams and Mara Liasson) or they're simply less forceful, less adamant, and perhaps quieter than their conservative counterparts (think Alan Colmes).

It seems to me that if a liberal commentator is neither a centrist nor an Alan Colmes quiet type, s/he seems to fall into one of two other categories: what radio host Stephanie Miller calls "happy clappy liberals" whose primary role is to entertain (Miller falls into that camp, as do Colbert and Stuart); and the almost un-listenably angry radio screamers like Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes. The latter two spend so much of their respective radio shows screaming, lashing out at listeners and cursing that the mode of communication (the screaming, the bitching) often upstages the issues they're attempting to 'discuss.'

One major, liberal television show host is, of course, Keith Olbermann, who seems to be frequently referred to by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly as "elements at MSNBC."

But the real standout for me is Rachel Maddow. Maddow, who hosts an eponymous three-hour show on Air America, was educated at Stanford and Oxford (she was a Rhodes scholar) and holds a doctorate of philosophy. She's smarter than most other pundits, which often works in her favor on broadcast or televised panels, and she's forceful enough not to let absurd conservative claims slide. And at the old age of 35, I think she's poised to have an incredible career. I think more than just about any of the other anchors, hosts and pundits I've mentioned here, Maddow is capable not only of sincere and nuanced political debate, but I think the manner in which she engages and challenges her media counterparts could raise the bar for radio and television political commentary.

Here's a clip from Olbermann's show, where Maddow is a frequent guest commentator, about John McCain's constant missteps and apparent misunderstanding of logistics in Iraq. As you can see, she's whip-smart, and she has a sense of humor.



And here she is tackling blowhard Joe Scarborough when he suggests she not speak about the Republican base. As you can see, she's loud enough—and smart enough—to stand up, rather than roll over.



It may be a pipe dream to hope that more commentators will, say, have their facts straight on national television, but Maddow's doing it and doing it well. Let's hope it sets the standard where, apparently, none seems to currently exist.

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