I rarely watch cable television news in its original format. I catch the best-of and worst-of clips on Crooks and Liars and other liberal blogs, occasionally checking out who Keith Olbermann’s has dubbed the Worst Person in the World. I can’t say I’m really drawn in by the standard format, relying as it does on sound-bite punditry and quasi-snarling exchanges between moderate-to-conservative coworkers. Chris Matthews? Joe Scarborough? Sean Hannity? Tucker Carlson? I probably don’t need to remind Feministe readers of why the talking heads of cable news have caused permanent palm-prints in the foreheads of many progressive viewers.
Last night, however, I was pleased to come home and read that Rachel Maddow is getting her own prime-time show! (Hat tip also to C&L and Shakesville.) She’s had a meteoric rise from her debut as a TV news host, back in April of this year when she filled in for Olbermann on Countdown. Maddow will continue to host her Air America radio show, but is replacing Dan Abrams in the 9 PM slot, right after Keith Olbermann.
Why am I a fan of Rachel Maddow’s? Well, it could be her background as an activist connecting prisoners’ rights to the AIDS movement. It could be because she won a Rhodes scholarship back in 1994, then celebrated by cutting all her hair off and dying it blue. It could be because she was the first out lesbian to win that scholarship, one of the few television personalities who openly identifies as a butch dyke and won’t give in to pressure to look more feminine on camera:
At first, I said no make-up, but then I saw myself on TV and it was like Nixon debating Kennedy. Now I say, Okay, do me up like you’d do a dude.” And they’re like “But you’re so pretty, why would you want to look like a man? How about a little lip gloss?” And I’m like “Hey, look. I look this way on purpose!”
Nah. It’s not any of those rather endearing facts, to tell you the truth. I didn’t even know that stuff until I did some research this morning. Maddow originally seized my attention because she’s good at her job, and doesn’t take any crap from the blowhard dudes she has to spar with. Maddow is quick with the facts, sharp as a razor, and won’t let herself be talked over. Just watch her smack down Joe Scarborough’s spin on McCain’s right-wing pandering:
“Awwww, Rachel! Rachel, good Lord! Waaah!” More of her greatest hits after the cut, and many congratulations to Rachel. Plus, kudos to MSNBC, who will surely take disproportionate flack for putting honest-to-gosh liberals (progressives, even?) on the air where they can actually go toe-to-toe with the existing hordes of moderate and conservative commentators.
On another occasion, Scarborough apparently stormed off the set because he couldn’t deal with Maddow’s refusal to let him talk over her. Look at his posture in both of these clips; he has no idea what to do with someone he can’t just threaten to reach over and backhand. (I am not real fond of the “beer vs. white wine” sissy joke that Harwood makes about 2/3 of the way through, on the other hand.)
Here she hammers Pat Buchanan into an incoherent state where all he can do is sputter about socialism. Then she laughs at him. I almost felt bad for him; then I remembered that he’s a misognyist, homophobic theocrat who called Martin Luther King, Jr. a divisive fraud.
She actually seems to have a more amicable working relationship with bowtie boy Tucker Carlson, but in this clip she lets him know how pissed off she is:
And finally, like anyone who can distinguish arguments grounded in reality from attention-seeking wastes of time, she thinks Ann Coulter is a total joke. My jaw dropped in disgust when Carlson asked for video of Maddow and Coulter in bed, but she just laughs it off. If she couldn’t do that, she’d probably have burst a blood vessel in her forehead by now.
Rachel Maddow is clearly tough enough to survive in this environment. It’s far from an ideal world — an arena where you’ve gotta drink beer not wine, go along with dim-witted but “lighthearted” jokes, and be willing to talk over your opponents in order to fit in and be heard. But I’m definitely glad that she’s doing it.
UPDATE: Yet another clip from last night, of Olbermann and Maddow announcing the news and celebrating. Maddow promises increased coverage of the Iraqi national soccer team and domestic crimes committed by naked men, and hopes for live punk bands and mariachi-backed segues.