You won’t likely see MSNBC host Rachel Maddow filling in for Brian Williams on “NBC Nightly News.” While Maddow is usually described as the “host” of a cable news show, she is rarely called a “news anchor.” Her own NBC bio describes her as a “host”–and never even uses the word “journalist.”
So it’s worth noting that a new MSNBC promo flips the script, describing Maddow as a “news anchor with a big personality. She’s smart, funny and passionate.” Conservative critics immediately jumped on the promo, noting that previous “Lean Forward” promos for MSNBC included hosts like Maddow talking about their passion for progressive issues. “Given the MSNBC host’s long track record of pushing her agenda it’s hard to imagine anyone seriously considering Rachel Maddow anything more than a liberal commentator with a cable news show,” writes Jeffrey Meyer at NewsBusters.
A story by NBC News on MSNBC’s “Lean Forward” promos noted that “left-leaning anchors” like Maddow and Ed Schultz have made the network “increasingly identified with a rising tide of progressive political sentiment. The new branding campaign, while not overtly political, implicitly embraces the network’s progressive identity.”
In a 2011 Glamour interview with Katie Couric, Maddow dodged the question of whether she’s a journalist or not:
KATIE COURIC: Do you consider yourself a journalist, or a commentator?
RACHEL MADDOW: This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I really just consider myself a cable-TV host. I really believe in trying to increase the amount of useful information in the world and in being accurate in the sense that you can take what I say to the bank, even if you disagree with me.
“I know I’m a liberal,” Maddow said in a New York magazine profile published in 2008. In the piece, Maddow discussed her discomfort with the labels often used in television to distinguish between the standard-issue news anchor types like Brian Williams and the often fiery and outspoken news hosts like then MSNBC star Keith Olbermann:
“I do worry if being a pundit is a worthwhile thing to be,” she says. “Yeah, I’m the unlikely cable news host. But before that I was the unlikely Rhodes scholar. And before that I was the unlikely kid who got into Stanford. And then I was the unlikely lifeguard. You can always cast yourself as unlikely when you’re fundamentally alienated in your worldview. It’s a healthy approach for a commentator.”
In New York, Jessica Pressler wrote that a pilot for a political show on CNN starring Maddow never materialized, in part because she was seen as liberal commentator: “CNN president Jon Klein says it was because having an ‘obviously liberal’ host didn’t fit with the mission of the network: ‘It’s like, you wouldn’t put The Sopranos on Comedy Central.'”
The mid-term elections showed the “rising tide of progressive political sentiment” was perhaps in decline, and MSNBC’s ratings have suffered. In the third quarter of 2014, the network posted its lowest numbers since 2007, with Maddow’s show turning in a worst-ever performance in the key demo. And that makes the wording of the promo interesting, if not important. Through a spokesperson, MSNBC declined comment.