‘The American Prospect’ Praises Rachel Maddow, Critiques MSNBC

By Alex Weprin 

The American Prospect profiles MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow in this month’s issue, and the result is mostly fawning. Along the way, the magazine notes how she quietly slipped past Keith Olbermann to become the network’s star:

Early on, Maddow was a protégé of Olbermann, who, in both his brilliance and self-destructiveness, is the Orson Welles of talking-heads TV. His work on SportsCenter reinvented the sports newscast (and, some bemoan, set a template for today’s political journalism). His work on Countdown didn’t just reconceive the news show—every moment was as self-consciously worked as a European art film—it rebranded MSNBC, transforming it from a dreary cable backwater into a network people talk about. Although not the TV genius Olbermann is, Maddow is also not the Most Difficult Person In The World, which is why she slipstreamed into MSNBC’s lead anchor chair, while he’s in overpaid exile on the Elba of Current TV.

While the piece is overwhelmingly positive, it does criticize MSNBC for placing politics so far ahead of news:

MSNBC’s lineup is almost purely reactive. This is, of course, a cheap way to run a network. You don’t need proper bureaus; you just have your talking heads suck the same material drier and drier, even if it’s nothing juicier than some tweet by Sarah Palin. Aside from election night, you can watch this news channel hour after hour and not get any proper news. If a GOP candidate makes some dumbass statement about Iran, this will be duly reported and endlessly parsed on the air, but you will wait long days to get any information about—Iran. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the halcyon days when the Big Three networks broadcast their nightly newscasts from Mount Olympus with stegosauruses as anchors.

Network execs would defend themselves by pointing out that this formula is working—they’re outdrawing CNN, which does give you news. Fair enough. Still, the lack of actual news is depressing on a channel that markets itself as liberal. We all know the oligarchic modern right is content to dumb down its followers—why else fund so many assaults on science?—but the glory of the left used to be that it thought otherwise. It believed you couldn’t change the world without knowing history and understanding how society works.

> Related: Maddow will be on “Late Show with David Letterman” tonight. TVNewser will be in the audience for the show. Watch for our Tweets.