Everyone Loves Rachel
How an ultra-liberal Air America host won over the other side.
By Cheryl Miller, September 23, 2008
“Rachel gets her own MSNBC show. Happy now?”
That’s the question Keith Olbermann asked in a post on the liberal blogger clearinghouse DailyKos. For those not steeped in the world of liberal punditry, the response might’ve been: Rachel? Rachel who? But at DailyKos, of course, everyone already knew. The Rachel with a new show is Rachel Maddow (rhymes with “shadow”), the wildly popular Air America host and frequent MSNBC panelist. And her fans were more than “happy” — as MSNBC host Keith Olbermann put it in his post on the Daily Kos — they were delirious. One “Maddite” wrote poetry in her honor: “Unto us a star is born … the Everlasting Progressive, the Princess of News.”
The hype seems to have been warranted. “The Rachel Maddow Show” is a bona fide hit, topping the ratings on MSNBC and leading in the key 25-54 demographic. The critics, too, have been kind: “Smooth as butter [and] hot as sliced bread,” raved Slate. “Thumbs up!” declared TV Squad. Looks like everyone is mad about Maddow.
It’s no mystery why Maddow has become the darling of the progressive blogosphere: She’s one of them. Aside from the minor fact that she doesn’t actually have a blog, she otherwise fits the bill quite nicely. She’s young. She wears those black hipster glasses (or did — before MSNBC’s makeover squad got to her). She worked as a barista. And most importantly, she’s an unabashed geek who loves talking (and arguing) about policy: Before taking up hosting duties on Air America, she wrote her dissertation about AIDS and served as a prison-reform activist. Meanwhile, her academic credentials are impeccable. Want to send a liberal into a swoon? Just start quoting from Maddow’s résumé. She got her B.A. from Stanford! She was a Rhodes Scholar! She has a doctorate in political science! From Oxford! (Trust me — no liberal can discuss Maddow without mentioning the D.Phil.)
Or as Spencer Ackerman, a reporter for the Washington Independent, succinctly puts it: “The progressive movement likes her because, in every significant sense, she’s part of it.”
But Maddow isn’t just another left-wing pundit. In many ways, she’s the perfect representative of the new media elite — a hyper-professional, Blue-State meritocrat straight out of central casting. “Everything about her radiates competence and a deft, bright careerism,” wrote Rebecca Traister in the Nation. Indeed, it’s surprising how little controversy Maddow — an ultra-liberal, openly gay woman — has engendered. But, for the most part, the conservatives who love to hate MSNBC respect — even like — Maddow. All their ire is reserved for the network’s old, white guys: Keith Olbermann and (to a lesser extent) Chris Matthews.
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