Is Rachel Maddow becoming the thing she hates?

Rachel Maddow caricature by DonkeyHoteyAs anyone who follows current events via the so-called “liberal” media knows, much is made of the low-information voter. Well, by much I suppose I should say very little. Naturally, the term is at best condescending, at worst, pejorative. The low-information voter is, in essence, the voter that derives his or her opinion on the basis of reports from outlets such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Drudge Report, just to name a few examples. The case made is that the information provided by those outlets is either merely horribly distorted, out of context, distracting, spun out of control, flat out wrong, or intentionally deceptive. If it’s not true, if the argument is invalid, if the reasoning is unsound, then what is presented is simply not information. I leave it to the judicious reader to determine whether or not such a characterization is apt.

The unspoken complement to the low-information voter who gets the news from the other side would naturally be the high-information voter. “Get your news from us,” MSNBC may as well suggest, “and you may rest assured that you have a solid foundation upon which to build your political opinion.” In many respects, there appears, to my way of thinking, a significant element of truth to this. However, no self-respecting spin-doctor, regardless of position relative to the aisle, will point out that they frame their views very carefully for your consumption. They will make no mention of events upon which they do not want you to reflect. They will certainly not call your attention to their more covert below-the-belt punches.

It falls to the complementary high-information voter who follows the news by way of pundits such as Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell to remain steadfast in the pursuit of critical thought. Hell, take that as a given. That you are a critical thinker, an astute observer of events, a keen analyst of trends, a professional Connector of Dots is a foregone conclusion. As part of this select viewership, you are of the voting elite!

The signal to noise ratio from the putative left wing talking heads on MSNBC may be significantly better than that found elsewhere, but that does not necessarily mean that the signal approaches perfection by a long shot. They would certainly have you feel confident in your superior awareness as if their adherence to truth and the genuine spirit of journalism were necessarily the case.

But, what if? What if the material being presented only appears to contain information? Statements are uttered. Assertions are made. In and of themselves, these may even be factual. But what if MSNBC’s vaunted pundit celebrities string these assertions together in such a way that they yield unsound arguments? How information rich would the content then be if we make the bold assumption that the actual information presented for your consumption and assimilation really just boils down to the conclusions reached? The rest is just the window dressing, neatly lined up, all in a row, to lead you inexorably, not just to a conclusion, but to the kind of conclusion which only a fool would deny. And we, superior consumers of editorial disguised as news that we are, are surely no fools.

If we follow along like a good little audience long enough, bleat when told, roar on command, might the commentators and/or their writers get lazy occasionally? Or worse, smug in their all-too-frequent fallacies and glaring sins of omission?

Take, for example, Rachel Maddow. The following is from her November 8, 2012 show, addressing the subject of Mitch McConnell’s snippy response to President Obama’s victory speech.

Mr. McConnell put out a statement saying that what`s clear to him about this election is that the voters have not endorsed President Obama`s first term.

The fact that the president won the election is not an endorsement of the president?

Filling in a little bubble next to the man`s name on a piece of paper is technically how we endorse a person in America. But Mitch McConnell does not see it that way.

Consider, McConnell is one of the left’s favorite people to despise. Anything Rachel says about him is just about certain to get one’s hackles up, as if on command. And here’s that smug, turtle-necked bastard repudiating the value of President Obama’s re-election before the mic at the president’s podium even cools down after his rousing rendition of Kum Ba Ya. Anything she says can only be pure gold, right?

But, what if? What if there is something intellectually dishonest about what she says here? Can it be? Noooo.

Here’s the actual quote from Mitch McConnell’s statement, as found at NBC affiliate WPSD’s website:

The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.

Consider first of all, Dr. Maddow is no intellectual slouch. Her PhD isn’t in mixology, even if that may be an enjoyable sideline. When she does what she did here, I have a difficult time attributing it to mere laziness.

First, she paraphrases McConnell poorly. In her version, he stated that Obama’s re-election was not an endorsement of his first term. On even cursory inspection, one notes that McConnell actually says the election was not an endorsement of failures and excesses. These characteristics of Obama’s first term are not necessarily synonymous with the term itself, though she makes that connection for her viewers off-handedly.

Then she proceeds to attack McConnell’s drastically altered position. How is President Obama’s re-election not an endorsement of the man?

Funny, no matter how I try, I cannot equate the term with the man, much less the failures and excesses of the term with the man. McConnell said no such thing. Yet, Maddow lays into him, fast and furious, as though McConnell is evidently an imbecile for failing to see how the election is clearly an endorsement of the man.

And we, the high-information voters, are quite likely to have cheered, either silently or aloud, as she deftly tore Turtleneck a new one…on the basis of specious reasoning.

Don’t get me wrong. I also cannot stand McConnell. Were I to find out his fate was to spend the remainder of his days with nettles in his underwear, I’d smile like a Pez dispenser and my heart would pop out. But the left simply cannot arrogate to itself the intellectual and moral high ground, cry foul over obstruction, no matter how systemic it may be, and then engage in the same kinds of tactics one might expect from the opposition media. Not without becoming hypocrites. Not without being exposed to the charge of cynically manipulating their audience. And what a waste of talent this example makes of her, since what he said invites all manner of legitimate repudiation.

How on earth are we to expect one side to reach across the aisle to the other in the spirit of genuine compromise if the folks we look to for authenticity make liars of themselves with this kind of partisan hackery? Was McConnell correct in his assertion that the election was not an endorsement of the failures and excesses of Obama’s first term? That is an important conversation to have. Thanks to Rachel Maddow’s deceptive spin-doctoring, however, we know we won’t be seeing that conversation on her show. Tragically, we probably won’t be seeing that conversation on any show.

Another conversation we won’t be watching on her show involves whether or not Paul Ryan’s budget is a suitable vehicle on which to ride to victory.

In this case, Rachel is quite clearly pleased at her superior wit and political savvy:

This is handwriting — this is my — that`s my actual handwriting. That`s how bad my handwriting is on the printout of a newspaper article that I read when I first got into work today. When I went back to look for the article this afternoon, I realized that is what I had written in the margin of the article not paying attention to the fact I was doing it. I just wrote the word “ha” five times and then an exclamation point and star.

Here`s why I did that without noticing I was doing it. It`s a quote in this “New York Times” article today from Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole. What does Tom Cole — Congressman Tom Cole think about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan losing this election?

His take away is this: “The Paul Ryan budget passed a pretty big test. We had to run around the country and defend it. The Ryan budget proved itself a viable platform on which to run and be reelected.”

Wow. Just to reiterate, this is what happened on election night [shows slide of presidential election results – FB]. How does this constitute the Ryan budget passing a big test? The Ryan budget took a big test but it did not pass that test. Those are two very different things.

To borrow a bit of Rachel’s smugness, HA HA HA! What a maroon! What, did she miss the memo that Ryan won his House seat? Gee, why might that have been? Could it possibly have anything to do with his budget ahem budget proposal (since it’s not actually a full budget, after all)?

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. If you want to play the role of arrogant, self-righteous jackass, here, let me show you how. A) Make sure your argument hews very, very closely to the fucking bone. Stick with the truth. Considering your targets, that’s sufficient. B) Mock his low-information voters viciously for not being able to tell the difference between a budget and a budget proposal. C) Spend a few extra seconds mocking his magical math. D) Wish his district well with what wished. They got what they deserve, and the rest of the nation is spared his deciding vote on the Senate floor.

When you’re done, however, you might want to ask youself, “am I becoming what I hate?” When you engage in these intellectually dishonest tactics, you belittle yourself and do the nation a disservice by helping to convince a substantial part of the population that they share with you a moral high ground which you evidently do not occupy. Along the way, you aid in the obstruction of genuine progress by actively interfering with conversations that must be had.

Honestly, you make me sad. I used to like your show, and those of your fellows (excepting that annoying twit Matthews), until I started paying attention.


Image credit: Caricature by DonkeyHotey, licensed under Creative Commons.

13 replies »

  1. For the past two years or so, Rachel Maddow has been a fully owned subsidiary of the Obama administration. All for “access”. Exclusive interview with the re-elected President in three, two, one…. Ah, Rachel, you showed such promise. Now you’re just another sell out. Soon you’ll be just another has been hack.

  2. You can tell when someone is resonating with the public, as the attacks escalate. Keep up the good work, Dr. Maddow. The Tedious Right has been unruly for two decades. We need someone to call them on it, even if it stirs the bee-hive a bit.

  3. Keep up the good work? Maybe you missed the part where she completely misrepresented McConnell’s words then followed it up with attacking a straw man. If you think being deceived is a good thing, I suppose that would be phenomenal work! Or perhaps it was a good thing to not include Ryan’s re-election to his House seat as part of the context for the second example I highlight.

    Or perhaps you missed the part where I indicated that I used to like her show. Odd part of the Tedious Right that would make me. Could it be you have even stronger feelings against the disaffected left?

    Perhaps you don’t think there needs to be honest and legitimate debate?

    Help me out here. I’m guessing wildly in the dark, 1EqualityUSA, because for the life of me I fail to see how engaging in Fox tactics is a good thing for MSNBC’s audience. If my suppositions about your meaning are incorrect, please correct me.

    To reiterate my case in brief, I believe that America requires honest and legitimate debate if we are going to come together as a “more perfect union” (see preamble to the US constitution) in order to overcome the obstacles that face us. Intellectual dishonesty does nothing to further such debate.

    Also, please note that I used these examples as just that, examples. I encourage anyone watching any source of so-called news or analysis to keep their critical thinking skills well-honed and finally tuned, especially if there is a risk that one is merely indulging in the echo chamber of one’s choice. It’s been over the last several months that I have started jarring myself into awareness of the echo chamber effect on MSNBC. Once I stopped cheering it on and started actually hearing what was being said, I got to the point where I could routinely spot such spin machine hijinks each and every day on Hardball, The Ed Show, TRMS, and The Last Word, less so in the morning/afternoon programming when I’ve been around to see it.

    Is it fun programming to watch? Certainly. In the same way, I’m sure, that Fox, Limbaugh, and Beck audiences find them fun. The left would be well-served to be as critical of their own sources as they are of right wing sources if they wish to maintain anything like the intellectual high ground. Failing that, we just support divisiveness from the other end of the spectrum.

    • DId you miss the fact that Wisconsin gerrymandered the redistricting of their state to the degree that democrats had to get 1.73 Democratic votes just to get 1 congressional house? We need to reform the redistricting that goes on. We would have had to overwhelm Wisconsin with an 83% Democratic vote to get Congressional seats.

  4. I’m willing to cut Rachel some slack when it comes to Mitch McConnell. Anyone paying attention to McConnell over the past 3.5 years knows he’s a hateful s.o.b. and a big player in the cement wall of obstruction that President Obama has faced during his presidency. I wouldn’t like to see Rachel underquote, misquote, or misinterpret on a regular basis (with Fox it’s almost 24/7), but I don’t think she deserves to be heavily chastized — not in light of the horrific commentary against a sitting President, that is coming from the other side (Fox, Beck, Limbaugh, etc.) Also important to remember, I think, that she’s not officially “reporting the news”. She provides commentary. I will try to find the youtube video of one of her shows a few months back where she did, in fact, err and she apologized for it.

    Lastly, it’s election time. We’re all calming down about now, but of all the Presidential elections I have followed, this one just ripped the skin off everyone.

  5. Audrey, I believe I understand where you’re coming from. From where I sit, I like to imagine that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. When calling foul on the right, we certainly create that perception. One doesn’t have to search very hard to find countless examples of something bordering on glee when the “conservative entertainment complex” indulges in blatant distortions and lies. Were Rush to do something like this, the left would sound off in one voice, and justly so.

    Which is why, especially where someone like Mitch McConnell is concerned, I think the media, commentary or otherwise, needs to raise the bar and keep it high. To the extent the audience becomes comfortable with a lessening of standards, that is the extent we risk of also just having an “entertainment complex.”

  6. But, Frank, it’s not the same when the Left does it. You see, the Right deserves it because it’s obstructionist and whatnot. The Left is doing it for the good of America … which, oddly, is the exact reason the Right would give for pulling the same shit.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you get the bulk of your “information” from any of the major media outlets or megablogs, that you are, in fact, a low information voter. Most of these sources aren’t giving information, they’re giving opinion which is sometimes backed up and/or rationalized with information of some sort. So we have people agreeing with opinion rather than using their own ability to reason on actual information (i.e. facts).

    Aside from that, there are plenty of studies showing that we look for and read the news that we agree with rather than use news/information to inform our position. To that end, you’ll get responses to this like the ones you’ve gotten. And those responses are unlikely to factor in the information that almost 8 million fewer people voted for Obama in 2012 than voted for him in 2008.

  7. Mr. Balsinger, your analysis is spot on. While I am a committed liberal, and I watch Fox News regularly to know what the other side is saying, I cannot stomach much of MSNBC either. I don’t need our people to behave precisely like Rush and Glenn and Sean. We CAN make our points with eloquence and conviction without resorting to lying. The ends do NOT justify the means, so, like you, I cannot support liberals that use the same tactics as conservatives. It does NOT advance our cause.

    Another perfect example of this is Michael Moore. I was a huge fan when I was young and Roger and Me was released. His ability to point the camera, STFU, and let the person filmed tell the story was powerful and effective. I respected him as a documentarian, and his movie confirmed my observations and helped formulate my opinions about the American automobile industry. In his Bowling For Columbine movie, while he may have talked too much to massage his own ego, his crime was that he completely fabricated a scene where banks were giving out free guns when one opened an account. He defended his behavior by saying the ends justified the means, quipping, “well, that’s Hollywood”. It was so poisonous that I continually question everything he produced or was affiliated with ever since that time. We don’t need liars on our side – when we do that, we add credence to the “moral equivalency” argument used so often to say that both sides do it. We don’t have to. We have the facts on our side.

    Thanks for your article.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog! I thought I was alone in realizing how intellectually lazy and dishonest Maddow was becoming. She refuses to hold the administration to account simply because she likes Obama. It’s sad. True progressives have been abandoned by MSNBC. Full stop!