NRO’s Eliana Johnson has written a fascinating piece on how Rachel Maddow, who was once Keith Olbermann’s mini-me, now pretty much controls what’s going on at religious cable net MSNBC. But one phrase Johnson deploys in the piece jumped out at me. Emphases added.
Behind her back, colleagues call her “the queen,” a not so subtle suggestion that Maddow gets what Maddow wants. And what she wants is a network filled with young wonks such as Chris Hayes, Ezra Klein, Alex Wagner, and Harris-Perry, whose highbrow intellectualism can, she hopes, push the Democratic party, and the country, to the left. On Twitter, Harris-Perry’s show proudly uses the hashtag #nerdland. Alex Wagner’s move to the 4 p.m. hour, where Bashir’s show once aired, has Maddow’s fingerprints on it.
Maddow herself is the highest-paid and highest-rated talent at MSNBC, but beyond her own program, her quest to fill the network with her protégés may be dragging down ratings. Being an intellectual and a true believer is not, it seems, a good thing if you’re in the ratings business. Though Maddow looks askance at populist showmen such as Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, and Al Sharpton, their shows regularly outperform those of Maddow’s wonky acolytes. In fact, Hayes’s show has created a drag on Maddow’s own ratings as his anemic numbers provide her with a weak lead-in.
Throughout the piece, Johnson uses “wonk” or “wonkish” and “intellectual” to describe what Maddow and her friends are bringing to the network. If words still mean things, those words shouldn’t be used in connection with that crowd. At all.
They all pretend at wonkery and intellectualism, but they routinely show all the intellectual curiosity of slugs. They don’t address the substance of political philosophy or policy, preferring instead to fire off rants and create wedge issues out of nothing. Republicans hate minorities! Republicans hate women! All Democrats are angels, all Republicans are devils! Intellectuals seek out viewpoints other than their own, and are capable of changing their minds when presented with new information. They deal in weighty issues that transcend the day-to-day. Since when have any of Maddow’s acolytes been anything but doctrinaire leftists and hard-bitten ideologues?
MSNBC’s Maddow gang never let thinking get in the way of a good persecution. They would have fit right in in Salem circa 1692, so quick are they to inflame first, and think never.