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Podcast: Rachel Maddow on politics, the press, and why people hate us so much right now

Here's a campaign shocker: RACHEL MADDOW is still not running for Scott Brown's seat. Apparently that full page Globe ad last year wasn't enough for the Huffington Post, the Boston Herald, and eight zillion blogs. It wasn't really true until she showed up at Harvard on Sunday night and made an offhanded comment about  it.

OH, HEY, BY THE WAY: she also delivered the Theodore H. White Lecture on Politics and the Press, one of the most prestigious invitations at one of journalism's most hallowed institutions, the Shorenstein Center at Harvard. It was totally full of substance and stuff, which is probably why nobody reported on it. Missed it? There's the video, up there. Scroll down and you can grab the mp3 for your digital long-playing device of choice.  

One way of looking at Maddow's lecture last night is to consider it a rebuttal -- or a continuation of a rebuttal -- to Jon Stewart's criticism of MSNBC as an agent of political polarization, and to wider critiques of cable news. (You know what we think: why can't all those hot cable news anchors just get along?) Dressed in a black button-down shirt, black satin trousers, black hipster Adidas, and her trademark Buddy Holly glasses, Rachel looked and sounded less like a talk-show host than like a consummate rock and roll badass -- or maybe the outlaw who'd come to take on the town sheriff. "The country hates the press," she said, knowing that while the country had this figured out, the press had not universally come to embrace the totality of that statement. So she said it again -- "Not some of it," she clarified. "All of It." -- with the conviction, perhaps, of someone who has known at various times in her life what it is to be hated.

With two brief turns of phrase, Maddow turned a blowtorch on the concept of objective journalism: "Among those of us who are not political conscientious objectors," she said, presumably referring to herself and her MSNBC cohorts. "Among those of us who do not hide or disown our points of view," she continued, casting the objective journalist as not merely a mainstream myth, nor even a (respectably?) conscientious objector, but perhaps a coward -- a creature of the closet. And Maddow, as was made clear in Alex Jones's introduction, and in the Q&A that followed, is not so big a fan of closets. 

For good measure, Maddow called out onto the carpet the "commentariat," a class of people which "considers itself to be above political considerations of their own, who claim to agree with us only when we're right and to disagree with us only when we're wrong." Take that, CNN! And your little dog Blitzer, too!

Far from seeing, in the mirror, a sign of some news-ish apocalypse, Maddow -- go figure -- sees the rise of her show and others like it as a profitable new way forward for journalism: "Opinion driven media makes the money that politically neutral media loses," she said, flatly. Call it the Maddow Doctrine. She followed up by describing opinion media as not just a sustainable model but a "gold mine." In my imagination, at least, dozens of daily newspaper reporters shifted uncomfortably in their seats and muttered something about "rubbing it in."

And there was something of the avenging angel in Maddow, a bit of the man in black. There are people who romanticize the old ways of doing things -- who lament the demise of a media mainstream -- but Maddow? Not so much. The old white guy sitting at the desk with a monopoly on the truth never quite did it for her, she said, and so she has a hard time identifying with the crybaby acts of old-media barons. "Ted Koppel is never going to get to be Walter Cronkite," she said, with mock rue. "Nobody is ever going to get to be Walter Cronkite." (Easy for her to say.)

Probably not her fault, but Harvard's handlers prevented members of the media from asking questions, and so no pro-journalist types -- not even Richard Tofel, the general manager of ProPublica, who snuck in a softball at the end -- got a chance to grill her, before she was whisked away, presumably to some unimaginably sumptuous feast in a leather-bolted room that incinerates its guests any time the average IQ drops below 130. Don't get us wrong, we love Maddow's arguments -- hell, alt-weeklies have been making some of them for 45 years! -- but we hoped the old-media windbags would put up a little more of a fight. If only so Dr. Maddow could lay some more smackdown on tenured doodz. 

DOWNLOAD: Rachel Maddow, 2010 T.H. White Lecture on Politics and the Press [mp3]

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  • Nice try said:

    For once, Rachel Maddow actually managed to be funny.

    You've got to love how she whipsaws from claiming the entire country hates the press - all of it - to quoting one of many admirable, professional stories reported by the New York Times. Which part of the bygone, universally rejected 'old media' are they, cupcake?

    What diverse constellation of issues explain her problem, God only knows.

    That speech might work better as a cautionary tale for the D.A.R.E. program (kids, don't write public presentations while stoned). Nihilism is so last millenium. Sell it somewhere else, sweetness.

    November 16, 2010 9:20 PM

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