SAMUEL: Modern media needs people like Rachel Maddow
Opinions Column: Alternative Opinions
On Tuesday night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow offered a surging viewership her legendary, crooked smile as she expressed, “For the record, the First Amendment gives us the right to publish this return. It is not illegally published. Nor are we fake. Pinch me, I’m real.” In a sardonically savvy, Maddow-esque manner, she raised her arm — cloaked in that signature black blazer — and pinched it.
Maddow was, of course, referencing President Donald J. Trump’s 2005 tax returns, two pages of which were surreptitiously delivered to the mailbox of investigative journalist David Cay Johnston. Johnston, in return, handed over the pages to MSNBC for an exclusive “Trump Tax Reveal” on The Rachel Maddow Show (TRMS).
As any frequent spectator of TRMS is familiar with, Maddow opened her show in her true fashion — by supplying the audience an exhaustive preface for the reveal, a more or less tribute to why Americans care about Trump’s taxes. Yet, journalists, reporters and viewers were not in the least pleased. Some nudged her to “get on with it,” while others viciously chided her for hyping a rather unrevealing and skimpy two-page 1040.
Although the contents of the form were admittedly lackluster in the context of its cacophonous, clamorous ballyhoo, what is more critical are the extraneous components not explicitly written on the pages. Namely, 2005 was a noteworthy year for Trump: Melania was attempting to gain citizenship and Trump was entering a murky partnership with a company that had ties to Russia. As Maddow explained, these are all reasons to be suspicious as to why, considering everything else that occurred that year, 2005's 1040 was “extra stellar.”
However, aside from her tax segment is another point that deserves attention: Maddow may very well be an artist unappreciated in her time. Yes, her viewership is swelling, but how much does the program’s high view count translate to high esteem for its host? After all, at the first sign of a seeming let-down, the audience was quick to point fingers at the messenger, yet slow to grasp the gravity of the greater narrative the messenger was pursuing.
Maddow boasts a reporting strategy that is distinguished for its roughly 20-minute, comprehensive intros. She explains, “I definitely feel like, hey, if you’re new, let me meet you where you are.” She understands the foundational significance of her lead-ins, and doesn’t conjecture that her audience is well-versed in the subject. As a journalist, Maddow is never complacent or remiss — as narratives, hers are never perfunctory or without reason. They exist in their state because she wants her audience to be informed and, above all else, feel included.
Maddow has expended years building this individualized legacy of inclusion, a tour de force in its own right. Her zany hand gestures, trendy pixie cut, and self-effacing swagger are what comfort her viewers and what establish connection between anchor and audience. Every day, TRMS manifests Maddow’s acute awareness that the rapport with her viewership demands trust and broad-mindedness — this confidence and cooperation needs to stem from both sides. Before viewers deem her tax reveal a humiliating flop, they must trust that it is just one sliver of a larger account Maddow is indefatigably chasing.
Maddow knows that stories take time and details take some coaxing and priming before falling into logical order. To her, the courier of the message is of less consequence than the message itself. When she treks those famed painstaking lengths to construct a specific narrative, she doesn’t do so to appease her fancy, but rather to satisfy a very real obligation to her audience — an obligation that never dares take for granted the unshakeable power of facts, context, hindsight and foresight.
Maddow’s ears mute out the cacophonous clamor and her eyes stay fixed on the future. She does all this in a profession that habitually preferences the here and the now, and that too often flirts with instantly gratifying narratives instead of intellectually challenging ones. Maddow is a diamond in the rough, and the media and the public ought to know that. It is also worth mentioning that she is a Stanford and Oxford-educated journalist. So, yeah, she knows what she’s doing.
Dr. Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, puts it nicely when she states that Maddow is in the process of completing a puzzle. Mandel reckons that “when all the pieces are in place, all the sections connected to one another, the puzzle complete, she will have given us the picture we must see.” While we wait for that day to arrive, the pieces will inevitably shift and the stories will inevitably change. But Maddow will always be there to usher us to the finish line, ensuring that everyone reaches it. She will remain the artist among artists in her craft – narration will continue to be her prowess, candor her mainstay, spunk her flair, inclusiveness her constant and patience her virtue.
Sophia Samuel is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in public policy and economics. Her column, “Alternative Opinions,” runs on alternate Mondays.
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