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Maddow to media: come out of the closet

By CARLY CARIOLI  |  November 17, 2010


On Sunday morning, in a Washington Post op-ed column, Ted Koppel, the Brett Favre of the Fourth Estate, proclaimed the murder of "real news." The culprit? Cable television, and its failure to suitably abide by that old press trope, objectivity. While admitting that shows like Keith Olbermann's were (unlike almost everybody else's) making a profit, Koppel wrote that cable news "is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment."

Hours later — a full day before Olbermann whipped out the "Special Comment" camera angles to excoriate Koppel in a 10-minute harangue — Rachel Maddow delivered an impromptu rebuttal at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. Maddow had been scheduled, for several months, to give the Theodore H. White Lecture on the Press and Politics, one of journalism's most austere invitations. She showed up ready to fight, in a black button-down shirt, black satin trousers, black hipster Adidas, and her trademark Buddy Holly glasses. She looked less like a talk-show host than a geektastic badass.

"The country hates the press," Maddow announced. "Not some of it," she clarified. "All of it."

Then, with two brief turns of phrase, Maddow aimed a blowtorch at the concept of objective journalism. "Among those of us who are not political conscientious objectors," she said, referring, presumably, to herself and her MSNBC cohorts, "among those of us who do not hide or disown our points of view, undoubtedly we are considered heroes by some people who agree with us." The key point, though, was in identifying an other.

The mainstream media has clung to the idea of objectivity as a moral good. But in a few quick words, Maddow brought forth a new metaphor: non-opinionated journalists, she seemed to say, were simply journalists who hadn't come out of an ideological closet yet. And Maddow doesn't like closets. In his introduction, Alex Jones, the director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center, told how Maddow came out by posting notes on every bathroom stall of her high school — even before she told her parents she was gay. She appears to believe the press should come out of its partisan closets, as well: call it the Maddow Doctrine.

Far from seeing, in the mirror, a sign of some newsy-ish apocalypse, Maddow views the rise of her show and others like it as a profitable new way forward — not just a sustainable model but a "gold mine." "Opinion-driven media makes the money that politically neutral media loses," she said, flatly.

Olbermann may be the frontman for opinion news, but Maddow's background makes her a kind of avenging angel: shattering old white guys' dreams of mainstream-media monopoly is her destiny, maybe. "We may not ever have one voice of authority for the whole country again," she said. "And as someone who never really felt that voice spoke for me anyway, frankly, I do not share the nostalgia.

"Ted Koppel is never going to get to be Walter Cronkite," she added. "Nobody is ever going to get to be Walter Cronkite."

Well, maybe not quite nobody: hours later, after she'd been whisked away without taking questions from her fellow presswomen, we googled and realized that Maddow had been awarded, just last month, the (you guessed it!) Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award.

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

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

Related: Passion Pit | Manners, Video: Our 10 most popular videos from 2009, Nothing beats nothing, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Harvard University, MSNBC, Ted Koppel,  More more >
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