Rachel Maddow – the first openly gay host of an American prime time TV current affairs show – is for mine the thinking-man’s liberal crumpet of our time.

Maddow is on a roll right now. Since her eponymous show opened on the MSNBC cable network in August 2008 she has led the charge – along with Keith Olbermann, Al Sharpton and most recently Lawrence O’Donnell – that has seen MSNBC transformed from, as the New York Times recently characterised it, a “CNN also-ran to the anti-Fox.”

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MSNBC is a long way from toppling Fox in terms of absolute numbers – on most daily tallies this year Fox drew more than two million audience members than MSNBC. But drilling down into those numbers reveals MSNBC’s success in the key 25- to 54-year-old age group.

Maddow must be doing something very right because her numbers in this key demographic have been climbing steadily, particularly following President Obama’s re-election in early November. This should be no surprise, because, as PoliticsUSA noted in late November:

It isn’t a coincidence that as MSNBC’s ratings have increased in direct relationship to their positive coverage of Obama … The ageing of the population will continue to benefit Fox News in the short term, but the demographic shift that tilted the 2012 election to the Democrats is also impacting cable news.

Maddow goes head-to-head most nights against Sean Hannity (whose loose relationship to facts and truth I looked at in my previous post) and in the weeks before Christmas Maddow and O’Donnell’s The Last Word consistently won their timeslots.

Maddow is tough, smart-as-a-whip (she is a Rhodes scholar and has a PhD from Oxford University) and is no milquetoast liberal lightweight. And she can be very funny. Her presentations are dense, complex and – perhaps this is hardest of all in political commentary – often hilarious.

Maddow will slip a laugh-out-loud comment in the middle of a long exposition during which she barely pauses for breath. Her pitches are littered with charts, statistics, policy analyses and follow-me-I-know-where-I’m-going trawls through complex sets of facts and reasoning and yet she still manages to leave you smiling at the tag line. She turns political analysis into standup with style and sass.

Maddow characterises herself as a “national security liberal” and once said that “I have never and still don’t think of myself as an Obama supporter, either professionally or actually.”

She is widely considered as a defence policy wonk and earlier this year published her first book “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power” (2012, Crown Publishers). More than a few – on both the right and left – were surprised to see Roger Ailes – Chairman, CEO and creator of the Fox Network – provide this blurb to Maddow’s book:

Rachel Maddow makes valid arguments that our country has been drifting towards questionable wars, draining our resources, without sufficient input and time. People who like Rachel will love the book. People who don’t will get angry, but aggressive debate is good for America. Drift is a book worth reading.”

Drift went on to top the New York Times best seller list  and in early December picked up a Grammy nomination for best spoken-word album. Notwithstanding the positive review by Roger Ailes, someone in the network though it funny to run a piece with the churlish and ungracious headerRachel Madd-Cow Gets a Grammy Nomination?“.

Classy, eh?

Meanwhile the Republicans give Maddow and her fellow MSNBC hosts no end of material to mine – largely for laughs.

Many on the right just don’t appear to get it that they actually lost the 2012 election. Following last week’s self-inflicted debacle that saw Republican House Speaker John Boehner humiliated by his own party the GOP should be worried more about their headlong plunge over the credibility cliff than the looming fiscal one.

As Thomas L. Friedman said in the New York Times last week, if Republicans

… continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook — a base that would rather see every American’s taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires — the party has no future. It can’t win with a base that is at war with math, physics, human biology, economics and common-sense gun laws all at the same time.

And what next for Maddow & MSNBC? According to PoliticsUSA the future is there for the taking.

MSNBC is building a coalition that can win a demo[graphic] today, and could challenge Fox News for cable news supremacy tomorrow. MSNBC is on the rise. If the 2012 election does translate into a leftward shift, Fox News’ days of ratings supremacy may be numbered.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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