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Duly Noted

Thursday, Oct 20, 2011, 8:26 am

Someone at The New Republic is Envious of Rachel Maddow

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Caveman Chuck Coker, Creative Commons.

Unaccountably, someone at The New Republic thinks that Rachel Maddow belongs on the magazine's list of "over-rated thinkers"; we don't know who, because the piece is gutlessly attributed to "The Editors":


MSNBC host  Rachel Maddow gets a lot of credit for her quirky intellect. A fawning New York magazine profile began with a lengthy vignette about her on-air musings on Dadaism, as well as her impressive resumé—she’s a Rhodes scholar and an Oxford Ph.D., in case you didn’t know. But Maddow is a textbook example of the intellectual limitations of a perfectly settled perspective. She knows the answers even before she has the questions. The truth about everything is completely obvious to her. She seems utterly incapable of doubt or complication. Her show is a great tribute to Fox, because it copies the Fox style exactly.

Jon Cohn of The New Republic dissents under his own name. He points to Maddow's track record of seizing on important but under-covered stories like the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda and the influence of The Family, a secretive fundamentalist Christian sect that runs the National Prayer Breakfast and provides subsidized housing to Congressmen.

Cohn's defense of Maddow as a broadcaster is right on. He also notes that her show is nothing like the typical Fox screaming head format. Maddow is the epitome of on air graciousness and civility. She never yells, she invites her critics on the show, and she bends over backwards to be fair to them.

Putting Rachel Maddow on the list feels like a backhanded way of calling her uppity or pretentious, which she isn't. She's conspicuously smart and quick-witted and she has subtly incorporated her PhD in political science into the branding of her show. As the Editors put it, she "gets credit for her quirky intellect." Yet she doesn't claim to be a practicing scholar or academic, nor she she lean on her academic credentials to bolster her arguments. 

If you're going to put Maddow on a list of over-rated thinkers along with the likes of Ayn Rand, you might as well count Maddow as one of the world's most over-rated basketball players. She has it coming: she lettered in basketball in high school and she sometimes talks about sports on the air.

Anyone who puts Maddow on a list of over-rated thinkers is unclear on the concept and/or seething with resentment that Rachel is generally regarded as brilliant, despite the fact that she doesn't write big books or publish in journals. She's a young woman in television and evidently, her well-deserved reputation for braininess irritates some unnamed magazine journalist.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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