MSNBC's Steph Curry? Variety Pitches Maddow as Big Star as 'Kelly File' Crushes Her

Brian Sternberg of Variety penned a gushing tribute to Rachel Maddow, cooking the piece exactly to her favorite flavors. She’s wonky, her office is “like a library,” her job is to take the cable-news audience “to graduate school.” She is the “linchpin” of MSNBC’s primetime, which means she has the only show that isn’t the subject of cancellation rumors. She is like...an NBA superstar?

Maddow “is the Steph Curry of our primetime lineup,” said Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s president, making a reference to the acclaimed Golden State Warriors shooter. “I don’t want to interrupt the flow of work being done,” he said, adding: “I want her this year to be recognized for her reporting and the effort that she makes every day I want to focus on that.”

So if Maddow is Stephen Curry, does that make Megyn Kelly the King LeBron of cable? After all, Kelly in January pulled about 2.5 million viewers to Maddow’s 1 million. Maddow’s ratings come in behind the 11pm repeat of The O’Reilly Factor. But Sternberg graded on a curve, that Maddow’s beating herself from a year ago: 

In recent weeks, Maddow’s attention to the granular has helped propel her. Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly wins more viewers overall and in the demographic most desired by advertisers almost every night, but Maddow’s viewership in that category – people between 25 and 54, is up 58% –  in January through the 27th over the year-earlier period, according to Nielsen.

Reporters like Sternberg never interview anyone outside the MSNBC bubble for a story like this. It might get in the way of the Super Librarian angle:  

Maddow’s desire to get into the weeds and inner workings of nearly everything that passes her way is lending her new momentum at a time when the cable network that backs her, MSNBC, is in deep flux. MSNBC rose to new heights by embracing a partisan approach to presenting the news. Day and night, the network presented stories of the day through a progressive lens. Maddow and her fellow primetime hosts, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell, still do. During a large part of the day, however, MSNBC has shifted its focus to breaking coverage, becoming a sort of “NBC News Channel” that emphasizes hard news and politics – a move executives hope will help the network rebound from severe ratings losses over the past two years.

Does her show have to follow suit? “They don’t tell me what to say. The network doesn’t program my show. They don’t tell me what to cover and what not to cover,” Maddow said while talking in her office. “I want to be trustworthy so that continues to be our deal, because that’s the only way I’m going to be able to do this show. That’s the way I work.”

“Trustworthy” seems to mean “sticking with partisan advocacy journalism. "Trustworthy" is mocking conservatives as believing in a "fake" Reagan. Her "granular" attention to detail can't seem to extend to finding anything but a "murky" motive when a shooter pledges allegiance to ISIS. But her reporting is “rooted in the facts.” 

Maddow isn’t looking to dumb things down. She  believes “you can get a general American cable-news audience to graduate school,” but only if the report is rooted in the facts – and lots of them. “I do think if you are good enough at expository writing and the use of visual elements, you can get to an incredibly intense level of detail, and have people really get it,” she said. “But you have to be good at it.” Chances are no one is locking Rachel Maddow away in the near future.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis