We offer the first of two theories: We sometimes find it depressing to discuss Rachel Maddow’s coverage of Fort Lee—to contemplate her hackneyed work, to contemplate the way such work has been accepted by liberals.
Still, we said we’d offer two theories about this phenomenon—two possible ideas concerning what makes Rachel run. Today, we offer one.
This morning’s theory follows an interesting night on the TV machine. Again last night, Maddow opened her program with two segments about Fort Lee. Her work had some interesting aspects.
Again last night, we saw the super-sized revulsion Maddow increasingly brings to this task. As she opened, she discussed a fuzzy bit of reporting from the front page of yesterday’s New York Times.
We refer to Kate Zernike’s fuzzy description of the way Bill Baroni allegedly gave pieces of 9/11 wreckage to various New Jersey mayors. As she has increasingly done, Maddow shared her supersized revulsion.
To watch this whole segment, click this:
MADDOW (3/11/14): If you feel the need to hit pause and go take a shower to rid yourself of the feeling you are having right now, I understand. I’m probably on DVR, so just hit pause.Shorter Maddow: Children, please emigrate!
In this same cringe-inducing article that makes you want to run into every social studies class in the country and tell the kids not to go into politics unless they’re emigrating to a country where it isn’t this disgusting, the New York Times makes clear they have seen this numbered list of 100, this numbered list of 100 mayors from whom Chris Christie’s re-election campaign was trying to get endorsements.
Maddow continues to supersize her disgust with the vile Team Christie. That said, last night’s show was also intriguing because of Maddow’s reaction to that list of 100 mayors.
Some time back, Zernike referred to that list; we noted that she didn’t seem to have seen it. Was Sokolich even on the list? At the time, we noted that Zernike hadn’t made that explicit claim.
In yesterday’s front-page report, Zernike said she has seen the list. Sokolich was number 45 on the list, Zernike said—45 on the list of 100 mayors from whom Team Christie wanted endorsements.
Last night, we were intrigued by Maddow’s somewhat belated reaction:
MADDOW: That’s kind of interesting, right? I mean, the theory that has been posited over and over and over again, including in today’s front-page story in the New York Times, the theory that has been posited over and over again for why lanes onto the busiest lanes in the world were shut down by members of Governor Christie’s inner circle. The theory is that it was all about political retribution against that mayor, political retribution against Mayor Mark Sokolich in Fort Lee for him refusing to endorse Chris Christie for re-election.Maddow simply seemed to assume that Zernike’s reporting was accurate. That said, she seemed to see, rather belatedly, how odd the standard premise of this story has always been. (“Odd” doesn’t necessarily mean “wrong.”)
Seriously, though? Think about that for a second. You close down access to the world’s busiest bridge for number 45 on your list? You gridlock a town for five days for a guy who’s only number 45 on your list of priorities?
What does that mean they did if number 35 failed to endorse them? I mean, I shudder to think what would happen if number five refused to endorse! Would that be nuclear?
According to the governor himself, why would anybody do something so dramatic and so risky, so outrageously punitive against a little town that just didn’t matter that much to this statewide campaign?
Governor Christie made that case publicly and emphatically back in January, saying basically, “I got bigger fish to fry than this Mark Sokolich guy. Shutting down the bridge to hurt him over the endorsement issue, it makes no sense.”
And we find out today that Mark Sokolich was, in fact, number 45 on the list of critical endorsements that was created by the campaign. OK, understood.
So then, why did one of Governor Christie’s top staffers order traffic problems for that town? Why did they apparently order those lanes closed? The unexplained nature of what happened on that bridge is still the most interesting question in this whole scandal and it’s the reason, frankly, why the scandal continues to be so fascinating, in addition to being the cause of ongoing investigations.
If it wasn’t worth it to rain down a week of traffic hell for one endorsement from number 45, Fort Lee, then why did they rain down a week of traffic hell on Fort Lee? Why did they do it?
Did Team Christie engage in these reckless acts to punish a rather insignificant mayor? That basic notion has always been strange, a fact Maddow seemed to acknowledge last night.
We were also struck by a fact Maddow largely blew past last night. Twelve minutes into her program, she played tape of the judge in yesterday’s hearing on Fifth Amendment claims by two former Christie aides. Speaking to the attorney for the legislative committee, the judge made a very surprising statement concerning Bridget Kelly:
“You could grant her immunity and then they have their right against self-incrimination goes away, and we don’t have the constitutional issue and you have the right to proceed with your investigation...Under the statute, the committee has the explicit right to grant immunity.”
Say what? “Under the statute,” the legislative committee has the explicit right to grant immunity to Kelly? What statute was the judge talking about? Her statement seemed to contradict everything said to this point about the possibility of immunity.
Unfortunately, Maddow largely failed to examine the judge’s statement. But then, her relentless work on Fort Lee has tended to be strong on repetition and revulsion, weak on information and fact. She has told the story about the $1 rent for the parking lot on three separate programs. She never included the basic background to her cartoonish tale.
Why does Maddow give so much air time to Fort Lee? Why is she willing to make so many accusations against so many people, often on an extremely flimsy basis?
Why is she willing to invent false facts to drive her accusations, one of the ugliest kinds of behavior in which a journalist can engage?
Today, we’ll imagine one possible motive. As we do, please understand—we are only searching for motive because her work has been so strange, so mistaken, so bad.
Today, we’ll imagine one possible motive for this peculiar performance: Maddow may be doing this for business reasons. She may be copying the highly successful methods of Fox.
If you review our Monday post, you will see Gabriel Sherman, the biographer of Roger Ailes, describing the “propaganda” methods of Fox. Those methods involve the invention of good guys and bad guys, and a great deal of repetition.
As we watched Sherman on C-Span two weekends ago, he seemed to be describing the way Maddow has covered Fort Lee. Her repetition of simple stories has been striking. On several occasions, she has been willing to invent “bad guys” by simply inventing false facts.
As Sherman described the Fox “propaganda” techniques, he made it clear that he was discussing a partisan operation. But he also said that this sort of thing makes for very good television—and he said MSNBC doesn’t do this sort of thing as well as Fox News does.
Uh-oh! At that point, his interviewer, Jane Hall, recalled a recent event:
HALL (1/29/14): Ailes has been quoted, very amusingly, I saw recently he said, they asked—a reporter did an interview with him and he said he liked Rachel Maddow but he didn’t want to get her into trouble.Ailes likes the cut of her jib! Below, you see the Q-and-A to which Hall referred. This was part of an interview with the Hollywood Reporter:
QUESTION (1/8/14): Among your competitors, is there any talent you particularly admire?Should progressives be concerned when Roger Ailes says that Maddow “has adapted well to the television medium?”
AILES: I think Rachel Maddow has been a surprise to a lot of people. She wouldn't really work at this network because she wouldn't even come in the door, but on a personal level, I like her. I don't want to hurt her career, so I won't say we get along, but I've had dialogue with her, and she's very smart. She has adapted well to the television medium.
Not necessarily, no. Progressives should be concerned when Maddow invents false facts, engages in unfounded accusations, and smothers the liberal world in simple-minded repetition which seems to be soft on information development.
Make no mistake, though, Maddow seems to be rather ambitious. In various ways, she is now constantly telling her viewers to keep “watching this space.” She is also constantly boasting that her reports are exclusive.
At one time, such blandishments didn’t exist on her program. Now, they are quite frequent.
Maddow is ambitious, and she is paid $7 million per year. If you refuse to imagine the possibility that she could be working a ratings grab, you may be too much of a dittohead to perceive the world around you.
(We’re not asserting that she is. We don’t know why she has covered Fort Lee in the way she has.)
Why has Maddow engaged in so much simplistic repetition? Why is her revulsion increasingly supersized and dramatic? Why does she work to ratchet the sense that she is chasing cartoonish villains?
On Friday, we’ll offer a different possible theory concerning her work. But remember why motive is needed here:
Maddow’s work on Fort Lee has been quite bad in various ways. When very smart people do very bad work, sensible people ought to wonder why.