PLAYING WITH DOLLS: And with a toy car!


Part 1—Maddow’s paper dolls: Rachel Maddow has been on vacation. There’s nothing “wrong” with that!

Maddow may have needed her break, which started on July 31. You see, on Wednesday night, July 30, she was (literally) playing with dolls, right there on the air.

One night before, she had played with a battery-powered remote control car. Right there on the air!

A cynic will say that Maddow was possibly trying to juice her ratings with bits of entertainment. Others will say that she may have been experimenting with alternative forms of news presentation.

We don’t know why Maddow played with the dolls and with the toy car. Nor are we going to say that she shouldn’t have done so.

We do know when the dolls appeared. On June 30, Maddow was doing her latest segment on the Bob McDonnell trial, a relatively minor news event to which she has devoted a fair amount of attention.

Six minutes into the segment, Maddow said the trial had been “amazing.” At that point, out came the dolls:
MADDOW (6/30/14): It’s been amazing stuff. It’s amazing enough that the alt weekly in Richmond, Style weekly, just published a cutout paper doll activity book for following along with the trial.

[Holds up Style weekly feature]

Look! “Paper Doll Evidence Play Time!”

That’s the Ferrari on its side, you see there? And the Rolex, right next to the wedding catering. The big wedding cake, right underneath the tower of the businessman’s supplements.

[Holds up individual dolls, pretends to speak in their voices]

“I’m Bob McDonnell.” “I’m Mrs. Bob McDonnell.”

“This is my white Ferrari. It’s just a favor.”

The corruption trial of Bob McDonnell has been incredible so far. Today was Day Three...
To watch the entire segment, click this. The dolls appear six minutes in.

In our view, the McDonnell trial hasn’t been especially “incredible.” We’d say the trial has been sordid, stupid and sad, and perhaps a fair bit overblown.

The New York Times has been treating the trial as a mid-level national story. Maddow has given the trial a somewhat higher profile.

In our view, the trial hasn’t been amazing. But by Day Three, the trial of Governor Ultrasound and his wife had reduced Maddow to (literally) playing with dolls.

Her 14-minute segment got even stranger after that. Maddow complained, rather bitterly, that the national press corps was trying to help the McDonnells beat the rap.

“The press is bending over backwards to help the McDonnell legal defense,” Maddow said as she ended her segment. “You’re being played,” she angrily told her unnamed colleagues, two times.

Had the press been behaving that way? Maddow’s argument made no discernible sense, and she had started by playing with dolls. The night before, she had been playing with a remote control toy car.

In our view, Maddow probably shouldn’t be playing with dolls on the air. That said, her anger about the press corps’ behavior really grabbed our attention.

There too, she seemed to be playing with dolls. We’ll examine her charges tomorrow.

For us, Maddow’s focus on recent botched executions has been another point of interest. In our view, it’s of a piece with her anger at the press—and with her somewhat obsessive focus on the McDonnell trial.

Can we talk? All around us, we think we see the stars of our (corporate) liberal news orgs playing with assortments of dolls. On that recent Wednesday night, Maddow made the practice official.

For many years, we liberals were silent as the right-wing machine and the mainstream press spread an assortment of frameworks and charges. After Iraq, we liberals finally began to pipe up—and it turned out that we may not be especially skilled at communicating with voters.

Maddow’s ratings haven’t been great. (That isn’t a measure of quality.) In our view, her topic selection is often peculiar, sometimes to the point of concern.

On that pre-vacation Wednesday, Maddow was (literally) playing with dolls. But then, we think we see people playing with dolls in quite a few of our emerging liberal venues.

Is it good when progressives play with dolls? We’ll tackle that question all week.

Tomorrow: Maddow’s charges about the press. Also, a Dick Nixon doll!

Fun with cars:: On July 29, Maddow played with a remote control toy car.

To watch her warm-up segment with the toy car, just click this. (It only takes 34 seconds.) For her full segment with the car, click here.


  1. John Oliver's HBO show seems to be trying to educate the general public about issues of consequence to them personally, using information disguised as humor. His last show focused on the problems with payday loan businesses and why people shouldn't use them. He makes his lectures interesting using techniques similar to playing with paper dolls. Perhaps Maddow is experimenting with doing something similar but instead of aiming her segments at public education, she is aiming them at her favorite political targets?

    Somerby seems to be hinting that she is on a forced vacation. That doesn't seem fair but I agree that taking some time to rethink her show might be a good idea for Maddow.

    1. I took out a pay day loan to pay for my premium cable channels.

  2. Maddow does some good things but her schtick is such a blatant rip off of Jon Stewart. Thing is, she doesn't have the budget or great writers he has. He tried to tell her in that one interview but she wasn't having it. But it's so frickin obvious.

    1. I admire Jon Stewart because he actually reads the books written by the authors he interviews, he actually follows the news in the Middle East, and he does his own research and is one of the more knowledgeable political comedians on the air. He doesn't rely on his writers to pre-digest the issues he comments upon. Maddow is smart enough to do her own work but she doesn't choose to. It is a very important difference and it is why she gets dumber with time while Stewart improves.

    2. You are a good Bob reader. This is almost a verbatim repeat of an earlier comment. Like many a Bob post.

  3. I am glad that Somerby told us ratings are not a measure of quality.
    Having read the linked article in Hollywood Reporter I was concerned that Fox's The Five was better than Sponge Bob Square Pants. Thanks to Bob's careful parenthetical observation, I know better.

  4. About the time Maddow was playing with dolls and toy cars, Bob was playing with Nexis and Google, looking unsuccessfully for some guy named Alexander Becker. I wouldn't have minded, except the day before he was playing with himself, by linking to a blog post by Kevin Drum because it linked to him here at TDH. In that post Bob said this:

    "In yesterday’s post, he quotes an interesting observation by Slate’s Dave Weigel, whose overall work on this subject strikes us as being quite poor.

    We’ll discuss that observation tomorrow."

    We wanted him to tell us all about Weigel. Instead we got the display of bad search toy techniques. Fortunatley about that time Bob went on vacation. All we have gotten since are tales of high grades, bad wine, and The Exorcist. Nothing about the Howler's hit count. Or Weigel.

  5. In late 2010 I was in my hotel room just down the street from Herald Square. It was an hour or so before curtain time for that Sondheim show I had tickets for (to my delight, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch had already replaced Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in the female leads), when I clicked over and saw Rachel interviewing Jon Stewart a few blocks away over at the Rock.

    Rachel was giggling like a 60s teeny-bopper taking a toke off Ringo Starr's joint when she declared that she and Stewart were "in the same business." Stewart, not amused, responded, "No. We. Are. Not." His point was that Rachel's putative job was much more important than his and that news needs to be straight and serious, preferably with no paper snakes or outsize hats. It was as if Mort Sahl were upbraiding a fawning Walter Cronkite for wanting to be just like him. Kind of embarrassing to watch.

    Too bad Stewart's admonition was wasted on Rachel, who is still trying to run a poor man's "Daily Show" in Prime Time. She even supplies the laugh track herself.

    Sorry about the lack of New York references. I'm in kind of a hurry. Wolfgang Holzmair is singing some Schubert lieders at the Frick Museum tonight.

    1. "Lieder" is already plural - the singular is "lied" - so you don't need to say "lieders".

    2. I am not sure I know what a 60's teeny bopper taking a toke off Ringo Starr's joint giggles like. But the subject and verb were both singular.

  6. Two of Maddow's last 40 reports are about the McDonnell trial. Does that meet the test of an obsession?

    1. Two of Somerby's last two posts are about Maddow. Does that have anything to do with test scores of black children?

    2. "does that meet the test of an obsession?"

      When the McDonnell's are of interest only to people in Virginia and have nothing to do with the other 49 states, then yes, I think it does constitute an obsession.

    3. Yes indeed. The governor of a state is on trial for 14 federal counts of corruption. Who outside of the state itself could possibly be interested in that?

      Certainly not the super-duper sharp Somerby and his band of merry followers.

    4. What are the national implications?

    5. Right. All news must be limited to those with "national implications" as decided by you.

      Can you even imagine that there might be some people outside of Virginia interested in this? Of course you can't. You're a Bobfan, and Bob's opinion loyally repeated by you is the only one that matters.

    6. A national show should appeal to national interests. There is no lesson in the McDonnell's story for people in other states. People may be interested but it is the same sick interest that leads people to watch Honey Boo Boo. This is beneath Maddow.

    7. Please let Bob know we will no longer stand for posts about how DC or NY black children do on test scores.

      None of these state by state comparisons or requests we visit Tuscaloosa, either. We only want things which are national in scope. A national blog should appeal to national interests.

      And how many posts has Bob done on Rachel and Ultrasound?

  7. It sure is good to have Bob back keeping us abreast of the latest from the One True Channel, even if its two weeks old.

  8. One thing is for sure, it is possible to watch the Maddow show without vomiting. It's never happened to me but it is possible.