Conclusion—Gifts from the Rachel figure: Did Jeffrey Sessions lie to that Senate committee back in January?
In our view, this question is much too complex for modern mainstream journalists. We'd also say that the answer is wholly unclear.
We'd say the answer is wholly unclear. Unless you're watching the Maddow Show, where liberals get to hear presentations like the one which ended Tuesday night's program:
MADDOW (10/17/17): You know what? Senators don't like being lied to. And Jeff Sessions never apologized or really cleaned up that lie he told to his confirmation hearing.On the Maddow Show, Sessions did lie, full stop, no explanations needed. In fact, viewers heard Maddow say, three separate times, that Sessions "lied" that day.
Well, tomorrow, Jeff Sessions goes back before that same Senate Judiciary Committee again, the one he lied to, for what's supposed to be a routine oversight hearing. I have my doubts it will be a routine oversight hearing. And it starts tomorrow 10 AM Eastern. I will watch.
That does it for us tonight. We'll see you again tomorrow. Now it's time for The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.
O'DONNELL: Now I have my assignment at 10 AM Eastern tomorrow, which I did not know until you just gave it to me. But that's, that's why we have to get our homework assignments from Rachel every night.
MADDOW: You know from your time in the Senate that if there's one thing that senators never forget, it's being lied to.
MADDOW: Especially by a witness under oath.
In much the way described by Janet Malcolm, hearing such statements makes liberal viewers feel good. On Wednesday night, the charismatic "corporate liberal" ran an even more pitiful scam on her mesmerized viewers:
MADDOW (10/18/17): Go back to the first week of March this year. On March 1st, the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, all reported some very troubling news about the new administration.Wow! Those three newspapers all reported that Sessions "had in fact met multiple times with Russian officials during the presidential campaign."
They reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had in fact met with multiple Russians—excuse me, had in fact met multiple times with Russian officials during the presidential campaign, even though he had repeatedly denied that, including it under oath. That was March 1st, those reports came out about Sessions having meetings with Russians.
People! Sessions had met with the Russkies "multiple times!" Welcome to the Maddow Show, where we liberals get to enjoy ourselves, even in spite of the terrible times our ineptitude helped bring on.
Maddow's statement was pleasing. That said, was it accurate? Was it perhaps misleading?
In point of fact, the "multiple" number of meetings in question was the rather small number "two," a word Maddow chose not to use. In fact, those newspapers had reported that day that Sessions had met with the Russkies twice—that is to say, two times.
(For the Post's report, click here.)
Why did Maddow refer to "multiple meetings" instead of just saying "two?" We can't answer that question! But two weeks ago, as you may recall, Maddow said that Steve Mnuchin had traveled on military jets "multiple times, many multiples of times."
The actual number of times was seven, a word she never used. Instead of saying "seven times," she said "many multiples of times!" The Rachel figure possibly seemed to be playing her viewers then too.
Why did Maddow refer to "multiple meetings" rather than "two?" We can't answer that question. That said, only one of these "meetings" was actually a "meeting" in the normal sense of the term. You're shielded from ever hearing such things if you're a suitably gullible liberal watching the Maddow Show.
Did Sessions attempt to mislead Al Franken that day in that committee hearing? We think the answer is far from clear. But Maddow's embellished reports this week help explain one part of Janet Malcolm's weird assessment of her program, the weird assessment Malcolm delivered right at the start of her endless, and endlessly strange, profile of Maddow in the October 9 New Yorker.
Malcolm started by saying, quite correctly, that Maddow "is the current sweetheart of liberal cable TV." Soon, though, she also weirdly said this:
MALCOLM (10/9/17): As I write this, I think of something that subliminally puzzles me as I watch the show. Why do I stay and dumbly watch the commercials instead of getting up to finish washing the dishes? By now, I know every one of the commercials as well as I know the national anthem...I sit there mesmerized because Maddow has already mesmerized me. Her performance and those of the actors in the commercials merge into one delicious experience of TV. “The Rachel Maddow Show” is a piece of sleight of hand presented as a cable news show. It is TV entertainment at its finest. It permits liberals to enjoy themselves during what may be the most thoroughly unenjoyable time of their political lives.According to Malcolm, Maddow's show is a nightly "sleight of hand" which "permits liberals to enjoy themselves" during a disastrous time. Strikingly, that's the basic assessment we've been offering for the past quite a few years.
Weirdly, though, Malcolm effusively praises Maddow for working this sleight of hand. We've routinely criticized Maddow for her sleights of hand, which often resemble cons.
We liberals got to enjoy ourselves this week as Maddow told us that Sessions had "lied" about those "multiple meetings." She swept away uncertainty; she toyed with her number words.
In the process, we liberals were getting pleasured and possibly conned—according to Malcolm, by the sleight of hand of a mesmerizing purveyor of "TV entertainment at its finest."
Malcolm's profile is stupendously weird. It's astounding to think that David Remnick was willing to publish such manifest dreck, given its manifest strangeness.
That said, Malcolm offers many accurate observations about Maddow and her deliciously entertaining, enjoyable nightly program. One of Malcolm's most interesting frameworks involves her repeated references to "Maddow’s TV persona—the well-crafted character that appears on the nightly show."
Extremely weirdly, Malcolm compares Maddow's nightly "performance" to the performances which are offered by the actors in the "mesmerizing" TV ads which pay for Maddow's show. Eventually, she refers to Maddow's "performance of the Rachel figure." What the heck might Malcolm mean by that?
We can't speak for Janet Malcolm, whose reasoning in this essay is often quite hard to follow. That said, we can provide the outlines of "the Rachel figure," the "well-crafted character that appears on the nightly show."
What are the basic elements of this "stage persona?" Below, we offer a quick overview:
The Rachel figure is an attention-seeking clown—more politely, an entertainer. As part of her mugging and clowning, she'll even put the lid of "a baby-poop-colored cannister" right on her head, after wonderfully telling us that it's "baby-poop-colored."
The Rachel figure won't always seem to be obsessively honest. She ran her DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS scam for years, convincing gullible viewers of her massive honesty.
(Malcolm describes one such session, ignoring the lengthy history.)
In fact, Maddow rarely corrects her mistakes at all. She persistently tends to embellish facts to make life enjoyable for liberals. She'll embellish the facts about political issues, and about her own life.
(She only bought the TV set because she was blackout drunk! She was completely surprised the next morning when she found the on-line purchase order right there in her bed!)
The Rachel figure is constantly engaging in staged laughter. We've long suggested the obvious, that this may be a performance tic prescribed by her corporate owners as a way of avoiding The Shrill.
Malcolm tells us, admiringly, that "to keep herself in character, so to speak, Maddow marks up the text that she will read from a teleprompter with cues for gestures, pauses, smiles, laughs, frowns—all the body language that goes into her performance of the Rachel figure."
There's nothing "wrong" with that, of course—until there actually is. At any rate, the Rachel figure's constant forced laughter helps keep us entertained.
The Malcolm profile is full of glimpses of the Rachel figure's essence. We'll suggest that narcissism is one key part of that essence. The Rachel figure is inclined to play old videotape of the Rachel figure. She reminds us of Donald J. Trump more than anyone else in all of corporate cable.
We'll especially suggest that you review the bullroar in Malcolm's profile about Maddow's "distant relative," Ben Maddow, who—we'll take a guess—Maddow mentioned to Malcolm because she wanted readers to know that she has some Jewish ancestry, balancing the Catholic upbringing she also discusses with Malcolm. (The Rachel figure is fascinatingly complex, much more so than you.)
Malcolm's long diversion on this matter is utterly pointless. That said, she asserts, again and again, that Maddow mentioned this distant relative, a writer of poems and books, "in a forthcoming moment."
Scenting the obvious hint of a Maddovian scam, we checked to see if Rachel could have known that Malcolm has long admired Ben Maddow. Sure enough! Malcolm mentioned Ben Maddow as recently as 2013, in a best-selling book. By total coincidence, Rachel Maddow dropped his name when she spoke with Malcolm.
Malcolm swallowed the bait. Is she really that easy to play? We have no idea.
As a long-time Maddow watcher, we found many markers of the Rachel figure floating around in Malcolm's essay. Today, we're deciding that we don't want to go any farther into the weeds on this matter.
Still and all, we think we'll mention Malcolm's opening sentence! Were we the only readers who noted the apparent contradiction with the self-deprecating claims of the Rachel figure?
MALCOLM: In Rachel Maddow’s office at the MSNBC studios, there is a rack on which hang about thirty elegant women’s jackets in various shades of black and gray. On almost every week night of the year, at around one minute to nine, Maddow yanks one of these jackets off its hanger, puts it on without looking into a mirror, and races to the studio from which she broadcasts her hour-long TV show, sitting at a sleek desk with a glass top. As soon as the show is over, she sheds the jacket and gets back into the sweater or T-shirt she was wearing before. She does not have to shed the lower half of her costume, the skirt and high heels that we don’t see because of the desk in front of them but naturally extrapolate from the stylish jacket. The skirt and heels, it turns out, are an illusion. Maddow never changed out of the baggy jeans and sneakers that are her offstage uniform and onstage private joke. Next, she removes her contact lenses and puts on horn-rimmed glasses that hide the bluish eyeshadow a makeup man hastily applied two minutes before the show. She now looks like a tall, gangly tomboy instead of the delicately handsome woman with a stylish boy’s bob who appears on the show and is the current sweetheart of liberal cable TV.Quick question: Does anyone extrapolate a skirt and high heels when Maddow is on the air? Also, on what planet was this profile written? Moving right along:
How strange! Malcolm says that Maddow's rack contain thirty elegant, stylish jackets. Maddow has often said that her crummy old jackets cost $19 each. The Rachel figure is self-deprecating, in a humblebrag sort of way.
The Rachel figure is deeply self-involved, to almost Trumpian levels. She's doesn't seem obsessively honest. She loves to mug and clown and entertain. She'll even put "baby-poop-colored" objects on her overpaid head.
The Rachel figure is extremely good at selling the car, and the car she sells is The Maddow. In the October 9 New Yorker, Malcolm bought a fully-loaded roadster, apparently paying cash.
The mugging, clowning, dissembling continue. The largest questions are these:
What can it mean when the nation's best magazine writer admires cable news sleight of hand designed to let liberals enjoy themselves? What can it mean when The New Yorker puts such manifest weirdness in print?
Beyond that, the Rachel figure will continue mugging and clowning and pleasing liberal viewers. Long ago, Jon Stewart tried to tell her that she ought to drop the stand-up routine. She said she didn't want to.
According to the highly peculiar Malcolm, the Rachel figure works a nightly sleight of hand. This results in "TV entertainment at its finest." Plus the Cialis ads!
We agree with that formulation! In theory, journalists used to know what we need. As Malcolm says in her crazy third paragraph, corporate cable's Rachel figure has long seemed to know what we want.
We think her judgment tends to be poor. Luckily, no one's in charge!