Three cheers for Ocasio-Cortez: Willa Paskin is the TV writer at Slate.
She isn't a political writer. She isn't a media reporter or a journalism critic.
Still and all, Paskin watched the Rachel Maddow Show at least two times last week—and she didn't like what she saw.
Paskin didn't like what she saw on the Maddow Show. In the nugget shown below, she breaks a type of rule:
PASKIN (3/29/19): I’ll admit that I haven’t watched Maddow regularly for the past few years. Turning on her show this week was like discovering a Facebook friend is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She looks the same as she did, she even sounds the same, but 15 minutes into a conspiratorial rant with no sense of proportion or, honestly, responsibility, you realize that something has gone wildly wrong...When Paskin watched Maddow, she got the impression that something has gone badly wrong with the host of the second highest-rated program in "cable news."
Indeed, she said she thought that Maddow seemed to be "on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
As a matter of journalistic theory, Paskin probably shouldn't be making assessments which sound psychiatric. A person might also ask—and several commenters did—if Paskin should be making sweeping judgments about a program she hasn't been watching on a regular basis.
On their face, each of those criticisms of Paskin seem to make perfect sense. That said, we were struck by a different thought as we read Paskin's critique of Maddow:
We have been watching Maddow regularly, ever since she went on the air. It's been increasingly hard to do that of late, with Maddow working so deep in the weeds that you can't see the boondocks from there.
(Or trying to make the rubble bounce around Paul Manafort's jail cell, night after night after night.)
That said, we've forced ourselves to watch. As long-time viewers, we were struck by the extent to which Paskin's instant reactions matched our own views about the Maddow program. Also, about the program's viewers:
PASKIN (continuing directly): It’s easy to understand why this might appeal to the 4 million or so Trump-sick viewers who regularly watch Maddow’s program, but her audience is being served an alt-reality just as surely as Hannity’s is. If her audience of susceptible ostriches and amateur detectives, people who bury themselves in conspiratorial details hoping to unearth the one clue that will beam us out of this reality, is not as malignant as Fox’s audience of the hateful, aggrieved, and ignorant, in this one regard at least, what’s happening between MSNBC and Fox is not a contest: More than one cable news host can disserve their audience at a time."More than one cable news host can disserve their audience at a time?"
We've often made that point ourselves, though we wouldn't share Paskin's sweeping denunciation of the millions of people who, under this theory, are getting disserved by Hannity on a nightly basis. Nor would we characterize Maddow's viewres in the way Paskin does.
That said, is it true? Has something gone badly wrong with Maddow? Are her Trump-sick viewers failing to show sufficient discernment about that state of affairs?
On each point, Paskin's reaction matches our basic sense of the matter. Beyond that, we think Paskin did a pretty good job summarizing Maddow's programs from last Monday and Tuesday nights.
Indeed, we compliment Paskin for being able to pay attention to last Tuesday night's opening monologue all the way through to the end. On that evening, Maddow went beyond the weeds to the place where even the weeds won't grow—and she introduced a new SOUND, as you can see in the program's transcript.
In the passage shown below, Paskin mentions "the mystery sound," though only in passing. As long-time viewers of Maddow, we think we can maybe perhaps explain its sudden appearance:
PASKIN: In the days since the Mueller report was sent to Barr, Maddow has held fast to her faith that Mueller is some kind of avenging hero, who will get Trump in the end. “As we await the Mueller report,” she said on Tuesday night, “we are left with this incredibly provocative set of unexplained behaviors.” Then she cued up “the mystery sound,” a not particularly eerie ding she used to introduce a long digression about a still-active “mystery case,” in which a “mystery company owned by mystery country” has resisted all attempts to testify about some mystery topic at the special prosecutor’s request, which she then tied to a number of other still active parts of the Mueller investigation, which she intimated could still result in something damning.Why did "the mystery sound" appear? This would be our guess:
For whatever reason, mainstream pundits suddenly began piling on Maddow last week. Her program has been horrendous in various ways for years, but by the basic rules of the game, career players of the mainstream and liberal worlds knew that they mustn't notice or say so.
It simply isn't done! It wasn't done when Chris Matthews produced overtly crazy programming for a dozen years. It hasn't been done with Maddow, his successor as the most influential cable pundit in the NBC stable.
Last week, the impossible dream occurred—Maddow began getting criticized. As always, the pundits struck as a group.
For that reason, on Tuesday night, Maddow began presenting herself as "the manic pixie dream broadcaster" she often affects in "her performance of the Rachel figure"—as the hapless girl-woman we liberal viewers have to root for because she's just so helpless and childish herself.
This hapless figure is "our best friend 'Raache'"—and she's an entertainer. She plays entertaining "mystery sounds" to make us like her even more, to distract attention away from the parts of her persona which have come under sudden assault.
This is the pitiful pixie dust child who covers her ears and closes her eyes when she plays telephone sex tapes over and over and over again for no discernible reason.
This is the hapless child who couldn't own a TV set because she knew she'd do nothing but watch, then pretended she bought her first TV set only because she and Susan got hopelessly blackout drunk.
This is the disingenuous child who invited Ana-Marie Cox on the air for two weeks to drop dick jokes on the heads of Tea Party members, even as she pretended, night after night, to be deeply embarrassed, mortified even, by what her guest was doing.
This is a person who should have pulled off the air long ago. But because she's so good at "selling the car"—and because we liberals are, in fact, not unlike the people Over There—her ratings have grown and grown as she's played these reindeer games, and as she's wasted everyone's time making the rubble bounce.
The corporation's ratings have gone through the roof as she's mugged and clowned in these ways. Almost surely, NBC's owners love the games with which she gambols and plays.
We'll guess that's why "the mystery sound" was suddenly part of last Tuesday's entertainment. It helped us liberals enjoy ourselves as she went on and on, and on and on, about the mystery foreign company involved in the mystery court case.
She was broadcasting live and direct from the frozen land beyond the weeds. As Paskin noted, this is basically stupid stuff, but it seems to sell.
We were struck by the fact that Paskin's instant reactions tended to match our own views, which we've acquired through years of painful viewing. We do think Paskin missed one very important point:
Paskin noticed the silly time-killing involved in Maddow's journeys through the weeds and the tundra. She didn't mention the way this childish piddle means that Our Own Peter Pan now discusses virtually nothing else which may be happening anywhere else in the world.
Compare Maddow's investment in the weeds to the conduct of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who appeared in a town hall with Chris Hayes last Friday night.
(This being MSNBC, the transcript still isn't available.)
Ocasio-Cortez is no Maddow! Hayes asked her why, coming from the Bronx, she's chosen to start her congressional career with a topic like the Green New Deal.
She isn't like Our Darling Rachel. As this lengthy answer demonstrates, she's neither a child nor a clown:
HAYES (3/29/19): You come out of the gate, you represent this district here in the Bronx and Queens. People got all sorts of issues, all sorts of issues. And the first big issue you`re doing is the Green New Deal.Ocasio-Cortez understands the sweep of the current situation. "We have to save ourselves," she told Hayes, two times, citing a wide range of major problems as she did.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: That's right.
HAYES: So why this issue front and center, first thing? What connects you to this?
OCASIO-CORTEZ (3/29/19): So this issue is not just about our climate. First and foremost, we need to save ourselves, period. There will be no future for the Bronx, there will be no livable future for generations coming for any part of this country in a way that is better than the lot that we have today, if we don't address this issue urgently, and on the scale of the problem.
But how I access this issue is that I started looking at all of our problems. We have runaway income inequality. We are at one of our most unequal points, economically speaking, in American history. We are dealing with the crisis of how our economy is even made up. Our economy is increasingly financialized, which means we are making profits off of interest, off of leasing your phone, off of doing all of these things, but we aren't producing and we are an innovating in the way that we need to as an economy.
And I also am looking at our issues of social justice, social and racial justice, of which we are—which we have a nexus here in the Bronx. And what I started thinking about to myself was listen, we're looking at all of these issues, Medicare for all, a living wage, tuition free public colleges and universities, and there's this false idea that we need to put them all in a line and say do this or do that. Do you care about health care or do you care about the economy or jobs?
And then I started to realize that these are not different problems. These are all part of the same problem. And this is—in the past, when we've confronted this type of stagnation and this type of systemic threat as a country—first of all, we've been here before. We've been here before with the Great Depression. We've been here before with World War II, even the Cold War.
And the answer has been an ambitious and directed mobilization of the American economy to direct and solve our problem, our biggest problem. And historically speaking, we have mobilized our entire economy around war. But I thought to myself, it doesn't have to be that way, especially when our greatest existential threat is climate change.
And so to get us out of this situation, to revamp our economy to create dignified jobs for working Americans, to guarantee health care and elevate our educational opportunities and attainment, we will have to mobilize our entire economy around saving ourselves and taking care of this planet.
By way of contrast:
Maddow, a pixie fairy-dust dream entertainer, just released her first, self-ballyhooed podcast. It dealt with the way Spiro T. Agnew accepted free groceries while serving as Nixon's vice president! It was silly, feel-good partisan piddle designed to please the base.
Wealth and fame have been destroying our nation's public figures for a very long time. Wealth and fame destroyed Judy Garland. Wealth and fame destroyed Elvis.
The rewards are too damn high!
In our view, Maddow seems to have been eaten alive by these destructive forces. The Green New Deal? It still hasn't been discussed on her ridiculous program. Spiro T. Agnew comes first!
Babies being born today are going to drown in the sea. Desperate for some ardent glory, viewers of Maddow's routinely ridiculous program don't seem to see it as a problem when all such topics get shoved to the side.
With that, we cue the mystery sound. It's silly and childish and fun!