MSNBC is confirming its long-rumored move to put Rachel Maddow in the anchor seat of her own program. She will be taking over Dan Abrams’s 9 p.m. time slot immediately after “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” This further cements MSNBC’s reputation as the liberal answer to Fox News, a formula that appears to be striking ratings gold for network. Where Abrams is not overtly partisan and comes from a legal background, Maddow is the popular host of a lefty “Air America” radio program. But, unlike Fox’s rotation of former radio-heads—Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity—Maddow is no mere histrionic provocateur. The one-time Rhodes scholar and AIDS activist has proved herself to be a savvy commentator with quick, smart takes on the news of the day. And, in the process, she has become a kind of hero to the left. The Nation gushes that “everything about her radiates confidence”; meanwhile, over at Daily Kos, Maddow has inspired poetry: “Unto us a star is born … the everlasting progressive, the princess of the news.”
I really like Maddow and have found her thoroughly compelling throughout this latest campaign season, but I am not so thrilled about this trend toward partisan networks and news. By all means we should have progressive and conservative commentators and analysts, but is there no room for argument between the two? Where have all the iconoclasts gone? With this split in the networks and a near perfect red-blue divide nationwide, it seems that we are more and more retreating to our comfortable trenches and refusing to acknowledge anything but spite, paranoia, and conspiracy theory when it comes to the other side. And, since cable news is not exactly renowned for its nuance or intellectual rigor, knee-jerk reactions can pass for smart commentary. I think Maddow will be a wonderful host (and God knows MSNBC could use a smart woman), but how exciting is it really if she is just preaching to the choir?