By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
I’m writing this quick post — or rather, this post that I thought would be quick — inspired by Nina Illingworth, who finds it, shall we say, odd that MSNBC star Rachel Maddow considers now-dead FOX founder and sexual predator Roger Ailes a “friend.” Liberals. I should immediately caveat that, as readers know, although I’m a voracious consumer of text media, I don’t even own a television, and so don’t watch cable news, including Maddow’s version of it. So I can’t pretend this post rises to the level of a media critique. All I want to do is pose the question of whether there are more similarities between Ailes and Maddow, and their effects on the body politic, than one might think. First I’ll look at Ailes. Then I’ll look at what Maddow has to say about Ailes. Then I’ll look at Maddow.
There’s plenty not to like about Ailes, and about FOX, but I found this from commenter MichaelJeter at DeadSpin most telling because it’s happened to me:
Personally, I’ll never forgive him for the effect his network had on my grandparents in the last years of their lives. They were enthralled by Fox News, had it on day and night, whenever they were awake, and it infected them with paranoia, anger and most of all, fear. Visits were consumed with lectures about the latest conspiracy theory about nefarious plots by the Clintons, Obamas, minorities, poor, or whoever else was allegedly hell-bent on destroying their way of life that day. When my grandfather died, it took hours of searching to find where he’d hidden all of his valuables and guns – Obama, you see, was coming to take them at any moment. He lived in a constant state of dread.
Ailes was evil. No more, no less.
I’ve been lucky enough not to have this happen to me with family, but there are friends and neighbors that I just don’t bring certain topics up with; it’s horrible, like a horror movie where people’s brains are controlled by some infestation, whether digital[2[ or alien parasite. I’m sure readers can come up with their own examples.
Sociologists would, I think, characterize Ailes as a “political entrepreneur.” I’d add that his speciality was strategic hate management. So it’s worth taking a moment to see how Maddow characterizes Ailes, and relationship to him. Here’s the Access Hollywood video of Maddow on Ailes:
And here’s the transcript, which I made using YouTube’s autogenerated transcript as a starting point. (There are probably more commas than there should be for a fully accurate rendition.)
[INTERVIEWER:] [0:17] But Rachel, [0:20] a good friend of yours, Roger Ailes, a [0:22] somewhat of a mentor.
[MADDOW:] Well, yeah, I mean [0:24] it’s interesting because we were always [0:26] obviously on very different ends of the [0:28] ideological spectrum, but I met Roger [0:32] years ago and I went to talk to him [0:34] about the profession of cable news, [0:36] because… for all my differences with [0:39] him he kind of invented the genre, and [0:41] people I know who worked for him at the [0:44] time, you know, said that he might be open [0:47] to talking to me about it and I talked [0:48] to him about what he thought about my [0:49] performance on TV; it started a, what I [0:52] think became a collegial friendship, he [0:54] blurbed my book.
[MADDOW:] Which was a funny [0:56] thing and we stayed in pretty close [0:59] touch, I considered him to be a friend. [1:00] I mean the [sigh] obviously the sexual [1:03] harassment allegations against him at [1:04] Fox were a big deal and there were [1:07] serious allegations and there was a [1:09] bunch of them and it was enough for FOX to [1:10] get rid of him which is a huge deal [1:11] given what he did to create that massive [1:14] company, and that’s real I don’t want to [1:17] minimize any of that, but in addition to [1:19] that he was also a lot of other things [1:22] and one of the things he was was [1:24] basically the person who invented this [1:26] genre in which I and all these other [1:28] networks now exists [1:30]
[INTERVIEWER:] A media genius.
[MADDOW:] He was real genius.
[INTERVIEWER:] But [1:33] at the end of the day do you think we [1:35] will remember him more for the scandal?
[MADDOW:] I [1:38] mean the reason that he left is dire [1:41] stuff.
[MADDOW:] You know I mean that and the [1:44] and Fox is still coping with it because [1:46] they have that problem that related to [1:48] Roger that resulted in him letting go [sic] [1:50] being him let go, they had a problem with [1:52] one of their primetime hosts, they have [1:53] had ongoing problems in terms of other [1:55] executives, I mean this is something that [1:56] we still don’t know the end of it at [1:58] that network.
[INTERVIEWER:] Sort of a predatory culture [1:59] then that was fostered there.
[MADDOW:] And Fox [2:01] and its parent company have to cope with [2:03] that, and they they still have to, um ,we [2:05] can see it unfolding as a business story [2:07] in a culture story and and it’s all [2:10] having a having of having a big effect [2:12] on this corner of the news business, but [2:14] this corner of the news business I think [2:16] it’s worth noting really was created by [2:18] Ailes. And over the course of his career, [2:19] decades, he got to know almost everybody [2:23] in this business and whether it was a [2:25] negative interaction or a positive [2:26] interaction, all of us had something to [2:29] do with him, because he was formative in [2:32] terms of this whole part of, this whole [2:34] part of American news, and so I mean [2:36] he’ll his passing was a real shock to me [2:38] when I learned about it this morning. [2:39]
[INTERVIEWER:] What did he say to you back in the day? [2:41] You said he met with him about sort of [2:42] your performance and your journey, so [2:43] what advice did he give you? Did he make [2:45] you a job offer?
[MADDOW:] State secret!
[INTERVIEWER:] Aw, come on!
[MADDOW:] No, he I mean [2:48] he used to tease me that he wanted to [2:50] hire me at Fox so then he could then put [2:53] me on ice not put me on the air but that would prevent anybody else in [2:56] putting me on the air too, which I think [2:58] was his way of giving me a compliment [2:59]
[MADDOW:] But you know we talked, I talked [3:04] technical stuff with him, literally I [3:06] talked about the color of my set and [3:08] that my angle toward the camera and my [3:10] tone of voice and the deal– I mean we I [3:12] went to him as somebody who I felt like [3:14] was very skilled on that stuff to hear [3:16] what he thought and he was [3:18] basically a professional enough to talk [3:20] to me in constructive ways about that [3:21] stuff, and I always felt like that was [3:23] that was a stand-up thing to do. Again, I [3:26] don’t want to dismiss and all right the [3:28] serious allegations are made against him [3:29] that resulted in him being fired from [3:31] that job, but there were other things to [3:33] know about him too, and my experience [3:35] with him was professional and supportive [3:38] and interesting.
I notice a couple of things about Maddow’s remarks (and though I can see why Maddow’s remark that “there were other things to know about him too”, and her characterization — one can only think — of sexual harrassment as a “negative interaction” would cause more than one reader to pop a vein, those remarks are not the subject of this post).
First, Maddow is very, very careful not to say that Ailes was, in actual fact, a sexual harasser, let alone a predator. She says: “allegations against him,” “serious allegations,” “enough for FOX to get rid of him,” “the reason that he left is dire stuff,” “that problem [!!] that related to Roger that resulted in him letting go,” and “serious allegations are made against him that resulted in him being fired from that job.” But she never comes right out and says anything about Ailes himself (a handy list; another; a worked example). Perhaps MSNBC legal gave her guidance (even though Ailes will find it hard to sue from the grave). In any case, one can only hope that Maddow applies the same rigorous standard to all her reporting. Eh?
Second, Maddow is very, very careful not to say anything substantive about FOX News as an institution. The Interviewer remarks that “[s]ort of a predatory culture … was fostered there.” Note the lack of agency in the interviewer’s “was fostered,” which Maddow proceeds to blur even further: “And Fox and its parent company have to cope with that, [and] we can see it unfolding as a business story in a culture story and and it’s all having a having of having a big effect [2:12] on this corner of the news business.” Nothing about Ailes, the CEO, at all! Again, one can only hope that Maddow applies the same rigorous standards to all her reporting. I mean, the interviewer practically invites Maddow to “connect the dots,” as we say, and Maddow virtuously refuses to do that. Give credit, people.
Finally, it’s worth asking what sort of a “political entrepreneur” Maddow herself is. As I said, I’m not really equipped to answer that question fully, since I don’t follow Maddow on cable (not enough commas). But I can give some indications.
First, Maddow is very successful: “Rachel Maddow’s show is the fuel that is powering the MSNBC rating surge”; her salary is $7 million dollars a year, and her net worth is $20 million. So I’d say she’s clinging to middle class status by her fingernails, and good for her, too.
At 7:36 p.m. Tuesday, Rachel Maddow tweeted, “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously),” sending the internet into a frenzy of theorizing. Did Maddow have Donald Trump’s tax returns or just one of the Trumps’ tax returns? Could this be it, the tax return that would bring down the Donald? If this was it, why wasn’t MSNBC cutting into its programming, instead of running a countdown clock to Maddow’s show? By 8:24, Maddow was tweeting that the tax return in question was Donald Trump’s 1040 from 2005. By 8:30, still half an hour before Maddow started airing, the White House had responded to the MSNBC report, saying that Trump had paid $38 million on income of $150 million that year. An hour later, about 20 minutes after The Rachel Maddow Show started, Maddow would confirm these numbers, turning her big scoop about Donald Trump’s long-missing tax returns into a cautionary tale about overhype. Rachel Maddow, you played yourself—and us too.
[Maddow’s] monologue started contextually enough, with a long-winded skewering of Trump’s refusal to share his tax returns that touched on Richard Nixon, the Clintons, and his unaudited tax forms, before veering off conspiratorially. “Whether or not you are a supporter of Donald Trump,” Maddow said, “It ought to give you pause that his explanations [for not releasing his tax returns] have never made any factual sense. … When you get an excuse from them that doesn’t make sense, you have to look for another reason. What’s the real explanation? Well, choose your own adventure.” She then launched into a long hypothetical about a particular Russian oligarch’s possible relationship to Trump that touched on Florida real estate, Deutsche Bank, and Preet Bharara that Trump’s tax returns—though not, as it would turn out, the ones she actually had—could conceivably clear up.
The longer Maddow went on, ever deeper into a conspiratorial thicket, the clearer it became that whatever tax returns Maddow had, they weren’t as juicy as the ones she was talking about. If she had anything that damning, she would have shared them from the start. TV is a ratings game, but an entire episode about highly damaging tax returns is just as likely to get you great ratings as milking the possibility that you have highly damaging tax returns and less likely to get you compared to Geraldo. Maddow even went so far as to hold the tax returns back until after the first commercial break, as if we were watching an episode of The Bachelor and not a matter of national importance—because we weren’t, in fact, watching a matter of national importance, just a cable news show trying to set a ratings record.
I’ll stop there, but read the whole thing; it’s pretty funny. What’s clear, though, is that she didn’t apply the same rigorous standards to this story that she applied to her friend Roger Ailes of FOX News. One can only wonder why.
Third, Maddow isn’t above using innuendo and smears to kick down. Consider this video (which I can’t find on YouTube, hence no transcript):
— DESUS & MERO (@desusandmero) February 15, 2017
Readers know that I don’t think much of Jill Stein, not least because in her lawsuist she bought into the Clintonite myth that the Russkis actually hacked vote totals. (It may be Maddow is reinforcing that myth with her crack about “Wisconsin vote totals”; I’m not sure.) But Stein — compared, say, to the intelligence community — is a negligible quantity and an easy target. So easy that Maddow didn’t apply the same rigorous standards to Jill Stein that she did with Roger Ailes. While she and her chortling sidekicks gleefully smear Stein as a traitor. Liberals.
What kind of political entrepreneur is Maddow, then? Well, I’m now afraid to talk to liberal friends and neighbors enthralled by Maddow about Trump’s 1040 and Stein’s Wisconsin vote totals. And, of course, the Russkis, but that’s a story for another day. But the ratings though. So, to answer the question: A very successful one.
 Sourcing on Maddow quotes seems pretty tangled. There are Maddow YouTubes and quotes everywhere, but I was consistently unable to corroborate quotes from the MSNBC transcripts, I assume due to ordinary randomness and/or Google’s crapification and/or a poor search function at the MSNBC site.
 Pause for some Simon Stålenhag:
— Luis Parravicini (@luisparravicini) April 20, 2017
 I continue to struggle with the paradox that seven months after Trump’s election, despite charges against Trump that, if true, would amount to treason, nobody in the intelligence community has been willing to risk their career by going on the record about the evidence they’ve seen (except perhaps Guy Steele, whose oppo was so sketchy that not even a chump like Jebbie would buy it).
 “Hey, come on. Where’s your sense of humor?”