Talking to Themselves  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   August/September 2008

Talking to Themselves   

Online Exclusive »:   Rachel Maddow’s promotion reflects and reinforces the polarization so prevalent on cable and in the blogosphere—and in American politics.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder ( is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Two thoughts about ' MSNBC's decision to give Rachel Maddow her own show:

First, it's a good call. The "Air America" host deserves it. Maddow has been quite impressive during her frequent appearances as guest and guest host on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." She's smart, clever and engaging. She has good screen presence. She forcefully expresses her views, but without the annoying high-decibel bluster and bullying that are too common on cable.

Maddow replaces Dan Abrams, a bright guy whose blend of political and legal topics just never seemed to gel.

Second: It's yet another step in the polarization of the American media. Keith Olbermann followed by Rachel Maddow means two back-to-back hours of hard left television.

For years, American newspapers and television news organizations clung to the idea that they were nonpartisan, down the middle. Sure, there was the endless whining from the right about the "liberal" media. (Today, of course, cries of media bias from the left are at least as vociferous as those from the right.) But however imperfectly, most news organizations tried to report the news without an obvious political point of view.

Then along came Fox, a 24-hour news cable channel with a clear right-wing orientation. And it was a major success, outdrawing cable news pioneer CNN. There obviously was an audience eagerly waiting for it.

For years MSNBC was the cable news also-ran. Then it put the talented, mercurial Olbermann back in the line-up. His hard-edged liberal point of view, leavened with a stiff dose of whimsy, resonated with viewers, and at last gave MSNBC an identity.

Following Olbermann with Maddow is a smart way of extending the brand. But it also reflects and reinforces the trend toward separate megaphones for separate audiences. As in the blogosphere, with its pugnacious mix of conservative and liberal Web sites, there is political TV for the left and political TV for the right.

Increasingly, we are a nation of partisans talking only to themselves.



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