There are a few people I would absolutely love to meet and interview.
Rachel Maddow is at the top of the list. Why, you might ask? She speaks truth to power on a wide range of topics. It’s no surprise that many viewers of The Rachel Maddow Show, regardless of their sexual orientation, have a crush on her. Brainy, good-looking, funny and unabashedly goofy, Maddow’s appeal transcends the typical laws of attraction. Sitting behind her desk in New York City, Maddow seems almost giddy at times as she schools viewers on taxes, same-sex marriage or the influence of corporate dollars on the political system. Arguably at the top of her field, she’s used to having the word “first” applied to her accomplishments. Beyond being the first openly gay anchor to host a primetime news program in the United States, she was also the first openly gay American to win a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate studies at Oxford University. Her plainspoken openness about her sexuality has helped to pave the way for other public figures to be honest about themselves. In the past, she has said, “The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.”
Three years ago, prior to scoring her spot on MSNBC, in response to a question from The New York Times about whether America was ready for an openly gay primetime cable news host, she responded, “I think Ellen DeGeneres has shown people are ready for her. But I will not dance the way Ellen does.”
Each night on MSNBC, she holds elected officials and the media to a fact-based analysis of current events. Her guiding modus operandi is to find the truth. Exposing hypocrisy, whether on the left or the right, is what she does. She does not shy away from saying what others in the mainstream media would not dare to say; she once told David Letterman that “scaring white people is good politics on the conservative side of the spectrum.”
In the loud, sometimes cringe-worthy world of cable news, where “discourse” can mean multiple guests screaming past one another on a given topic, or a focus on the most sensationalized, over-the-top story lines, Maddow’s calm, reasoned demeanor is a welcome blast of thoughtfulness. She strikes a balance between being almost professorial with a regular, much-needed dose of dorky humor, often reveling in the more detailed minutiae of politics or the obscure stories that others refuse to cover. You may or may not agree with her politics, but you have to appreciate her diligence, her work ethic and her sassy, pull-no-punches attitude. She’s not afraid to criticize what she perceives as irresponsible journalism, as in the case of CNN’s decision earlier this year to air Michelle Bachmann’s Tea Party-themed response to the State of the Union, in addition to the official Republican response given by Congressman Paul Ryan. “Michele Bachmann is not the national spokesperson for the Republican Party,” she said on her show at the time. “She is unlikely anytime soon to be chosen to be the spokesperson for her party. But tonight, inexplicably, a national news network decided that they would give Michele Bachmann a job that her own party never did.”
Her self-confident embrace of her own personality, quirks and all, is part of what endears her to viewers and to higher-ups at MSNBC. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in a post-Keith Olbermann world, she has the biggest ratings on the cable network. “Very few people can be so honest with a remark, a giggle, a serious look. There’s no performance art. That performance is Rachel,” said MSNBC president Phil Griffin to The Daily Beast.
Of the many quotes attributed to Maddow, this is a favorite: “In 1982, who passed the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history? That would be Ronald Reagan. Who called for comprehensive health reform legislation during a State of the Union address in 1974, a program that was well to the left of what either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama ultimately proposed? That would be Richard Nixon. Eisenhower and Reagan and Nixon–they were not the liberals of their day. They were the conservatives of their own time. But the whole of American politics has shifted so far to the right in the last 50 years that what used to be thought of as conservative, what used to be thought of as a conservative position, is now considered to be off-the-charts lefty.”
So, my fingers are crossed, Rachel. I promise I’ll be gentle during the interview.