On election night 2016, as it became clear Donald Trump would be ensconced in the White House for the next four years, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow delivered the most famous (and most febrile) peroration of her lengthy broadcast career.
“You’re awake by the way. You’re not having a terrible, terrible dream,” she told viewers. “Also, you’re not dead and you haven’t gone to hell. This is your life now. This is our election now. This is us. This is our country. It’s real.”
What liberals thought they were watching was Maddow’s phoenix-like rebirth after the Obama administration sapped most of her rage and some of her relevancy.
What they didn’t realize was that they were watching the incipient moments of a Howard Beale-esque transformation, a very polite version of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” all without the raincoat.
The next few years ought to have been fecund ground for Maddow. Opinion journalists tend to take on higher profiles when the other guys are in power, especially when the other guy was Donald Trump.
The Mueller investigation should have taken her over the top. And while her ratings were high, the investigation also seemed to send her over the edge: Maddow’s Mueller coverage and myriad (wrong) predictions about Russian conspiracies and the imminent end of the Trump administration turned her into an Alexis Jones, a tinfoil haberdasher for the left set.
Well, after all that, you still may not be dead or have gone to hell. As of late, however, her ratings have.
“MSNBC primetime host Rachel Maddow brought in her worst weekly ratings of the year last week,” The Daily Caller reported Tuesday.
“Her show last week averaged 2,324,000 viewers, with an average audience of 337,000 in the 25-54 age demographic, both of which mark yearly lows for the liberal television host, according to Nielsen Media Research.”
The news outlet noted that the first sign of big ratings trouble was after the Attorney General William Barr released his four-page letter to Congress in which he noted there was no evidence of collusion and no conclusion on obstruction of justice.
“She spent two years dissecting every aspect of the special counsel’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump conspired with the Russians to win the 2016 presidential election,” the report noted. “The night Mueller submitted his findings to Barr, Maddow appeared to hold back tears over the fact that neither the president nor any family members were indicted.”
However, one might venture a guess that it wasn’t just that the circus has packed up and left town that’s given Maddow’s ratings a ding. It’s the fact that she still seems to be riding the Tilt-a-Whirl in her own mind — and even her ideological fellow travelers are taking notice.
In Slate, shortly after the Barr letter was released, television critic Willa Paskin penned a scathing piece about the post-Barr shows titled “Rachel Maddow’s Conspiracy Brain.”
Paskin noted that Maddow “has turned the universe into an intricate web of intersecting plots that all lead to one conclusion: collusion. 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.
“It’s true that a case involving the subpoena of a still-anonymous foreign corporation is ongoing, as are other prosecutions, like that of Roger Stone for perjury. But we can be fairly certain that Mueller has decided these cases are not relevant to the question of whether he will issue indictments for “conspiracy and coordination” with Russia — since, among other things, he seems to have decided to issue no indictments at all,” Paskin continued. “Maddow’s winking insistence otherwise feels like willful misdirection. ‘All this stuff is still live,’ she said, with the amused self-assured look of someone who thinks they have figured out a magician’s trick, ‘even as it’s shutting down.’ There’s no reason to peel the arrows and news clippings off the wall, so long as you can find a new string.”
That, let me remind you, is the coverage from Slate, which, along with Vox, represents the Charybdis and Scylla of bad liberal thinkpiece repositories. If these are her friends, imagine her enemies.
Actually, Maddow’s ideological enemies are probably the ones tuning in, given the fact the show is now prime material for “Mystery Political Science Theater 3000.”
The full Mueller report is now out, meaning that the work goes on, the cause endures, the hype still lives and the fever dream shall never die. There are still tinfoil fedoras to be fashioned and strings to be tacked between the index cards on the wall.
All this stuff is live, after all. And it’s hilarious.
Either way, Maddow isn’t going anywhere. While well behind her competitor Sean Hannity on Fox News — he averaged 3,108,000 viewers last week — she’s still a much better draw than the human poplar tree on CNN, Chris Cuomo (880,000 average viewers).
While she’s on her way down, she’s still on her way down from relative highs — as is most of the media who bought into this Mueller/Trump/Russia schtick, just not to the extent that Maddow did.
She’s not going to be seeing those highs again anytime soon, one guesses, and the smell of her Mueller conspiracies will always hang heavily over the show.
This, in short, is her life now. It’s real.
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