Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
At the end of July, MSNBC’s biggest and dullest conspiracy theorist got some very bad news.
After over a year of booming ratings, The Rachel Maddow Show’s viewership had crashed. It had been a long road for Maddow, the former blonde Catholic high school girl who had decided she wanted to be a media personality and ended up with an MSNBC show through the efforts of Keith Olbermann.
And after Keith was gone, MSNBC had to settle for a slightly less effeminate version of Olbermann.
Maddow had retained the key elements of Olbermann’s personality, the unhinged conspiracy theories, histrionic delivery, the dark hair and even the fashionably ugly boxy black glasses. The former blonde not only looked and sounded like Olbermann, but she had learned to hit the same buttons in her audience.
One man had made her MSNBC career possible and another moved her show into the top cable spot.
That man was Robert Mueller. There was no Russian conspiracy theory too bizarre or insane to earn a rant from Rachel. Going where few dared go, Maddow began insisting that Russia was conducting a “continuing operation” and might even be in control of the White House and the entire country now.
And then the Mueller Report and later, Mueller’s testimony, destroyed all of Maddow’s conspiracies.
At the height of her Russian conspiracy theories in which she connected everyone and their uncle to Moscow, Maddow had could boast 4 million viewers while claiming to be the top cable news show. In July, she had fallen to fifth place without even 2.5 million viewers to scrape together for her rants.
If the viewers kept abandoning her, Apple, Bank of America, Mercedes and other advertisers would too.
Desperate and nasty had always been Maddow’s stock in trade. Olbermann’s hateful screeds had been insecurity diluted into egomania and backwashed as furious tantrums. Maddow’s insecurity bypassed egomania. She didn’t have the chops to be on the air and she knew it. The only way she could stay on MSNBC was by spewing crazy lies and trying to destroy everyone to the right of Bernie Sanders.
In the middle of August, Maddow, her producers and the voices in their heads, decided to smear the grandson of Iraqi Jewish refugee grandparents as a white nationalist. In an MSNBC broadcast, she accused Steven Menashi, a Trump judicial nominee, of writing a “blood-curdling article” offering “a highbrow argument for racial purity” by misreading, distorting and misrepresenting his writing.
Maddow repeatedly lied about the article, and failed to even mention that it was about Israel. She falsely claimed that Menashi had written “how definitely democracy can’t work unless the country is defined by a unifying race.” That was the opposite of the point that the former Alito clerk had made.
Menashi’s father was a Jewish immigrant from Iran. His father’s parents had fled Iraq because of the anti-Semitic Farhud pogrom. His mother’s family had fled Ukraine and Lithuania. All of this made Maddow’s accusations that he was a racial nationalist especially implausible. But it didn’t matter.
Rachel Maddow had not bothered to find out anything about Menashi before trying to destroy him.
All that mattered were two things. First, that Menashi was a Trump nominee, making him fair game for any lie, smear and slander. And second, that Maddow was sinking in the ratings and needed help. Going after Menashi might not turn things around, but the smear campaign might stop the bleeding.
Rachel Maddow was trying to destroy a good man to keep Bank of America advertising on her show.
Despite the backlash from legal thinkers, Maddow took her tirade to Twitter, offering screenshots with snippets of lines from a 122 page law review article, about the challenges of diversity, while ignoring the conclusion, that, “Sometimes, then, differences must be openly acknowledged in the political sphere so that equality can be established on the basis of our differences rather than in denial of them.”
Maddow isn’t incapable of reading a law article. Before her career as MSNBC’s conspiracy theorist, she was a Rhodes Scholar. Rhodes Scholars are not necessarily geniuses. No one would mistake Bill Clinton, Cory Booker or Peter Buttigieg for great minds. But Maddow could have read Menashi’s article.
Instead she didn’t care. And neither did her corporate employers at MSNBC and Comcast.
Maddow has a quota of conspiracy theories to get through in every show. And Steven Menashi was just one of the people she had decided to smear on one episode of her disinformation program.
Some Jewish groups have accused Maddow of anti-Semitism. While Maddow occasionally likes people to think she’s Jewish, aside from one grandfather, the rest is Dutch, English and Irish. And though she certainly opposes Israel, it’s doubtful that she even knew Menashi was Jewish. Others, like Molly Jong-Fast of left-wing site The Bulwark, who mocked Menashi’s ethnic features, did not have that excuse.
Maddow’s drive-by smearing of Menashi was part of a pattern.
In 2016, Maddow had accused Jeff Sessions of being a racist. Next year, she was accusing him of being in bed with the Russians. That trajectory neatly captured not only leftist smear campaigns, which have gone back and forth between accusing President Trump and his associates of either being Russians or racists, but also Maddow’s erratic shifts from one smear tactic to another whenever it was convenient.
But you didn’t need to be a senator or an attorney general to be on the receiving end of a Maddow smear. Kerri Kupec, a DOJ spokeswoman, was smeared by Maddow for graduating from Liberty U.
“We’ve got a new Justice Department spokesperson who’s from Liberty University, and Liberty University was founded by a televangelist so that your Christian child wouldn’t be corrupted by actual higher education. And now that’s the spokesperson for the Justice Department,” she sneered.
Considering the outcome that Maddow’s parents ended up with, can you blame Kupec’s parents?
It’s not just that Maddow is a radical or a hack. Nobody else would be allowed on at MSNBC. But she’s also pathetically bad at what she does. And her awfulness feeds her insecurities which makes her behave even worse. Take the time she aired a misleadingly edited clip of Senator McCain.
Maddow casually mentioned that there was an unfair edit and then breezed on into another rant.
Airing misleadingly edited clips of Republicans is just something that Maddow does from time to time.
Things like actually knowing that the man you’re smearing as a racist is the grandson of Iraqi Jewish refugees, that the woman you’re dismissing as a DOJ spokeswoman was a law clerk, and that the clip you’re airing was edited to smear McCain, don’t actually matter to Maddow. They’re not the point.
And that’s why Maddow jumped the furthest and the deepest into the Russian conspiracy mudhole.
Maddow had never seen words as anything except a puzzle that could be combined in interesting shapes to hurt some people, mislead others, and keep her from having to work at Starbucks. The factual content of those words meant as little to her as the calorie content label means to a monkey.
Russia had given Maddow a world of conspiracy theories to spin into a paranoid universe of lies. And Apple, Bank of America, and Mercedes had been happy to pay for ads in between her crazed rants.
Maddow has never cared about her credibility. She shot to the top of the pile through shameless stunts like claiming, “We’ve got Trump’s tax returns.” After ranting and rambling for twenty minutes, she unveiled, what they call in New York City, bupkes. But it didn’t matter because the dupes tuned in.
There are always people with no shame willing to do anything to be on television. That’s what makes Survivor, The Bachelor, and CNN panels possible. But the media likes to pretend it’s better than that.
But MSNBC didn’t just put Maddow on the air night after night, no matter what she did, how many lies she told, how many people she tried to destroy, and which conspiracy she peddled between ad breaks.
MSNBC and NBC brought her in to moderate the 2020 Democrat debates.
Maddow isn’t fundamentally different than the media. The Olbermanette is just further down the slippery slope. The media puts narratives ahead of facts. Maddow is all narrative. And narratives without facts are conspiracy theories. The media believes that its goal is destroying Republicans while maintaining its credibility. Maddow only cares about the first part and isn’t worried about credibility.
A.M. Or After Mueller, Maddow’s viewership has taken a hit, not because they don’t believe, but because they know that there won’t be any more exciting Mueller and Russian conspiracies.
Rachel Maddow succeeded because she understood that what her audience wanted wasn’t factual reporting, but the drama of journalism without the substance. Maddow, like the media, implicitly promises to get Trump, but is happy to take out anyone more vulnerable along the way.
This is the business that the rest of the media is in. Maddow is just more open about it.
Maddow’s attack on Menashi was picked up by other media outlets. Once again, a shameless lying hack’s conspiracy theories were driving the media narrative. Maddow is the face of the media.
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