Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Everybody Goes to Rachel's

I kick myself for not noticing until now the striking parallel between cinema's most famous saloon-keeping romantic and teevee's most famous mixologist/public policy nerd. 

But where to begin, where to begin?

OK, to get to Dr. Maddow via Rick Blaine, first we need to drop by 221b Baker Street (I know, but this is how my brain is wired.  Pity me.)

See if you can spot the critical similarity between "The Rachel Maddow Show" and Rick's Cafe Americain by reading a snip of the following "Rolling Stone" article on Dr. Maddow through the lens of this famous exchange between Mr. Sherlock Holmes' and Inspector Gregory from "Silver Blaze":
Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Inspector Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Sherlock Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Got it?  Look for "The dog did nothing in the night-time" in the following passage: the element which is at once conspicuously absent and absolutely critical to understanding the mystery at hand:
Rachel Maddow's Quiet War
The morning after the correspondents dinner, with most of the capital hungover, Maddow shows up to work, as a panelist on Meet the Press. Appearing alongside her is Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant who served both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, an embodiment of the clubby, insider pundit culture that Maddow abhors. When she begins to talk about gender disparity in pay – "Women in this country still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make" – the genteel Castellanos, a master of the form, simply denies that this is true. Women in the workforce, he insists, make just as much as men; liberals are just "manufacturing a political crisis."

Maddow knows immediately that Castellanos is lying to the audience. She swivels so abruptly in her chair, trying to make sense of what he is saying, that the camera winds up fixed on a spot just behind her left ear, as if it were an assassin's scope. You can see her, in real time, coming to terms with the extent of the lie as she watches agreement flicker across the face of the other Republican on the panel. "This hasn't just been sold to Alex by someone briefing him on the subject," she thinks to herself. "This is something that has actually been sold to Republicans – this is a vision of Republican World."

The tricky part is knowing what to do about the lie. Chris Matthews would erupt in thunderous outrage; Keith Olbermann would dissolve into a knowing sneer. But Maddow's skills are different: She strives not for the expression of political anger but for its suppression, to distance herself from the partisan debate rather than engage it, to steward progressive fury into a world of certainty, of charts, graphs, statistics, a real world that matters and that the political debate can't corrupt. Maddow's producers say, unexpectedly, that the closest analog for her style as a broadcaster is Glenn Beck, whose abilities as a performer she very much admires. Though their worldviews could not be more different, Maddow and Beck both attempt to pull off a similar trick: to reflect and redirect their audience's rage at politics without succumbing to it. What Maddow is trying to build is a different channel for liberal anger, an outsider's channel, one that steers the viewer's attention away from the theater of politics and toward the exercise of power, which is to say toward policy. On-air, like Beck, she is almost relentlessly cheerful. "Anger is like sugar in a cocktail," Maddow tells me. "I'd rather have none at all than a grain too much."

But this time, apparently, she lets a grain too much show. "Rachel, I love how passionate you are," Castellanos says, coolly pivoting the argument from the facts to her barely contained fury.

"That's really condescending," Maddow replies...

What is terribly clear to me from this exchange is that the restraint Dr. Maddow's exhibits in this exchange is not the professional impartially of a journalist (which she certainly possesses) but is instead much more akin to the enforced circumspection of Rick Blaine in "Casablanca":  someone who is operating deep inside hostile territory and who is permitted a certain latitude within their own saloon because she is careful never to talk out-of-school about the real problem.

Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that *you've* never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.

Captain Renault: That is another reason.

So what is the real problem?  What is the dog in the night that no one dares to speak openly about?

Consider the facts:

  1. "Republican media consultant" Alex Castellanos is one of many, many, many condescending Republican and "Centrist" assholes and serial liars who are on regular "Meet the Press" rotation. 
  2. Alex Castellanos knows he is a liar. 
  3. The other Republican present know he is a liar.
  4. Dr. Maddow knows he is a liar
  5. Presumably the interns getting the guests coffee and stocking the Green Room with Twizzlers and gin  know it.
  6. Everybody knows Alex Castellanos is a condescending asshole and serial liar.
And yet this exchange was not the result of a chance encounter in an open meadow or on a public beach. 

Instead, as happens every week, this encounter was deliberately choreographed by our story's "dog in the night": by  Mr. David Gregory, the staggeringly well-paid hack who emcees the weekly Beltway "Both Sides Do It" circle-jerk known as "Meet the Press".  

As with all the other lying douchbags to whom Mr. Gregory hands a national audience each and every week, serial liar Alex Castellanos was invited on the show.  Arrangements were made well in advance.  A car was sent. Makeup was applied.  He was made comfortable. And at no point in this process does it occur to anyone in authority at NBC that maybe continuing to offer Republican hucksters and thugs and lunatics and liars a huge,  national platform for their lies and their lunacy week after week, year after year, might be, y'know, a bad idea.

Inside her own place,* Dr. Maddow is, thank God, still permitted to play the music that suits her, slap around Deutche Bank and let the good guys win.

But outside of her place, the stink of Vichy touches everything.

Outside of her place, clowns like David Gregory proudly blow with the prevailing wind.

And the prevailing wind blows from the Right.

*Many thanks to KH's for his many catches of my bad typing.


marindenver said...

"Rachel, I love how passionate you are," = "You're so cute when you get mad." He's lucky she didn't haul off and sock him one. After this happened I wondered if she'd get him on her show to point out just how big of a liar he is. But when the liar just smiles and refuses to acknowledge truth, as all of these people do, it's pretty frustrating.

Bukko Canukko said...

Excellent meta-level analysis, DG. I wonder whether media figures read blog commentary about themselves specifically, or about their trade in general. On the one hand, it would provide enlightening feedback of what the critical-thinking users of their product are thinking. OTOH, it would be like being inside a hall of mirrors, where every move you make would tend to be distorted by your pre-reaction to what others might see. I'd love to be a fly on the screen to learn what you, or bigger meeja critix like Charles Pierce, hear from "inside-the-pressway" types.

Frank Stone said...

I remember that encounter. The other way in which Castellanos attempted to distract from and diminish the cold factuality of Maddow's statements was by continually chuckling in a bemused and condescending way whenever she was speaking, as though he couldn't believe she was saying something so silly -- a tactic one would expect from the class troublemaker in kindergarten.

I, too, would love to see him torn a new one (politely) on her show, but I suspect he's too big a coward to risk having his BS challenged in a forum where there's no indulgent, enabling referee to act as an ideological shield.

Suzan said...

Alex Castellanos = Liz Cheney

Nobodies installed as intellectual spokespersons by the powers-that-be in order to confuse, frustrate, and ultimately alienate the audience.

And it's working.

I haven't watched those shows in years.

Not that I don't love to read your analysis, Dg.


eddie blake said...

sad but true.. the other problem, of course, is that while half of them know they're lying, the other half don't..

Ormond Otvos said...

The real sadness is that almost no one cares.

Lying is the national sport of journalism.

Ben Cisco said...

As succint and accurate analysis as I've seen on the subject. We truly do have a Vichy Village, and it should be destroyed.

Fiddlin' Bill said...

Outstanding analysis, and the metaphor of Cafe Americain is just absolutely perfect. Thanks, as usual!

jtadetroit said...

From NBC's website:. Comcast Corporation owns a controlling 51% interest in NBCUniversal, with GE holding a 49% stake.

Nuff said...