Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you can change hearts and minds. But then again, that’s not what cable news is about, is it? And it hasn’t been for a long time.
Rachel Maddow is as huffy and indignant as she is intelligent. Her blustering is just shy of shrill but her constant scoffing is far from impartial. In a jarring mashup of political savvy and “freaking”-as-an-adjective casual, an hour with this news “expert” feels like little more than your smartest friend reassuring you that you’re right.
The reality is that the audacity of what is now normal in American politics screams for itself. We do not need her eyebrows raised right off her head, her guffaws after every unbelievable absurdity she reports on.
She’s like an angsty grad student ruining a dinner party after too many craft beers or a dry drunk, over-gesticulating at the idiocy around her. And don’t get me wrong, I’m flabbergasted too. But so are most Americans along any point on the political spectrum. And to watch such a shrewd intellect sneer and jeer like Trump harumph-ing with his *much* smaller vocabulary is disheartening.
Some liberals think they’re the Ivy-League intelligent ones, the fully informed. But gasbags don’t have to have audibly high blood pressure or performatively lose their temper in order to be counterproductive. If your smartest liberal minds act just like the most prominent conservative gasbags, even at lower decibels, you’re just preaching to the choir.
Maddow firmly anchors the left-of-center point on the bell curve but her huffiness isn’t that different than Sean Hannity or that human heart attack they autotuned to make into a hilarious indie folk song. She just uses her inside voice and makes calmer, more pointed eye contact with the camera.
We need bright minds like hers to speak clearly with conviction not righteous indignation and folksy colloquialisms. Her “um”s and “look”s and “ya know” makes her program more conversational. “Right??” But we need our smartest left-of-center commentators to speak with eloquence and conviction instead of guffawing with hyperemotionalism.
Or we need to admit to ourselves that these programs are not to designed to inform but to reassure us that what we already feel is right. And that our righteous indignation at the incredulous wrongness of our opponents is justified. We are the chosen ones, after all. Who? All of us, that’s who. That’s why we’re all right and everyone else is all wrong.
We live in a country where facts are now negotiable. And the facts are astonishing enough on their own without a theatrical rendering of them. But maybe that’s what people want – theater, not someone offering them new information to critically analyze but someone, a “professional”, to share the outrage they already feel. And so the term echo chamber was born from silos, a phenomenon decried by academics and municipal employees but still used as a verb.
We don’t want Walter Cronkite, do we? We want to rage with our friends. And Rachel Maddow is like Tomi Lahren for liberals — more pantsuit than bombshell, with scoffing equanimity instead of (surprisingly articulate) vitriol. Lahren speaks as as quickly as she thinks. As a side note it’s actually quite impressive. But she is also like one of those hydrothermal vents in the deep sea where scientists were astonished to find life capable of thriving under such hellish conditions — up to more than 800º F, magmatic gases, pitch black — kind of like sitting in the dark feeding yourself nothing but screen time. But Lahren gives the far right of center the same thing Rachel Maddow gives the left – confirmation bias. The people are getting what they want. And they don’t want to be challenged. They want their feelings validated, their suspicions confirmed by the TV experts and the “collective” affirmation of the self-defining values we hold dear.
The warm cozy feeling of being “right” should never be more important, more valuable, than impartial news coverage that would have us analyze all sides and all facts.
The specter of the 2020 election looms and liberals perceived as “snooty” are doing more harm than good. If liberals with the highest profile and the broadest reach fail to reach beyond their comfort zone the change they’re preaching won’t achieve the change they claim to be fighting for.