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Saturday 9 March 2013

Rachel Maddow disappoints, again

The American liberal TV presenter and author Rachel Maddow just did a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' and it just reinforced my disappointment in her. She got properly criticised on Reddit and that's rare from anyone other than the wingnuts. It's an odd thing, this free pass she appears to have, which I wish I'd read more about.

Maddow has an influential, great show, which covers a lot of territory that mainstream US TV (as opposed to somewhere like Democracy Now!) ignores. It is well-sourced and argued and Maddow herself is smart but also witty and good with the snark.

Her show is mostly US politics and very rarely covers international issues, bar America's wars, but that is hardly atypical for US TV. It does cover military issues a lot, unsurprising since that's what she wrote her book about. It has pretty much campaigned for homecoming parades and done a lot on veteran's issues.

In a US context she's practically a communist, but looked at from across the pond it's pretty safe stuff.

When she first appeared, on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show, she was a breath of fresh air in cable news. A liberal woman who could argue really well and be likeable whilst doing it.

If you were British and paying attention to the presidential elections, both the last time and the one before, her show stood out from the rest as a very good one-stop to get a briefing from (as I detailed in 2008, the BBC's coverage really was awful, just reciting beltway thinking, as they did again in 2012). But for me, watching her show (and her), one instance piled on another to make me less of a fan and then something happened during the last election which made me start to not like her so much at all.

Elizabeth Warren is another liberal female American heroine. She is known as the brave, school-marmish progressive who wanted to take on Wall Street, got defeated then decided to run for the Senate in Massachusetts, won there and now has a powerful perch from which to ... take on Wall Street.

But last year some disturbing information came to light about Professor Warren. To put it in a nutshell, she had reported herself as Native American when she was employed at Harvard Law School and her reasons why were questioned. The only evidence that she actually was Native American, she said, was family lore. Originally from Oklahoma, to which many Indians were herded on the 'Trail of Tears', she is just saying what is common belief amongst people from that state. It turned out there is no evidence.

Warren never tried to locate 'other Native Americans', to learn something about her supposed cultural background, despite this being her claimed reason for the Law School listing as a minority. She published an embarrassing (you would think) 'faux Indian' culture 'Pow Wow Chow' cookbook. And when she joined the Senate she wasn't listed as Native American after all.

When this all came out it was as a partisan tactic from her Senate election opponent. One side said she was a liar, the other that questioning Warren was racist. Here is coverage I did whilst this was going on.

What Maddow and the entire mainstream media as well as the entire liberal commentariat did was completely ignore what Native Americans thought about questions about their identity suddenly being a political football.

As they became, for once, a huge news story, Native Americans were having a furious debate amongst themselves because it touched on a lot of very raw nerves -- like who is a 'real' Native American?! Such debates are found in indigenous issues all around the world. But many, many Native American people were deeply offended by Warren's blundering comments as well by as her actions, such as point blank refusing to talk to them, even to meet with Native American Democrats.

Maddow-- who lives in Massachusetts and for whom Warren was a frequent guest as a commentator -- would often cover the subject as a campaign issue and profess outrage at supposed 'racist' assumptions that Warren, who is blond, could not be Native American because she did not look like one. This despite Warren herself saying that she thought she might be Indian because she had 'high cheek bones', a stupid answer, arguably racist, which offended many.

A low point was when Maddow had the black, intellectual MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry on to talk about identity issues when Perry clearly did not know the first thing about indigenous identity politics. Perry talked about 'race as a social construct' when tribal membership is a highly political subject, with the US government itself playing a role. Perry didn't even appear to know, as she failed to mention this highly relevant fact, that the Cherokees, Warren's supposed tribe, have been furiously criticised for allegedly excluding those with African-American blood.

Maddow in that segment said that she did not "understand why this is not a national scandal" that someone had dared to question Warren's "family heritage" when that is exactly what many actual Native Americans were doing. As they were also doing about something else Maddow got on her high horse about, questioning whether Warren's career at Harvard benefited from a false claim -- as has happened before elsewhere, there is form on white people doing that. Maddow didn't know any of this not because she was ignoring Native American opinion, I think she just didn't bother to do, did not cross her mind to do, any research.

Maddow's gob-smackingly partisan and ill-educated coverage on Warren reflected how the entire liberal establishment threw Native Americans under the bus, giving them no space, no voice.

Coming from living in Australia and seeing how such things play in Canada it was utterly bizarre, shocking, to see these issues be discussed with absolutely no sense from even smart characters like Maddow that maybe we should ask the experts?! Completely ignoring actual indigenous people whilst discussing something as fraught as identity politics would be inconceivable in Australia or Canada. Media just wouldn't do it. In contrast in America it never crosses anyone's mind, apparently. It was a good example of how America's original inhabitants may as well be extinct for all the rest of the country has an interaction with or understanding of them.

So there was that eye-opener.

Another was how both the show and the associated blog has ignored ongoing developments in gay issues in Uganda. A rather obscure subject to criticise her for ignoring you might think, but she did extensive coverage a couple of years ago. The online video features that coverage in a topic selection of show highlights. Then - coverage proudly highlighted and ongoing. Now - the subject just appears to have been dropped like a stone, even though awful sh*t keeps happening.

For her Reddit 'Ask Me Anything', well, you could ask but you wouldn't necessarily get an answer. Reddit's system pushes the top issues to the top of the page. So Maddow could hardly miss what Redditers wanted her to answer. But the serious top questions got avoided in favour of pet topics and talking points and industry chatter and book promotion and trivia.

The top subject was whether she would ever criticise the Obama administration. That sort of question to someone like her is pushed by conservative media (and some 'progressives'). The claim being that her station and herself don't criticise their 'side', they're like the mirror of Fox News' pass for criticism of conservatives. This demonstrably is not true, so why she ignored that point and didn't defend herself and/or her station makes no sense.

The second question was about MSNBC's absent coverage of Bradley Manning, the 'war crimes whistle blower', as some (me included) would define him. Manning leaked thousands of documents to Wikileaks -- only after failing to get past the lobby of the New York Times and the Washington Post, we just found out.

It is hard to believe that Maddow didn't see the news, doesn't get the clear, objective importance of his trial and why it should be reported on. So ignoring that question just seems cowardly, if her station is, as it appears to be, collectively ignoring the trial, and, yes, again, partisan if covering the trial would make Obama look bad.

The 'left' scourge of liberals on these 'national security' issues, Glenn Greenwald, has taken lately to putting the boot into MSNBC. But on Maddow he hedges his bets (perhaps he wants to be invited back on?), only gently noting how her criticism of the administration has sometimes reappeared only "post-election".

For some reason (she's 'nice'? she's gay?) Maddow does seem to get a free pass from virtually all the 'progressive' 'left'. You have to look hard to find even mild criticism of her. Why?

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