WHY MADDOW MATTERS.

At the Plank, Sacha Zimmerman frets that Rachel Maddow is a harbinger of an era of biased, partisan news:

I really like Maddow and have found her thoroughly compelling throughout this latest campaign season, but I am not so thrilled about this trend toward partisan networks and news. By all means we should have progressive and conservative commentators and analysts, but is there no room for argument between the two? Where have all the iconoclasts gone?

First off, I question how partisan MSNBC really is. Yes, they now have prime-time slots for Maddow and Keith Olbermann. But unlike, say, Fox News, where the only liberal on the team is the addlepated Alan Colmes, MSNBC hands over its entire morning show to Joe Scarborough. It's quite the stretch to say the cable networks are mirroring the red-blue split of America. In fact, the reason that liberals are thrilled with Maddow's promotion is that lefty perspectives are underrepresented on all cable news networks, including MSNBC.

Zimmerman continues,

And, since cable news is not exactly renowned for its nuance or intellectual rigor, knee-jerk reactions can pass for smart commentary. I think Maddow will be a wonderful host (and God knows MSNBC could use a smart woman), but how exciting is it really if she is just preaching to the choir?

As Andrew Golis points out, another reason Maddow is beloved is because her commentary is nuanced and intellectually rigorous, not because she's a Limbaugh-style attack dog for the left. At least in the clips I've seen, Maddow does provide smart commentary and engage with issues -- beyond talking points.

I hear what Zimmerman is saying about the overall quality of the cable talk shows. It's dismal. Do I wish they devoted more time to in-depth news reporting, or to structured, in-depth debate? Yes, absolutely! But if the cable news networks are going to fill the bulk of their airtime with commentary, I'd rather that commentary come from someone like Maddow, who has done the research, than from a hack like Sean Hannity.

--Ann Friedman

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