Rachel Maddow becomes most-watched cable news show among anti-Trump viewers

Anchor's MSNBC programme rides post-inauguration ratings slump to win new audiences with coverage critical of new President

Rachel Maddow hosting her hit MSNBC show
Rachel Maddow hosting her hit MSNBC show

Rachel Maddow can trace the mood of her audience by looking at the ratings.

Her MSNBC show's viewership sank like a stone in the weeks following Donald Trump's election, as depressed liberals avoided politics, and bottomed out over the holidays. Slowly, they re-emerged, becoming active and interested again. Maddow's audience has grown to the point where February was her show's most-watched month since its 2008 launch.

Maddow has emerged as the favourite cable news host for presidential resistors in the opening days of the Trump administration, just as Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity is one for supporters or Keith Olbermann was the go-to television host for liberals in George W. Bush's second term. Trump fascination has helped cable news programmes across the political spectrum defy the traditional post-presidential election slump, few as dramatically as Maddow's.

Her show's average audience of 2.3 million in February doubled its viewership over February 2016, in the midst of the presidential primaries, the Nielsen company said.

“I'm grateful for it,” Maddow said one recent afternoon. “It is nice for me that it is happening at a time when I feel we are doing some of our best work.”

Those two things - ratings success and Maddow's pride in the work - don't always intersect.

“We're making aggressive editorial decisions in terms of how far we're willing to get off of everyone else's news cycle,” she said, “but it's paying off because the news cycle more often than not is catching up with us after we do something.”

Maddow has decided to cover the Trump administration like a silent movie, so the show could pay more attention to what is being done rather than what is being said. The central focus is on connect-the-dots reporting about Trump's business interests and dealings with Russia.

Her show is a news cousin to HBO host John Oliver's Last Week Tonight in its willingness to dive into complex subjects that don't seem television-friendly, and follow the stories down different alleys. Maddow sounds long-winded when it doesn't work. When it does, it's like an absorbing novel stuffed with characters.

“It's not like I am a teacher who is trying to extend the attention span of the American news viewer,” said Maddow, a Rhodes scholar. “I have no goal of trying to privilege complexity. It just so happens that I tend to think in 17-minute bursts.”

Maddow said she and her staff try to break news, like reporting on a Department of Homeland Security report on Trump's immigration policy, and she was aggressive in bringing the Flint, Michigan, water crisis to a national audience. More often than not, she sees her role as explaining how things work. The programme spent considerable time last week on a New Yorker magazine piece about foreign investments by Trump's real estate company.

She's determined not to get lost in the noise, particularly since she believes Trump is skillful at distracting the media with a new story - even an unflattering one - when he doesn't like the attention being paid to another.

“I pray for the day when the most important thing about the Trump administration is that the president said something inappropriate on Twitter,” she said. “There are bigger and more valuable stories to be chasing than that.”

When some news organisations were upset at being barred from an informal press briefing held by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer two weeks ago, Maddow understood why. But the story didn't really interest her. Since she doesn't trust much of what the administration says, Maddow wondered what these reporters were really missing by not being there.

“Her approach to reality and the president's couldn't be further apart,” said Jeff Cohen, an Ithaca University professor and liberal activist.

During busy news periods, “certain voices cut through,” said NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack. “And her work is so consistently strong. She doesn't disappoint, and she's got a work ethic that is consistently off the charts... She is a very original and unique voice.”

While Maddow delivers opinion pieces instead of straight news, they are well-informed, he said. Lack doesn't see Maddow as a voice of the resistance.

Neither does she.

“People want to draft me as an activist all the time, ascribe that role to me,” she said. “I'm not. The reason I know I'm not is that I stopped doing that in order to be the person who explained the news and delivered the news instead. It's a very clear line to me.”

AP

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in