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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson
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New York City, New York, USA
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March 25
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Professor
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Fordham University
Bio
Paul Levinson's The Silk Code won the 2000 Locus Award for Best First Novel. He has since published Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). His science fiction and mystery short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards. His eight nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), and Cellphone (2004), have been the subject of major articles in the New York Times, Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into ten languages. New New Media, exploring how Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging have changed our lives, was published in September 2009. Paul Levinson appears on "The O'Reilly Factor" (Fox News), "The CBS Evening News," the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” (PBS), “Nightline” (ABC), and numerous national and international TV and radio programs. He reviews the best of television in his InfiniteRegress.tv blog. Paul Levinson is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2008 5:11PM

Three Cheers for Rachel Maddow

Rate: 20 Flag

U.S. News and World Report reports that "The ratings for MSNBC's newest news show host are wildly impressive. Last week, her second on the air, Rachel Maddow pulled ahead of Larry King and even bested Keith Olbermann's Countdown a couple of nights."

I'm delighted, and not at all surprised. Maddow shined when she filled in for Olbermann in the summer. She's less abrasive and pompous than Olbermann (and, for that matter, Chris Matthews) and therefore her presentation and opinion pack more of a wallop. There's nothing like the truth softly spoken - you don't need to scream it.

Maddow's been having some difficulty getting Republicans to talk on her show. Perhaps they think that if they ignore her, she'll quietly go away. It's more likely to be the Republicans who will be going away, as their contempt for the media and need for a vigorous press puts the Republicans further at odds with the American people.

I liked Dan Abrams, was sorry to see him go, and therefore was prepared to be irritated by whoever succeeded him. Just the opposite is the case with Rachel Maddow. Her hour on MSNBC is a breath of fresh, rational air, and her approach to politics and critique of authority is something Thomas Jefferson would have been proud of.

Good for MSNBC for putting Rachel Maddow on the air. And, on the same subject, I'm also glad to see that MSNBC has at last banished its boring doc-block to weekend, where it least it does not take away from essential political coverage, which viewers need to see even in the middle of the night.

 

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I have been very pleasantly surprised by her pleasant demeanor and graciousness toward her guests. She had Senator Richard Shelby on last night, someone far removed ideologically from her, but the conversation was cordial and insightful. I'm glad her ratings are good.
Yeah! I am happy to see the main stream media (MSM) tuning in and paying attention to Rachel, our hero! Just last week, I wrote about my son's and my crush on her and posted some clips from her new show on my blog The Smartest Woman on TV

Go Rachel! She definitely makes me look forward to the debate coverage instead of dreading it.
She holds a graduate degree in political science from Stanford, so she's got a fine mind, which often bests bluster.
I've been a fan of Rachel's since the early Air America days over four years ago. And I think she's better on television than radio.
I adore Rachel, for her wit, her insight and the "family" that she is. The show, though, lacks production value. And she really does need to be able to draw Republicans if she is ever to develop any heft in the business. I don't get it. She never berates and is always friendly and respectful, and in real life is quite friendly with many Republicans.

Go Rachel, go! :-)
I believe she's a Rhodes' Scholar as well. I know she studied at Oxford.

And I think it's quite condescending to suggest that she "bought into" the Clinton talking points as though she was manipulated into her positions. I'm quite sure she came to her opinions all on her own.
Procopius sez:" She had Senator Richard Shelby on last night, someone far removed ideologically from her, but the conversation was cordial and insightful."

Actually, on the matter of the administration's proposed bailout plan, she and Sen Shelby are pretty close.
I love her too, and agree with Dana that the show lacks some production value.

My only criticism would be that, occassionally Maddow comes across as a brilliant ingenue. Yes, she's very attractive, yes, she's smart as a whip, but I think she can (and should) through her weight around a little bit more and come at some of her subjects with more...god I can't believe I'm using this word... gravitas.
Of course, I meant THROW her weight around.
She's awesome, bright, pleasant, everything the feminist movement has been trying to accomplish.

My one irk, the far right using the "lesbian" label on her (I don't know if it's true or not) as a reason to discredit her. Some things never change, the bastards.
Dana - I agree, her show could use better production values and staging. They get some weird angles and bad lighting on her.

I think as she establishes her show and demonstrates that it isn't going to be a gotcha moment, she will draw more guests from both sides of the aisle.
Blake Mitchell sez;"And I think it's quite condescending to suggest that she "bought into" the Clinton talking points as though she was manipulated into her positions..."

But those who just can't let go of their "it MUST be Hillary" stance will never admit the truth. If anyone opposed Hill, well they were rolled. Maybe, just maybe a goodly number of us simply found her to be too much "politics as usual", and so devisive a figure that she could never have won in the general election.
Yep, she's a big old unapologetic lesbian. So it's not like they're hurting her feelings or anything by labeling her as one.
hi again, don't want to proclaim myself as the resident Rachel expert or look like a psycho-stalker-single-white-female, but yes, she is, apparently openly gay. the following is from her Facebook profile fan page...


Born on April 1, 1973, Rachel Anne Maddow is a radio personality on Air America Radio. She is a political analyst on MSNBC and occasionally the substitute host on Countdown With Keith Olbermann.

She possesses a Ph.D. in political science from Lincoln College, Oxford University.

She is openly gay and currently resides in Manhattan with her partner Susan Mikula.
My only complaint about Rachel Maddow are her new fake eyelashes, which I have a feeling (no evidence, no proof, an opinion) foisted on her by MSNBC.

And sorry, but academic credentials from Stanford and Oxford are not things I'm going to sneeze at.

She's one damn smart human being and I'm happy to see her have her own show.
Leigh wrote: "but I think she can (and should) through her weight around a little bit more and come at some of her subjects with more...god I can't believe I'm using this word... gravitas."

Leigh - gravitas isn't all it's cracked up to be...
She's sharp and brings and insightful, yet humorous look at things.
gravitas is for political hacks.

She is a news and opinion broadcastor.
She is just gravitas-enough.
I know it's kind of out of vogue to like Keith Olbermann, but I still do and really like the interplay between Rachel and him. I read a kind of lukewarm review of the RM show in the NYT yesterday and one of the complaints lodged for both hosts is that they never have "guests" who disagree with them. I don't watch either show for a debate about the issues; I can get that elsewhere. I want a take on what happened on any given day, a catch-all.
undertow - I started souring on Olbermann when he attacked "24" as taking orders from the Bush administration (I still want to be like Jack Bauer when I grow up).

More important - Olbermann was savage against Hillary. I wrote about that back in May...
Paul, you have been writing some good stuff over here. When I watch politics, my drug of choice is MSNBC. But I haven't been watching politics, and I haven't seen Maddow's new show. I am glad for her. And I am glad you are posting about it. Keep me updated!
I understand, Paul. But I still think he has something to offer without my necessarily having to agree with everything he says or thinks. He was opposing torture and talking about it when no one else was, and he was lamenting, loudly, the dismantling of the Constitution, and he voiced my disgust for the war years ahead of many others. Plus, he had the bluster to tell Bush and Cheney they should resign, and told Bush to "shut the hell up." Disrespectful of the office? Bush disrespected and defiled the office long, long ago. I know people think Olbermann is pompous, but I don't read him that way, even though I respect those who might disagree.
I don't think Rachel is nearly as partisan as Olbermann. He's becoming hard to watch for me, as I don't prefer to listen to an echo chamber--there's nothing to be learned. I don't put Rachel in the same category; I think she is more of an independent thinker who comes by her liberal views on her own rather than merely reiterating talking points in a knee-jerk fashion.
It's funny: when she was filling in for Olbermann, I kept thinking about how much more I enjoyed the program when she was hosting it, and hoping they were grooming her to take over for Keef. I just love her.

I wish they would put her show up on iTunes like they do with "Countdown;" it's hard for me to watch TV most nights, and I ain't got no TiVo.
Call me a grump if you want, but you seem to imply that Rachel Maddow shares, in some part, the qualities that you say distinguish her from Matthews and Olbermann:

"She's less abrasive and pompous than Olbermann (and, for that matter, Chris Matthews) and therefore her presentation and opinion pack more of a wallop. "

Faint praise Paul. I don't think she is abrasive, unless you are looking at the way she wears down weak arguments and defenses. She has a light touch when dealing with weighty material and she really shines her sharp with and insight into some dark places where no one else is willing to go. Even if a viewer doesn't agree with her, they would feel that she is respectful. That's a difficult dance to do and she does it well.

I agree with Dana that the shows production values are weak, but I think that will be repaired soon enough now that she is showing a level of success that may have surprised the network. I think better production values can help to imply the gravitas that Leigh mentions.
Typo alert: She has a light touch when dealing with weighty material and she really shines her sharp wit and insight into some dark places where no one else is willing to go.
It's not surprising that Rachel is doing so well in the ratings. She is a smart even headed lady that 'gives 'em hell" with a smile and no attitude. Rachel has a great radio program on Air America, as well.
I am not gay and several women friends who also are not gay, have total 'girl crushes' on Rachel Maddow. How can you not like her wit and intelligence?
Good analysis. She does have a nice style and something to say.

I vaguely recall seeing her on Air America and not liking her. The whole network, or maybe it was Franken and she was caught in with it, never hit a good stride and so ended up putting me off. John Stewart figured out the answer was to not do comedy and just substitute real news and call it comedy. But Rachel is in her element here on MSNBC being able to do real news, where the comedy will present itself and she can just do what so far she seems to do best--analysis and perspective. I've really enjoyed her lately.

It's especially good to have a new female face pop into a largely male group and have it be a competent one so those of us who want more of that aren't caught, as we were with Palin, in the awkward situation of arguing against the individual when we want the general concept. As we've seen lately in The View and again with the Couric interview, if we're going to run female candidates, we need female reporters and commentators or they can't say what needs to be said without being seen to have an anti-woman agenda. The Republicans seem almost to have calculated that no one could call out Palin and it's notable that most of the people who've mounted successful criticisms of her seem to be women.
intellectual monster....................more than a breath of fresh air. I always thought it was ironic that she first really apperared on MSNBC as a regular guest with Tucker Carlson. She made him look like the political hack he is without being mean at all. Content is everything
Rachel is a breath of fresh air, I've been watching her since she's been Keith Olberman's replacemnt when he was on vacation. She's intelligent knows her history and she is polite and pleasant to people who have opposing views!
I'll admit to having a major "girl crush" on Rachel, how can you not? She's so devastatingly smart and brings on the funny when she needs to. I like her sarcasm and wit about the topics of the day, we need more of that on tv, for the people who are already well-informed, it is so much more entertaining than bloviators yelling over each other.
I used to listen to Al Franken on Air America, and he was on vacation when Katrina hit New Orleans. Maddow was subbing for him, and she was tremendous. I couldn't stop listening, she was so passionate, and informed, and reassuring all at the same time. So I'm thrilled to see her get a show, and to do so well.
I can see in Olberman's eyes that he isn't too sure about this ratings monster he's helped create, but competition is a "good thing".
And as far as Republicans being hesitant to go on her show, I think they must be scared, she isn't pulling punches in challenging them when they're just lying or spinning. She does it nicely and respectfully, but they still know they have to be prepared to explain themselves, for real.
I love listening to Maddow, radio or TV. She is everything she's been called here, smart, witty, insightful, respectful etc.
MSNBC needs to do something with her show, however, so that it doesn't become a repeat of Olbermann's. Abrams suffered from that and while there is a finite amout of interesting news to comment on day to day, I think they have to find a novel way to use her approach so that she just doesnt cover the same stuff Keith does in the prior hour.
I, too, am so pleased with Ms Maddow's demeanor and wit. I have been a detractor of Air America in the past almost exclusively over issues of tone. I think anger and passion are okay, but I think it's important for us to engage on a smarter level. I know this isn't exactly politically smart, given all that we're finding out about the neuroscience of politics and ideology these days (and the importance of appealing to the reptilian brain), but I am a holdout to the belief that reason and a lively conversation are the bedrock of democracy.
I've long said, the first liberal Super Star talking head won't be anything like his/her conservative counterpart. It's why liberal talk radio isn't explosively successful. See, liberals are drawn to THOUGHTFULNESS not knee-jerk reaction-ness. (Okay, that's not a word, but you get my point.) For me, Olbermann has always been too caustic - same with Bill Maher. Rachel is JUST right.

Rachel Maddow personifies thoughtfulness - without taking herself seriously. If John Stewart weren't already busy - he could have the same sort of show - with the same results. They're very similar in that they do their homework, aren't bullies and have a light touch.

She's always respectful. Hell, she has genuine affection for Pat Buchanan - and he for her. I love them together - good TV.

More Rachel! (I'll admit to a bit of a crush - she's also as cute as a button!)
Thanks, Rich - much appreciated.
Suzanne wrote: "Call me a grump if you want, but you seem to imply that Rachel Maddow shares, in some part, the qualities that you say distinguish her from Matthews and Olbermann:

"She's less abrasive and pompous than Olbermann (and, for that matter, Chris Matthews) and therefore her presentation and opinion pack more of a wallop. "

Faint praise Paul. I don't think she is abrasive, unless you are looking at the way she wears down weak arguments and defenses. She has a light touch when dealing with weighty material and she really shines her sharp with and insight into some dark places where no one else is willing to go."

Ok, you're a grump, Suzanne :)

But more to the point: everyone is abrasive and pompous at one time or another - especially if you're on television. There's nothing wrong with that - in fact, it can be spicy and enjoyable.

So I wasn't faint praising Rachel Maddow at all - I was praising her. And - you would or should have known that, when I wrote that she is a "breath of fresh air" ... Does that sound "faint" to you? :)
I agree with Undertow, only more so. Yes I find myself cringing at the over the top, pompous things that come out of Ohlbermann's mouth. But I'm not going to forget that he took on the Bush administration for war crimes, crimes against the constitution, and crimes against the truth when noone else did. Sometimes being partisan is no different than being principled, being passionate and being right, and that is the case when you take on people that are not only political opponents but political malefactors, be they elected tyrants in Serbia or the USA. Ohlbermann's show has been in decline for awhile now, but there was a point at which it was quite simply the most important thing on television. And while Rachel is for my money the sharpest commentator going, her show has not given any indication yet that it will reach the standards set by those early special comments.
It's sad to see so many women who expect a bright women like Rachel Maddow to cover up the defects on "their side." It is sad because that is precisely the mentality that delivers the oxymoron "Fox News." Fortunately, R.M. can stand up to the criticism of people who don't understand what journalism is and what it isn't.

We don't get a fair deal from a stacked deck. We don't get to fair & balanced judgements from stacking the facts. We don't learn anything from discussing things only with our friends and we don't learn from those who disagree with us by shouting them down.

America needs more than better journalists; we need a well-informed audience. We have a long way to go and what we, as a political-body, are is an embarrassment.

In conclusion, I will report something that I posted in the spring: "Anyone who thinks this presidential race is about race or about gender is an imbecile. This election will determine the survivability of a deeply damaged and very troubled democracy --- one that suffers unsustainable delusions of entitlements to affluence and power. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas while both are hampered by bad ones. We have a long way to go and IF we are going to get there we must find a way to do that together."

Thank you Rachel Maddow for respecting what it is to be a journalist; thank you for doing you job to present a balanced view of facts when it is so much easier to use the approach of your confreres and pull vacuous opinions out of your ass. Even when I disagree, I learn something from you every time I listen to you. Thank you.
It was more sentence construction than meaning Paul. But I don't think she has a pompous bone in her body these days. I think she is as happy as girl can be that has her national news show during the biggest election year ever.

Sometimes I think her sense of humor gets close to getting her in trouble because what we may personally laugh at is personal to somebody else, and we can't always know who.

By the way, I did like Dan Abrams, though not necessarily the format of his show. It made him look overly earnest sometimes, but I thought he had a good eye.
I liked watching Rachel Maddow on the panels and was so glad to hear that she would be hosting her own show. I love it. Now I have Matthews, Olbermann and Maddow. Won't miss a one. Good work, MSNBC.
I'm breaking all the rules here, because I have nothing fresh to add -- I just want to agree with all the folks who find Rachel refreshing. When, after the election, I cut way back on my news consumption, she's staying.

I realize she's a self-identified liberal, as am I, but she often gives me a new slant, something new to think about, or a new way to think about something.

That matters to me.
Feel free to break the rules any time you like if it leads you to post a comment...
I watched Rachel's first show and thought both she and the show needed a bit of work. After reading this blog topic over the weekend I decided to watch her tonight and I am glad I did. She was skewering McCain, et al., fairly convincingly and without being sanctimonious.

I especially liked that list of Republicans who declined to appear on the show...