National Review's Johnson: Maddow is Guiding MSNBC

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Tuesday, 07 Jan 2014 01:17 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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Liberal talker Rachel Maddow, not MSNBC president Phil Griffin, is navigating the network’s editorial direction in the wake of slipping ratings and a series of on-air blunders, National Review columnist Eliana Johnson writes.

Maddow’s unchecked power and her desire to fill the network with intellectual wonks may be palatable to some viewers, but ratings indicate that on the whole it is hurting MSNBC’s numbers.

The network that Griffin has labeled ‘the place for progressives’ is experiencing a free fall in its ratings, which are down 29 percent from 2012,” according to Johnson. “A decline was expected after a presidential-election year, but MSNBC’s competitors did not suffer as acutely. Fox News was down only 5 percent in total viewers (it suffered far more in the coveted 25–54 demographic, where the network has persistently struggled); CNN’s numbers, under the stewardship of newly installed president Jeff Zucker, remained flat.”

Griffin purportedly has been unable to keep the network’s talent in line, beginning with Keith Olbermann’s suspension and dismissal in 2010 after the broadcaster donated money to three Democratic candidates for Congress without getting approval from the network.

Griffin has referred to Maddow as the network’s “quarterback,” but according to Johnson, she also provides MSNBC’s editorial direction and holds “considerable sway over personnel decisions.”

“She is actually not that interested in reality; she is the most ideological person I’ve ever met,” Johnson quotes a former Maddow colleague as saying. “That is not somebody you want in charge of your programming, because she might put on a great show, but she cannot make rational decisions — her agenda is changing America. . . . She really thinks she is changing America for the better. You can’t have somebody like that in charge of your programming.”

Known as “the queen” around MSNBC, Johnson surmises that Maddow will seek to protect protégé Melissa Harris-Perry, who recently broke down in tears on-air during an apology for sarcastic remarks made on her program about Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandchild. Recently fired hosts Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin, both of whom made insensitive, politically incorrect on-air gaffes of their own, were not part of Maddow’s inner-circle, according to Johnson.

“Behind her back, colleagues call her ‘the queen,’ a not so subtle suggestion that Maddow gets what Maddow wants,” write Johnson. “And what she wants is a network filled with young wonks such as Chris Hayes, Ezra Klein, Alex Wagner, and Harris-Perry, whose highbrow intellectualism can, she hopes, push the Democratic party, and the country, to the left.”

Maddow – who earns $7 million per year, according to TV Guide, is MSNBC’s the highest-paid host with the highest-rated show.

“It’s good to be ‘queen’ — to be a liberal paid millions by a publicly traded company to spread the progressive gospel,” according to Johnson. “Rachel Maddow, striding about Rockefeller Plaza in her colored sneakers, may be the luckiest woman in television. For now.”

In an effort to prevent future mishaps, the network has assigned an executive to review scripts before going live.

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