Rachel Maddow gets dead-serious talking about Pastor Rick giving the inaugural invocation
I've had my say on the matter of Pastor Rick and the president-elect, and the last time I looked at the comments, I was impressed with what readers had to say. If you've seen this segment from last night's Rachel Maddow Show, either on the show or via the clip, you know that she's obviously not only dead-serious but angry. Or is it so obvious? The tone is so cool, collected, and professional that I'm not sure nonhabitual Rachel viewers would pick up on how personally she takes the subject. I think you have to have some familiarity with her more common tone to appreciate how unusual her tone is here: single-mindedly sober and focused.
In an odd way, the tone of this segment made me think back to the most awkward moment I recall seeing or hearing Rachel experience on-air. It was the night in October she had Certified Right-Wing Loon David Frum on the show, to talk about the disapproval he had been registering publicly over the tone and direction of the McCranky presidential campaign.
Now, obviously Frum knew why he was invited on the show, and what he was expected to discuss. These days talk-show producers and screeners always go over this with every guest on a talk show. I don't say they go this far on Rachel's show, but on the entertainment shows in particular you can see that they've gone so far as to insist on knowing exactly what the prospective guest is going to say.
If Frum had second thoughts about attacking the Republican candidate in a progressive-minded arena, that would be understandable. But what he did was to act as if he had no clue what the expected subject of discussion was. Instead he launched into an attack on his host. Referring to "the ugliness that has been a feature of American politics the last eight years" (to which he himself had contributed everything in his power, which in this area is not inconsiderable), he seethed with righteous indignation: "This show itself is unfortunately an example of that problem, with its levity and sarcasm and seeming disregard for a lot of the substantive issues that really are important."
The kindest explanation was that the guy had lost his marbles. But we know how Righties hate the mental-illness explanation for bad behavior -- people are after all supposed to take responsibility for their bad behavior. So let's chalk it up to Frum being both an ill-mannered troll and a gutless shithead. Ian Gurvitz put it well in an excellent blog post at the time, "David Frum on Rachel Maddow: Releasing His Inner Scumbag."
He could, of course, have had the honesty to say that he understood that was what they were supposed to talk about but that he felt he really had to talk instead about blah-blah-blah. But I guess disclosing even the tiniest shred of honesty would get you drummed out of the Certified-Loony Right Wing, so he just lied his head off. Hell, isn't lying what got him where he is today?
Ian Gurvitz's description described exceedingly well what followed:
While taken aback at the unexpected attack on her personally and on her show, Maddow handled herself with class, trying to get at the substance of Frum's attack, asking if he somehow equated sarcasm and the occasional smile with the vitriol coming from recent GOP rallies. However, and this is one difference between the parties that even goes to way this election is shaping up, she didn't tell him to "shut up." She didn't scream for a producer to "cut off his mike." Both in style, and in substance, she negated his argument by her civil, substantive reaction. She did not name-call. She calmly stated her strong disagreement with his assertion while asking for clarification."Taken aback" is exactly what I remember. As I say, in years of listening to and now watching Rachel, I don't ever recall seeing her thrown like that. However, as Gurvitz noted, she recovered quickly, and handled herself with class, precision, and cool purpose.
Ironically Frum, with his pompous blithering (and with that unfailing incorrectness for which Certified Right-Wing Loons are famous), actually put his grimy finger on one of Rachel's greatest gifts. One of the things that makes her show so remarkable is indeed her wit. The woman, in addition to being incredibly smart and thorough and fair-minded and articulate (and clearly able to attract and work with a staff with these same qualities), is really, really funny. She can be razor-sharp funny, she can be ironic funny, and she can be silly funny. It's one of the crucial things that makes the procession of so much bad-to-horrific news bearable.
But of course, being funny doesn't mean Rachel isn't serious. I think the wonderful sense of humor is an important reason the MSNBC show took off so quickly, and has remained so successful. She's extremely entertaining, and the humor makes her just plain good company. There's the feeling of spending that nightly hour with a really good, and good-natured, person.
One crucial point: The humor is incredibly finely calibrated to the subject. Her sense of tone strikes me as pitch-perfect. I don't know whether it comes naturally or it requires constant consideration and effort, but she always seems to hit just the right tone for the subject at hand. As Ian Gurvitz pointed out in his blog post, it was preposterous of Frum to equate the vitrolic lies of the McCranky campaign (though of course he wasn't even acknowledging that it was his own Certified Loony Right that was the near-exclusive instigator of the vitriol) with Rachel's humor. The notion that it came instead of substantce was equally preposterous. There's no show on the air that focuses more intently on matters of political substance.
When I say that Rachel's humor is "incredibly finely calibrated to the subject," that also includes subjects where humor is excluded. As Gurvitz pointed out, after the beat of surprise with David Frum, she recovered quickly and went dead-serious. And last night in the segment on Pastor Rick and the president-elect, she clearly didn't think humor was appropriate. For regular viewers, when Rachel sets all humor aside, she gets a special kind of attention.