Rachel Maddow takes center stage at MSNBC

I have a recurring dream that I am in Rachel Maddow’s writing room.

The other writers, besides me, are Hillary Clinton, Marcia Gay Harden and Tad from All My Children. What that says about my psyche is not clear, but as real as the dream may seem, I never wake up wondering if it really happened. I know I am not smart enough to write for Dr. Maddow.

The actual writers’ room for The Rachel Maddow Show is, according to The Daily Beast, more like a university classroom than a scene from 30 Rock. Maddow stands at a whiteboard, taking notes as she and her writers debate the topics for that night’s show. Most of the writers are female; all are required to be able to discuss and answer questions on what’s going on in the world — in microscopic detail.

The collective brainpower in that room probably could solve the country’s most pressing problems. But right now, the biggest challenge for the show is taking on the role of “the face of MSNBC” after Keith Olbermann’s departure.

TRMS seems up to the task. Even before Olbermann left, the show was up 39 percent in its target demo and 34% in total viewers over last year. And MSNBC is counting on those numbers to continue going up.

“She’s our biggest show,” says MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who describes Maddow as “so friggin’ smart … Very few people can be so honest with a remark, a giggle, a serious look. There’s no performance art. That performance is Rachel.”

Of course, a smart, outspoken, honest lesbian tends to make people uncomfortable. Maddow frequently finds herself the object of criticism, usually directed at who she is rather than what she says. Last week, for example, she came under attack by PolitiFact for a statement on air that Wisconsin was “on track to have a budget surplus this year.”

Here, Rachel addresses the issue, among others, in a “Debunktion Junction” segment:

I love this: “Just because you don’t like the way it sounds when I say it, or you don’t like my haircut, or just because you don’t like that I’m gay, it does not make what we say not true.” Go, Rachel.

The homophobic voice from the right may get louder in days to come as Maddow moves MSNBC away from being the “voice of liberal outrage” that Olbermann defined. Maddow certainly has a different approach to commentary than he. Tucker Carlson, who often brought in Maddow as a contributor to his MSNBC show (he’s now on Fox), said, “She was completely fun to talk to, doesn’t take political differences personally, but more than that, she’s fast — really fast.”

She also makes her interviews look like fun, which may be how she manages to get people radically opposed to her to appear on the show. But even when she verbally rips such people to shreds, she rarely loses her cool. And although the tone is sarcastic, she says she takes care not to be mean. “She is profoundly obsessed with making sure everyone gets a fair shake when they come on,” says former radio co-host Lizz Winstead, “instead of just firing off and having to apologize later.”

I’m grateful and proud that we have someone like Rachel Maddow as the face of liberalism — and lesbianism.

What do you think? Can Maddow become the centerpiece of MSNBC? Do you think homophobia affects her ratings and influence?

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