The Russia-Maddow Show: MSNBC Host Puts Hawkish Conspiracies above Trump’s Policies
The Real News Network’s Aaron Mate discusses his new report for The Intercept that finds MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has recently covered the Russia-Trump issue more than all others combined. Mate argues that Maddow has pushed hawkish conspiracies that deflect attention from Trump’s actual policies and fuel a dangerous anti-Russia climate
RACHEL MADDOW: If the presidency is effectively a Russian op, right, if the American Presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian Intelligence Services, and an American campaign, I mean, that is so profoundly big.
This is not part of American politics; this is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country.
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
The week of March the 6th, the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC boasted it’s strongest ratings in years, dominating the 9:00 time slot amongst adults age 25 to 54, also known by advertisers as “the money demo”. She even bested perennial ratings juggernaut Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. So what was Rachel sharing with her audience that pushed her ratings success so significantly?
Well, now a new piece out on Wednesday on The Intercept, may give us some insight why. “Rachel Maddow Sees a Russia Connection Lurking Behind Every Corner.” That is the title of a new article written by Aaron Maté. It finds that during a six-week period, the popular MSNBC host covered the Trump-Russia issue, not just more than any other, but more than every other issue combined.
Maddow has pushed a number of conspiracy theories, all at the expense of covering the Trump administration’s actual policy. So, is providing progressive audiences with Russian red meat about Trump-Kremlin collusion doing anything to actually resist Trump?
Well, joining me now is Aaron Maté. He is a host/producer for The Real News Network. He has previously reported and produced for, Democracy Now, Vice, and Al Jazeera.
Aaron, welcome. Thanks for being here.
AARON MATÉ: Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: So, Rachel Maddow, the progressive patron saint of cable news, in this piece that you have for The Intercept, and the period that you studied, you found that Rachel Maddow was usurping covering progressive issues in favor of this alleged Russia-Trump connection. What did you find?
AARON MATÉ: Yeah. I mean, so the issue is not that, you know, whether Russia should be covered or not. Of course it should, it’s a major issue. The question is, to what degree and with what tone? So looking at six weeks of Maddow’s show, from February 20th through the end of March, we found that Maddow covered not just Russia more than anything else, but more than every other issue combined.
And this is key, because that means that the leading progressive cable news show, which people rely on for information during this Trump era, is not addressing, substantially enough, I think, the key issues that affect people’s lives.
So, for example, one of the big issues over this period was the repeal of Obamacare. During this time Republicans introduced it. We had numbers coming out saying that 24 million people will lose their healthcare. There was a battle going on, it was a major issue. And this issue, during this time, six weeks, Obamacare repeal got 45 minutes and 45 seconds.
Compare that to an example of a Russia issue, like Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor, he got 88 minutes. So, almost double the time. And there are many more other issues, like Russian hacking, the Congressional Intel Probe into Russian hacking. All of that got more time than Obamacare repeal.
So, it’s a matter of the important issues that face people are getting sidelined, in favor of this Russia hysteria.
KIM BROWN: So, let’s get into some of the examples that you say of Rachel Maddow, just over the top, covering the issue of Russia and Trump collusion.
RACHEL MADDOW: I mean, take the view from Moscow, if you know a guy who needs a presidential campaign manager, how about our friend Paul? Right, from the Russian’s point of view, who would be a better choice to run Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? From our perspective in the United States, Paul Manafort made no sense. Who’s he? From a Russian perspective he’d be the obvious choice.
KIM BROWN: So, this interesting thing about the sort of unveiling of different characters from the Trump Administration, pretty much ever since the summer before the election, and then subsequently ever since Trump has been in office now, less than a 100 days. So, what was it about this clip about Paul Manafort that really stuck out to you?
AARON MATÉ: Well, you hear what she’s saying there? She’s suggesting that Putin, and the Kremlin, picked Paul Manafort. So, Trump chose his campaign manager because that’s what his masters in the Kremlin wanted. I mean, it’s a conspiracy theory.
KIM BROWN: Does she have any evidence of that? Does she provide any proof, any e-mails, any tax return documents to back up her claim at all?
AARON MATÉ: Well, the proof from that perspective is that Paul Manafort had very lucrative business ties to pro-Russian interests. So, he’s worked for oligarchs who backed Putin. And he worked for a Ukrainian president who was Putin’s ally. So that’s where this connection is being drawn here.
But, there are many other reasons… There are plenty of political consultants who have shady ties to shady foreign governments. So I think it’s a bit much. And, you know, like, on this point of, in terms of who makes the choices for Trump, Maddow also argued that Putin has gotten Trump to weaken the State Department on his behalf, and even influenced who Trump picked as a Secretary of State.
RACHEL MADDOW: The more we learn about it, it doesn’t seem like it was personal. It seems like it was to get specific stuff out of the United States, actions by U.S. political figures to benefit Russia. Right? Things like, you know, the Republican Party taking out of its platform that Ukraine should get lethal weapons to fight Russia, and fight off those Russian incursions. They wanted change. They wanted change by U.S. political actors to benefit Russia. They wanted actions taken to benefit Russia.
And also, we have to ask, whether they wanted actions by U.S. political figures to weaken the parts of America that most annoy and that most undermine Vladimir Putin.
Is Rex Tillerson Secretary of State because Russia needed somebody to stand by as Secretary of State, while the State Department was hollowed out, disappeared and muted? Because that’s what’s happening under him.
KIM BROWN: You know, Rachel Maddow has long had a reputation in progressive media. Even prior to her show on MSNBC, she was a personality on Air America, and on her program she has a well-deserved reputation of presenting stories in such a way that are extremely comprehensive, and detailed. Shining the light on stories that generally don’t receive a spotlight from the mainstream media.
So her giving so much coverage, or devoting so much of her programming to covering Trump-Russia, is a bit of a departure from what got her to this platform in the first place. What are your thoughts?
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, I do understand. I mean, part of the reason why this piece came about is because I’m actually a really big fan of hers. I mean, if you work in broadcast journalism, you have to admire her talent. She’s amazing, and she’s really smart, and she’s done great work. I mean, especially, I think she’s responsible for helping to bring national attention to the Flint water crisis, while everybody was ignoring it. She was hammering on it every night and did amazing work.
But now she’s bringing that same energy to this Russia collusion issue, and she’s giving us conspiracy theories, like this one we just heard. So, she’s suggesting that Putin chose the Secretary of State of the United States, and is getting Donald Trump to weaken the State Department, and there’s plenty of reasons… There are plenty of other plausible explanations for why Trump would pick Tillerson, and why Trump would want to weaken the State Department.
The State Department, you know, does things around the world, it gives out foreign aid. Trump has railed against globalism. It’s an obvious department for him to target a place that does work around the world at the expense of boosting the Pentagon budget, which he’s now doing. Tillerson is a rich oil executive. Trump has a billionaire cabinet. And Tillerson does have, and has had in the past, dealings with Russia. He was given the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin.
So, you know, and Trump has said he wants to improve relations with Russia, so, maybe that part of it factored into his decision. But this idea that Putin has gotten Trump to weaken the State Department on his behalf, is just, it’s insane. And she also mentions in that clip the Republican platform on Ukraine. This has been a big issue. People have said that because the Trump team rejected this plank in their platform, which by the way doesn’t mean anything. The platforms are pretty much rhetorical. No one really takes them seriously.
But because the Trump team rejected this plank in the Republican platform last summer on Ukraine that called for sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military to fight Russian-backed forces, that that means that’s proof of what Maddow calls, quid pro quo. Proof that Putin has gotten something specific from Trump.
What actually happened was this. A Republican delegate proposed adding an amendment saying, “Let’s send lethal aid to the Ukraine military.” The Trump team objected. Which happens during the platform process. This was made into a big deal, as if the Trump team had changed the platform and blah, blah, blah, blah blah.
But really what happened was that all they did was reject an amendment that called to sending lethal aid. And that policy, by the way, was the same as Barack Obama’s. So, you know, does that mean that maybe Putin also got Barack Obama to also, actually, while he was in office, refuse to send lethal aid to the Ukrainian military because he felt it would not be productive for the terrible conflict in that region.
The actual Republican platform — and I say this in the piece — if you read it, it doesn’t sound pro-Putin at all. It says, “We support maintaining, and if warranted, increasing sanctions against Russia, unless and until Ukraine sovereignty is fully restored.” So, that doesn’t quite sound like it was written by Vladimir Putin.
KIM BROWN: So, is it that these conspiracies that she’s floating, are far fetched, or is it that they cannot be substantiated?
AARON MATÉ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean, you know, again, it’s quite possible that there was collusion, but there’s no evidence yet. That’s the key point: there is no evidence yet, so we don’t know. So, if there was collusion, it just hasn’t been substantiated yet. And then so, is it worth devoting more than half your show, over a six-week period, to the speculative stuff, over things like people losing healthcare, people getting deported, Muslims being banned?
All of which at least got some coverage, but then something like the domestic budget cuts, these draconian cuts to social programs like, Meals on Wheels, getting zero coverage. It just, you know… If this is what the resistance is relying on, then we’re getting information that’s not useful. It might be entertaining, it might be good for ratings, but to me it’s irresponsible journalism.
KIM BROWN: So, when we’re looking at Rachel Maddow, and like I said before, cable news at large, are we seeing basically, a continuation of covering Donald Trump, the reality star, as he transitions from being a former reality star on The Apprentice, and a real estate mogul, into now being the reality star of the White House?
And maybe we have a little bit too high of expectations of Rachel Maddow after all, because she does work for a big corporate conglomerate, which does have interests in ratings and pushing certain narratives. So, is Rachel Maddow basically sort of, playing in to the Fox-ification, as it were, of cable news at large? Which MSNBC is participating in as well as bringing over a number of people formerly from Fox; Greta Van Susteren, Megyn Kelly, sort of appealing to this base of individuals who consume news packaged in that way. So, do we expect too much of Ms. Maddow here? Isn’t she just sort of going along to get along, playing the game? Trying to get her numbers up, which has been proven for her recently?
AARON MATÉ: I think your critique of the corporate media culture is very fair. I agree with it. But I do expect a lot from Rachel Maddow, personally. I’m a big fan of hers. She’s really smart, really gifted, and she’s done very important work. And so, that’s why I find this Russia stuff so perplexing.
And especially when it’s not just that it distracts from vital issues, Trump’s actual policies, it also fuels this Russia hysteria that is dangerous. I mean, right now relations between Russia and the U.S. are at their lowest point in years. These are two nuclear-armed powers. Things are really serious. And if even progressives are being presented with this hawkish point of view, and being culled to suspect Russians, it’s scary, and it’s ominous.
And we have to ask, I mean, when Trump launched this Syria strike last week, it came in a context. He’s the most media-sensitive president in history. And what’s the media been saying about him since he started? He’s controlled by Russia. What about this tie to Russia, and so forth?
You have to wonder whether this Syria strike was at least partly motivated by his desire to show the world that Putin doesn’t control him. And there’s so much about the Russia issue that actually is worth talking about that’s not. There are serious issues between these two countries.
There was a great piece in Foreign Affairs recently, by Robert David English. He goes through the entire recent history of U.S.-Russia relations. And he points out that Russia, whether you like Putin or not — and I’m not a Putin fan — but Russia does have grievances. And if you want to actually resolve the issue, you should take him seriously.
So for example, Russia was promised at the end of the Cold War that NATO wouldn’t expand, but it has. And NATO keeps expanding to Russia’s borders. That’s going to provoke a response. And just to further undermine this whole narrative that Trump is controlled by Putin, just yesterday Trump approved Montenegro joining NATO, a move that Russia totally opposes.
So, on all these key issues, there are actually legitimate reasons to be concerned about the state of U.S.-Russia relations. But the narrative we are being presented is that Russia is controlling our politics. And why it’s important to focus on Maddow here, is because she’s so influential.
So a lot of progressive outlets, smaller progressive outlets, that don’t have as much resources, are going to follow her lead, and you’ll see that. You’ll see that there’s all these progressive websites like Raw Story, The Advocate, Daily Kos, have picked up her stories and ran with it. As if right now Russian control of our government, and Russian collusion is the biggest issue.
KIM BROWN: Aaron Maté. He is a host producer here at The Real News, your new piece on The Intercept. Can you give us the title one more time?
AARON MATÉ: Rachel Maddow Sees A Russia Connection Lurking Behind Every Corner.
KIM BROWN: That’s right. If you haven’t read it already, you should try to go find that. And Aaron, we appreciate you speaking about this today.
AARON MATÉ: Thanks, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.