The shady side of Rachel Maddow

When it hits 9 p.m. on MSNBC and Rachel Maddow appears on your screen shuffling papers, buckle up and get ready for the Stanford grad and Rhodes scholar to take you on a journey — whether you can keep up or not. With her trademark chunky black glasses and journalistic acumen, Maddow has been hosting The Rachel Maddow Show since 2008, turning it into one of the highest-rated programs in cable news. One of the most influential and popular voices for American liberals, Maddow's deft political expertise and storytelling has attracted millions of die-hard television viewers, but if you dig below the surface of her policy wonk and cheerful brainiac persona, you'll start shuffling some papers of your own.

The New Yorker described Maddow's show as "sleight of hand presented as a cable news show," and evidence suggests that it may be ratings, not the truth, that she's actively seeking. From dealing in unfounded conspiracy theories to disturbingly problematic friends, we'll save you the monologue and dive right into the shady side of Rachel Maddow.

The Russians are coming!

Since Donald Trump's election, perhaps no cable news show has covered 45's alleged involvement with Russia meddling in the U.S. presidential race more than The Rachel Maddow Show. At the time of this writing, concrete evidence of this charge has yet to be presented (even though it remains a possibility), but Maddow has seemingly succumbed to what journalist Matt Taibbi called "an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria." 

The Intercept conducted a study of 28 episodes of MSNBC's flagship show during a six-week period and found that "Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent" of the broadcasts excluding segments where Russia was discussed but "not the overarching topic." Maddow's insistence that the president is a Russian pawn has often wandered into dangerous territory without any supporting evidence — such as her claim that Putin orchestrated the chemical weapons attack in Syria to make Trump look good. (The Washington Post called that assertion a "conspiracy theory.")

Even The Onion roasted the host over her hyperbolic dot-connecting. Employing its customary biting satire, the site described a hypothetical time where a "fuming" Maddow was "no longer able to form words" and just "spent an entire episode … pointing wildly at a picture of Russian president Vladimir Putin."

Is it all a 'dangerous' ratings ploy?

The new Russian Red Scare is good for business. At the time of this writing, The Rachel Maddow Show is experiencing its highest ratings since 2008. According to Variety, Maddow beat Sean Hannity on Fox News to become the most-watched cable news host in March 2018. It seems Hannity, who is known for spinning wild conspiracies of his own, has met his match.

In fact, Maddow's presence may be benefiting from and/or contributing to a more liberal-leaning country. Citing the money Doug Jones was able to raise online during his successful Senate race in Alabama, strategist Pete Giangreco claimed, "a lot of that comes from people watching MSNBC."

However, Maddow's ratings have certainly not been celebrated by everyone in the broader journalism community. The Huffington Post says Maddow's "convoluted and labored" yarns and "dubious assertions and pure speculation" produce reporting that is "poisonous — and extremely dangerous." 

The big Trump scoop that wasn't

"BREAKING: We've got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC (Seriously)," Maddow tweeted before her show started on March 14, 2017. The internet went into a frenzy, and as show time approached, Maddow tweeted that the tax return in question was Trump's 1040 from 2005. Before she went live, the White House responded, reportedly revealing that Trump had paid $38 million on an income of $150 million. Then the show started.

Twenty minutes into Maddow's much-hyped broadcast — no big news had been broken. What audiences received instead was her usual contextual wind-up, which included a meandering and borderline conspiratorial diatribe about a Russian oligarch, Florida real estate, and Deutsche Bank. By the first commercial break, the same documents Maddow promoted had already been posted online by the Daily Beast. When Maddow returned from commercial, she finally made her big reveal: two pages that verified the White House's pre-show numbers. The pages Maddow had in her possession had "CLIENT COPY" stamped on the front — prompting her guest, journalist David Cay Johnston, to suggest that Trump may have leaked the documents to Maddow himself. Whatever was or wasn't happening, it became apparent that this was definitely not the major scoop Maddow had promised. 

She blamed you for falling for the hype

 Maddow's anti-climatic presentation of Trump's tax return stirred up a big backlash against the MSNBC star. Even Stephen Colbert took a shot at Maddow's media misfire, but the defiant host said her audience was let down not because she didn't have a story. Nope, she claimed her viewers were let down because they over-hyped it themselves. 

"Because I have information about the president doesn't mean that it's necessarily a scandal," Maddow told the Associated Press (via Business Insider). "It doesn't mean that it's damning information. If other people leapt to that conclusion without me indicating that it was, that hype is external to what we did." Well, okay then. We suppose her audience misread "BREAKING" news as something important. A few weeks later, Maddow sat down with Vulture and proclaimed, "people can like me or not like me, and they can like the way I do cable news or not like it — whatever." She reiterated that she was proud of the segment and had no regrets about how she broke the story. 

Regardless, 4.1 million viewers tuned in for that controversial segment, including "1 million in the advertiser-friendly 18-to-49-year-old demographic," reported The Huffington Post.

Saving Joy Reid

MSNBC's Joy Reid came under fire in late 2017, when a series of virulent homophobic posts were discovered on her old blog. She apologized, calling her remarks "insensitive, tone deaf and dumb," but in early 2018, more offensive posts emerged, including a doctored picture of Sen. John McCain as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre shooter; an Alex Jones conspiracy video claiming 9/11 was an inside job; a claim that Mexican immigrants only come to the United States to send money back home; praise for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's proposal to remove Jews from the Middle East; and several more xenophobic and homophobic slurs.

Reid claimed a cyber-security expert could prove she'd been "hacked," but according to the Daily Beast, those claims "crumbled under scrutiny." Reid apologized again, leaving many MSNBC employees and staffers irked that she'd seemingly suffered no consequences, but during the scandal, Rachel Maddow sang a different tune. In fact, she couldn't say enough good things about Reid, tweeting: "Brains, guts, heart and soul — beloved Joy Reid has always been a treasured and brilliant colleague, but I've never been prouder to work with her than I am now." According to a former NBC producer, Maddow's blessing was "the word of God that Joy Reid was safe."

Friends in low places

Roger Ailes resigned from his position as chairman and CEO of Fox News in 2016 amid multiple sexual assault allegations. After receiving $40 million to walk out the door, he joined the Donald Trump campaign. A year later, he died from a subdural hematoma after falling in his Palm Beach, Fla. home. One might have expected a flowery eulogy from Sean Hannity or Tomi Lahren, but Rachel Maddow? Turns out the liberal media heroine and "one of the worst Americans ever" were good pals. 

During an interview with Access Hollywood (per Mediaite), the MSNBC host said the media mogul was a "friend" and "mentor." Maddow claimed she didn't want to "dismiss any of the serious allegations" against Ailes but also wanted people to know that he had a different side to him that was nothing but "professional and supportive." 

That didn't go over well with many, but Maddow addressed the backlash on The Howard Stern Show (via the Daily Beast). "There are a lot of people who are mad at me for saying anything nice about him, given the other things we learned about him before he died," she said. "I'm not downplaying those things to also say this is a true thing about the way he interacted with me, and he was a friend."

Did she try to manipulate soldiers' deaths?

In October 2017, U.S. soldiers in Niger were ambushed by roughly 50 Islamic State militants, leaving four Green Berets dead. Maddow seized on the opportunity to attempt to take her audience through a 25-minute verbose maze where the exit was supposedly Trump's inclusion of Chad in his controversial travel ban as the reason for the soldiers' deaths.

Chad, a U.S. partner in counter-terrorism efforts in Africa, had pulled troops out of its neighboring country, Niger. Maddow speculated that withdrawing the troops "had an immediate effect in emboldening ISIS attacks." Her theory? Chad removed its military presence from Niger as retaliation for being included in Trump's travel ban. That's a big leap, and according to The Huffington Post, her dissertation was so flimsy it could have been "debunked by a quick glance at a map, let alone a phone call with an expert."

According to the experts associated with the Council on Foreign Relations, Chadian troops were in Niger specifically to fight Boko Haram, not the Islamic State. Additionally, the Chadian soldiers had reportedly been based about 733 miles away from the fatal Islamic State ambush. Laura Seay, an assistant professor in Colby College's Department of Government, said she was "appalled" by Maddow's reporting, noting that even if Trump's travel ban was lifted, Chadian soldiers likely would not return to Niger because they were already "looking to scale down."

Her Reddit AMA was 'a bust'

You'd think when a journalist and political commentator says you can ask her anything about politics, she would be ready to answer questions about anything political. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with Rachel Maddow's now infamous Reddit AMA in 2013. Irked by her insistence on discussing her book and her favorite whiskeys while largely ignoring more in-depth policy questions, users were quick to voice their disappointment. 

According to Talking Points Memo, disappointed fans labeled Maddow's AMA "a bust." The session was so poorly received that MSNBC spokesperson Lauren Skowronski released a statement defending it: "Rachel addressed a variety of topics from the Reddit community — including the war in Afghanistan, Ron and Rand Paul, government spending, gun regulation, her editorial process, media bias, conflicts within the Democratic party, and partisan gridlock."

The entire AMA thread was available on The Maddow Blog but has since been deleted. We assume that's for the best.