WashPost Media Critic Honors MSNBC's Rachel Maddow As 'Clear Winner of the Cable-News-Host Literary Prize'

Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple read through a stack of books by cable-news hosts for a Sunday Outlook piece, and declared “MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is the clear winner of the cable-news-host literary prize” for her book “Drift.”

On Sunday’s front page, The Post called it a “blab lit review” and called it “A survey of the many cable big mouths who have stuffed it between hard covers." Wemple accurately captured the contempt the liberal media has for Fox hosts:

Yet  when O’Reilly published his historical thriller ‘Killing Jesus’ in September, USA Today pooh-poohed that the book’s “one-sentence paragraphs read like a movie poster,” and neither The Post nor the Times deigned to run a review. “I have not read Mr. O’Reilly’s books myself, so I can’t really comment on them,” Times book review editor Pamela Paul told Wemple in an e-mail.

How about a collective review, then? O’Reilly’s trilogy — “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy” preceded the current iteration — has commandeered the bestseller lists for three years running. Other cable books also make appearances on those lists. Together, they have to matter.

Wemple isn't grasping the concept that the Post and Times snobs ignore best-sellers entirely if they don't like the authors -- especially if they slam the papers for liberal bias on their shows. The Times hasn't reviewed radio host Mark Levin's books "Liberty and Tyranny" or "Ameritopia," either.

...The three "Killing" books by O'Reilly and Martin Dugard have come out over three years, way too fast to contribute to the scholarship of the respective assassinations. “Killing Lincoln,” for example, withered under fact-checks from historians and was banned from one of the bookstores in Ford’s Theatre.

[Ironic, considering Ford’s Theatre just spent October promoting a Matthew Shepard “hate crimes” narrative that’s under historical challenge.]

As for “Killing Jesus,” no one has yet taken issue with O’Reilly’s take on Cleopatra’s “small breasts.”

But Wemple is populist enough to add “Fine points notwithstanding, it’s tough to scoff at millions of Americans brushing up on their history with O’Reilly’s books.” He thought O’Reilly’s attempts at history were much better than an O’Reilly book like “Pinheads and Patriots,” that more closely matches the O’Reilly TV show. These books can press cable-news readers to go more in-depth into history than a four-minute debate segment.


Wemple credited Maddow for taking her smart TV persona and putting that in between pages:

Though grafting cable formats onto books is generally a bad idea, it works for Maddow, who’s famous for churning out towering monologues on her MSNBC show. That training benefits ‘Drift,’ which pairs storytelling with research and insight...

The first line of Maddow’s acknowledgments hints at one secret to her success, a pointer that Bill “Ten Books in a Decade” O’Reilly might consider: “I’m the slowest writer on earth.”

Wemple failed to note that Pamela Paul wasn’t too snobbish for Maddow. On March 29, 2012, Janet Maslin of the New York Times gave it a rave review, which concluded: “thank Ms. Maddow for picking this and every other fight that ''Drift'' provokes. It will be a smarter public debate than the kinds we're used to.”

And....then it was boosted again in a book review on April 15 by Times national security correspondent Scott Shane: “The book is a reminder that before Maddow became a face on nighttime television, she was a Rhodes scholar who earned a doctorate in politics at Oxford. But 'Drift' is not heavy reading, and her cheerfully snarky voice is instantly recognizable.”

And...this snippet of a "Inside the List" column by Gregory Cowles also summarized the book’s reception on the same Sunday:

BREAKING FREE: Rachel Maddow's first book, ''Drift,'' storms the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 1. As /MSNBC's highest-rated host, Maddow is a cheerful, outspoken star of the left, although she's said she doesn't see her book's topic, the expansion of America's military and security apparatus, as a ''liberal vs. conservative'' issue. In The American Prospect this month, John Powers used ''Drift'' as grounds for a larger, mostly favorable analysis of Maddow and her TV persona. ''I imagine that she sometimes feels trapped in a chirpiness that comes so naturally that the world now expects it of her all the time,'' he wrote. ''Part of her must fantasize about breaking free -- you know, turning to Chris Matthews during a commercial break and snarling, 'Listen, you gasbag, Kennedy and Nixon are dead, O.K.?' ''

Reviews for ''Drift'' have been strong, but none have topped the raves that Maddow received after the gay and lesbian newsmagazine The Advocate put her on the cover in 2008. ''I'm disabled, so it's difficult for me to rip the plastic cover off,'' one reader wrote, ''but as soon as I caught a glimpse of Rachel Maddow on the cover, I transformed into a female Hulk. The plastic wrap didn't stand a chance.''

This same Cowles barely mentioned Levin's "Ameritopia" on February 5, 2012, like he'd picked up a dead bug: "'Ameritopia,' an attack on idealism and President Obama by the talk-show host Mark Levin, enters the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 1."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis