Rachel Maddow v. David Frum

by tristero

I urge you to study Maddow's performance here.


Frum deliberately, and maliciously, leveled a personal attack on his host. Frum knew exactly what he was doing. His purpose clearly was to provoke a shouting match, precisely the kind of discussion he claims to deplore. (Note: See Digby's post directly below for more about the dishonesty of Frum's discourse.)

Maddow responded brilliantly with two separate tactics. First, despite the fact that she was clearly furious at Frum for implying that the tone of her show was in any way comparable to the eliminationist ravings of the recent McCain rallies, she refused to permit Frum to make her lose her temper. Her voice simply got slightly deeper, her tone more sober and serious.

Secondly, she refused to permit Frum to change the subject. He tried everything, even, at one point, attempting to escape to Afghanistan! Maddow brought him back to the subject: he had personally accused her of sinking to the level of a knuckle-dragger who thinks the Democratic presidential candidate is a terrorist. But rather than focusing on the personal aspect of that attack - except to acknowledge it - Maddow zeroed in on the absurdity of the comparison.

The effect was electrifying. A flustered Frum flipped through all his defenses until he finally found the only way out that Maddow's questioning, and her mien, permitted. In an extraordinarily delicious sequence, Maddow let him ramble on - and on - about how awful the Republican party is, surely far more than he ever expected to. He dug his own hole deeper and deeper.

In short, Maddow proactively helped Frum hoist himself with his own petard.

There is much more to be gleaned from this clip. It was an exceedingly complex interaction the likes of which rarely occur in the typical interview. You may see things quite differently than I - for example, you might conclude that Maddow was more amused at Frum's gambit than furious. And the gender politics on display would take a doctoral thesis to unravel. But I think one meta-message is clear:

Despite Frum's concerted efforts to have precisely the kind of vacuous, irrationally emotional conversation he claimed to deplore, Maddow compelled him to participate in a substantive exchange on the issue of false equivalency in political discourse.

She tore him to shreds.

UPDATE: I can't get this interview out of my mind. There is so much in it! For example, realizing that he is completely outclassed, Frum calls for reinforcements from the toughest guy he can think of, Paul Wolfowitz. The same man who showed withering contempt, even accusing college students of treason, if you dared to disagree with him. Notice Maddows reaction. Wolfowitz is an object of undisguised contempt among all thoughtful people in the reality-based community - and rightly so. Frum calculated Maddow would laugh or be otherwise disrespectful. Maddow's actual response was far more contemptuous. She smiled broadly and calmly parried that Wolfowitz wouldn't come on the show, but she would invite him, as per Frum's suggestion. And note what she didn't do or say. She made not the slightest effort to explain who Wolfowitz was. Nor did she do what nearly every other talking head would have done, explain who he was and preface Wolfowitz's name with a long series of adualtory adjectives defining him- "well respected intellectual, scholar, and former assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz," and so on. His name was just mentioned, neither dissed nor respected - ie, as Maddow's equal. By refusing to display either contempt or deference, but simply equality, Maddow made mincemeat of Frum's appeal to authority.

Frum was clearly used to ping-pong interviews. He attacked Maddow and he was expecting a personal attack in return. Maddow refused, although surely she knows all the stories we do about Frum. So rather than creating the standard "He said/she said" dynamic, with its false equivalences, Maddow deliberately held the discourse to "Frum said/Frum said." After he had made a total fool of himself - with Maddow subtly guiding the process - then Maddow pounced: "I couldn't disagree more," voiced with the confidence of an intellectual at a philosophy seminar, as far from strident as an animated discussion would allow. It was a brilliant performance.

The future: I suspect that if Republicans continue to appear on Maddow's show - and if she continues to be popular, they will have to, like it or not - they will try repeatedly to bait her into losing her temper. Good luck. Maddow is someone who not only has considerable social intelligence, she is a very quick learner. Now that she knows that GOP operatives have no compunction whatsoever about getting personal, she will be better prepared than she was for Frum. Even though she was surprised, she winged it brilliantly last night, in the face of extreme provocation. Frum even belittled the importance of Maddow's show in his attempt to get her to lose her cool. But later, he ended up belittling himself. In any case, I suspect it will be a long time before anyone gets under her skin again on the air, if ever. And it will be very entertaining to watch Republicans try.