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Rachel Maddow Does It Her Way

Wednesday Apr 15, 2009
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Rachel Maddow isn’t going to cater to anyone - not even the LGBT community.

"I don’t perceive myself as having any special responsibilities to cover anything above and beyond what any other broadcaster would do," Maddow wrote in a March 30 e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter.

Maddow is MSNBC’s overnight political pundit sensation, and the first out lesbian to host her own show, The Rachel Maddow Show, which airs weeknights. Since her debut last September 8, the show has had runaway ratings, challenging CNN’s Larry King, although the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Maddow’s ratings slipped a bit behind King in February.

But Maddow has seen some criticism from gays because of her apparent reluctance to tackle gay issues on her show, at least in the beginning. They argue that she should use her platform to take on anti-gay stalwarts and press them on their views.

Maddow, 35, a Castro Valley native and former San Franciscan, was recently called out on her silence on LGBT issues, in particular California’s Proposition 8, by her friend and colleague, Michelangelo Signorile, in a recent Advocate column.

Signorile wasn’t the only one to notice Maddow’s dropping of the g-word and the hottest LGBT political issues of the day. He had picked up on the critical rumblings from Pam Spaulding, who took Maddow to task on her blog, http://www.pamshouseblend.com. Spaulding cited criticism of Maddow that appeared on the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s ThinkProgress.org blog.

But Maddow takes the brickbats in stride.

"I get criticized from all quarters ... the gay community is certainly part of that, but not much different," Maddow said in an interview after she spoke at a sold-out San Francisco benefit for Mother Jones magazine March 28.

Maddow took the stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in a wide-ranging discussion with Mother Jones editors that hit upon the necessity of full-time journalists to produce good news, her newfound fame, Twitter, and dreaming of putting former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney "on trial."

In an interview, Maddow said she didn’t believe Signorile was being fair in his criticism of her. She pointed out that in the wake of Prop 8’s passage, she increasingly has devoted shows to LGBT issues, including same-sex marriage, the military’s anti-gay "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, and hate crimes legislation.

Following the November 4 election that saw many people elated with the election of Barack Obama and dismayed with the passage of Prop 8, Maddow began including LGBT topics on her show.

On December 18, she devoted a majority of her hourlong show to Prop 8, interviewing San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. A month later Maddow invited out lesbian comedian Kate Clinton onto her show discussing LGBT issues. March 3 saw Maddow devote a major portion of her show to LGBT individuals in the military with a discussion of DADT. Then on March 5, Maddow had San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera on to discuss that day’s oral arguments before the California Supreme Court.

Maddow has also regularly peppered her shows with queer cultural references and issues.

"I think that he came after me on that issue because he felt like - not out of spite - but because he thought that I deserved it and I thought that I didn’t," Maddow said of Signorile, adding that she’s had a "productive back and forth" with him.

She pointed out that while she disagreed with her friend and fellow out gay journalist, she has the "highest possible opinion" of him and that there were "definitely no hard feelings there."

Maddow, a former HIV/AIDS activist, who lives with her partner, Susan Mikula, a photographer, in western Massachusetts and in New York City, refuses to take "talking points" from anybody and has a clear definition of activism that has nothing to do with broadcasting.

"I get people trying to give me talking points about what I ought to cover and how all of the time," Maddow said. "It’s just that I don’t take talking points from anybody, whether it’s politicians or interest groups or anyone."

Maddow, who perceives herself as "broadcaster, journalist, entertainer, self-indulgent dork," left activism behind in 2004 when she began her career in media, she told the Mother Jones audience.

"Activist is my previous life," said Maddow.

Regarding Prop 8, Maddow said that she has been inspired by the national response.

"These are issues that are in fast motion both in terms of the country and in terms of our political capacity for dealing with them," Maddow said.

While she believes that a better job could have been done by the No on 8 campaign, she’s confident that in the future when issues arise the LGBT community will deal with them in "stronger ways"

Maddow is also optimistic about Obama’s ability to repeal DADT but said the challenge will be in the details. She is also closely watching the legal challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act that was filed last month by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Massachusetts.

"This is one of those things that you ... wage the effort on multiple fronts ... and you make it so that political leaders feel like they can do the right thing," Maddow said.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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