A Call to Earnest Citizenship: Rachel Maddow State of Belief Radio Interview, April 22, 2017


[WELTON GADDY, HOST:] Rachel, thanks for taking some time so we can get together again and talk about the condition of our world and the condition that we’re in because of the condition of the world… [RACHEL MADDOW, GUEST]: I’m happy to do it, Welton, It’s great to see you. [WG]: Our last recorded conversation came just a few days before the presidential election back in November… [RM]: Oh, God, that’s right, that’s right! confidently predicting a Hillary Clinton Was I confidently predicting a Hillary Clinton win? [WG]: You were. You were, and we had a lot of theories about what was going to happen, but we’re not going to replay any of that. But I do remember after the election, a few days after the election, we were texting each other and you said, “How do you feel?” And I said, “Despondent, disappointed, sad and scared – but resigned.” And you said, “Well, that’s kind of where I am, too.” Now, just before the end of the year, we exchanged texts and you wrote these words: “I have deep faith 2017 will be more of a hoot than we’re expecting.” Rachel, what happened?! [RM]: A “hoot”! – I mean in a technical sense of that term. That’s a term of art, really. It’s a… I’d love to say it was an acronym for something much more deep… The energy that I feel for my own work right now is a surprise and a pleasure. Like, we are in a dark place as a country and the health of our republic and our democracy and the example of our government is all in pretty bad straits. But there’s also a lot of work to do that is energizing. I do not feel enervated; I do not feel drained; I do not feel depressed. I feel like, “All right, then. We were made for this!” Like, let’s show everybody what we’re made of. made of [WG]: So did your show fundamentally change because of the election? [RM]: No, I don’t think it did. I think my mission in terms of what I’m trying to do with my show is still the same thing. We still have this internal motto which is, “To increase the amount of useful information in the world.” That’s definitely still true. It feels like there’s more of an imperative to it maybe then there was before because there’s so much going on that’s never happened before. So there’s more of a hunger for explanation and to get something useful in terms of information about what’s going on in the world. I think there’s more pressure; I think there’s more audience; I think there’s more appreciation, honestly, of what it means to have somebody who you trust telling you what’s important in the day’s news. news And so I feel needed – but I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different than I ever did before. [WG]: Respond to this – because this is something I think, and I may be wrong about it – but all of the things that you do well, you’ve still been doing. I have seen you sometimes become like an investigative reporter – and it’s very helpful. I don’t know whether you’re aware of that or not. [RM]: I have way too much respect for investigative reporters to put myself in their category. And it’s interesting. I think I’ve received more credit for that than I deserve from a number of people. There have been some stories that we’ve broken, where somebody’s leaked something to us or we’ve obtained information that other people didn’t have. I definitely work sources every day and reporting is part of what we do. But most of what I do that I think has excited people in sort of that direction has been taking other people’s journalistic work and connecting it. Remembering stuff that applies to the same scenario; remembering what that person was also mentioned in conjunction with; tying, for example, Rex Tillerson’s former life and his and his deal-making past at Exxon with the Russia investigation and with his role as Secretary of State. That’s not investigative, per se; it’s expository. And maybe sometimes there’s a thin line between those things. But I’m no Sherlock Holmes; I’m no Michael Isikoff out digging this stuff up from between the cracks. But I do think that I’ve always seen myself as kind of an explainer and there’s a lot of complicated stuff out there that needs explaining every day. So that’s what we do. [WG]: When you go on the air, what do you want to happen? What do you want those who listen to you and see you – what do you want to happen in them? [RM]: I want to try to focus people’s attention on stories that are more important rather than less important; that are more substantive and less manufactured distraction; that are more meaningful and less diverting. I think that’s… Like everybody who works in this business, everybody who gets as a blessing to control an hour of TV, has to decide what they’re going to cover every day, what they’re not going to cover, and what explanatory device and energy they’re going to bring to it. And I’m trying to sort of… It’s a little bit weird to say it, but I feel like the negative space of my show has become really important. Like, I’m not going to talk about misstatements in the briefing room. I’m not going to talk about outrageous provocations from the president on social media. I’m not going to play media wars, where I get into fights with other people who do this type of media work but from a different angle. Like, I don’t… There’s plenty of places to do all that. Instead, I think this is what’s important in terms of what we learned from the last 24 hours of a news cycle. That focusing role, I think, is the thing I care the most about right now when I get on the air. And that’s the hardest to do, because it requires the most original thought. [WG]: Okay, that’s where you are. I’m curious as to how you see the nation. Did the nation fundamentally change after this election? [RM]: I think our politics changed a little bit. I mean, the Republican Party got a leader that doesn’t make sense in light of its past and its professed ideals. So they have had to adjust themselves as a party. People who don’t like the new president or don’t like the direction that he represents for the country have discovered a new civic involvement, civic awareness, civic engagement that is as profound – is potentially as profound – a change in the public as Trump is a change to our politics. And that is a very big, powerful force. That’s been really interesting to cover – and that was another one of these things where it didn’t help to just sort of watch what the Beltway thought was important, because they were missing what was going on in, like, Idaho town halls that… You know, red state America. When Indivisible Ozarks formed and all of a sudden Tom Cotton was having to answer questions in unexpected ways about Donald Trump’s tax returns or Russia or whatever it was… It’s sort of a, you know, take the blinders off-eyes wide open moment, because a lot of unexpected stuff is happening. And it’s not always coming from the expected places. [WG]: Has partisanship on steroids become a detriment to good government? [RM]: Yeah, but that’s always been true. I think… You know, Welton, I’ve focused a lot on the Russia story – on the Russia attack on our election, and the question and the investigation into whether or not that Trump campaign was part of it; whether they were in on it and therefore the presidency is the product of a foreign intelligence operation. And I’ve focused a lot on that – some people have given me grief for focusing on that too much – but that, to me, is a different kind of scandal. And it’s a different kind of political problem when it comes to partisanship because we expect partisanship to gum up the works on all sorts of different kinds of policy disputes and ethics matters and even on questions of war and peace, to a certain degree. But we do not expect partisanship to gum up the works when it comes to the idea of a foreign attack on our country. And I don’t think there are very many elected officials in the country – I don’t think there are many hardcore partisans in the country – who will pick party over country if it comes to the worst case scenario in these revelations about the campaign. If it turns out that… If the worst case scenario proves out, I have faith that partisanship will crumble in the face of that national security emergency. Now, I may be proven wrong; but to me that is going to be a test of whether we are dealing with a more virulent form of – more virulent and evil – form of partisanship than we’ve ever dealt with when dealing with other normal scandals and policy disputes. [WG]: Has your attentiveness to the Russian stories – and all of the characters that have been players in that – has that caused you to miss any other critical issues? [RM]: Well, there’s an opportunity cost to everything – every time you cover one thing it means you can’t spend that time covering something else. But I don’t feel like there’s stuff I want to be covering that I don’t have time to cover. I mean, I’m blessed. I have the best job on earth. I get paid to talk on TV about what I want to without editorial interference from anybody, five nights a week, 50 weeks a year. And so my editorial independence is something that I prize and I don’t have regrets about what we’ve chosen to focus on. I also think, you know, once you decide you’re not going to cover the White House’s statements – that frees up a lot of airtime! I mean, that was a weird decision. I remember the first White House briefing of the new administration, watching the whole thing and being like, “Oh my God!” Like, the White House briefing room has never been used like this before. And then to suddenly come to the realization that… I mean, after you cover the initial story that the president is saying things that are not true; the White House spokesman is saying stuff that is not true; the White House is putting out written statements that are not true; the White House is making available for live interview people who work at senior levels in the White House who will then, in live interviews, say things that are not true; they will not correct things when they’re confronted about the fact that they are not true… Like, that was a big sort of what this administration is going to be like initial story. But at some point, that can’t be the story of every day. You just have to absorb that information – all right, they’re not telling the truth – and then you have to use that information. And once somebody has proven to you that they are not telling the truth – that they lie regularly and don’t feel bad about it, even when they’re caught – that is freeing! Because that means you are excused from ever having to listen to that person ever again in terms of trying to get factual information. So, so much of the reporting model of how news is collected in this country – network news, cable news, all of it; print media, everything – is about getting factual information from public officials. And you can still do that from anonymous career public servants who can’t give you their name because they’ll be fired for speaking out, but you can’t get factual information from named officials of the Trump administration. You really can’t. And so – don’t! Don’t try. And that that frees up… Once you stop covering what they say and just start covering what they do, you have more time to get to the good stuff. [WG]: I want to talk about a word that I don’t associate with you at all – just the opposite – and that’s this word “fake.” “Fake news” – I never would associate that with you, but I would like for you to talk for a minute or so about how fake news, that whole thing, is affecting the way people deal with media; and I’d also like you to talk about, with our listeners, how can we know what’s fake and what’s authentic? [RM]: I feel like that phrase is more an epithet than a label. There’s nothing intrinsic about a particular piece of reporting – a particular piece of real reporting – that tells you whether or not it’s going to be called “fake news.” You know, nobody in the real news media who’s writing factual information is earning that moniker. It’s just thrown as an epithet by the supporters of the administration, and sometimes by the President himself, as a way to discount and insult news they don’t like. I mean, it operates on a couple of levels. All presidents hate the media. Some of them do it with more vigor than others – I mean, Barack Obama used to frequently talk about how bad cable news was and how he never watched it; it was terrible for America. And he would lump MSNBC in with Fox News like we were all equally evil. Okay. Thanks Mr. President, cheers. I didn’t appreciate that either. He never called the press the enemy of the state, nor did he berate and insult individual news outlets for sport among his supporters. So it’s operating at a couple different levels. I think this is their particular way of waging war on the press. But the other part of it is the Russia story. I mean, the way that Russia attacked our election was twofold: they had what appears to have been a covert action by mostly military intelligence sources to hack information out of the US political system – specifically mostly out of the Democratic Party, a little bit out of Clinton campaign – and then they turned that information around, released it in a way that was sort of weaponized to make the most damage in our system. The other thing they did was they used Russian state-run media outlets and also social media to invent false stories or to circulate partially true, mostly false stories in ways that were most damaging to the Clinton campaign and would help the Trump folks the most. They really did make stuff up. There really was fake news – stuff that did not come from a news background at all. It was created wholesale to have a political effect in this foreign intelligence operation. That really did happen in the campaign. By essentially turning that around, saying “I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say sticks to…” they’re trying to neutralize that critique of how Russia attacked the election. And that is something I think we can’t really let them get away with. [WG]: Before you ever go on the air, when you’re dealing with a story, how do you decide whether this is authentic or questionable? [RM]: The same way we’ve always done it. I mean, I was talking earlier about how I have editorial independence – I get to talk about what I want. My deal with MSNBC from the beginning has always been: they will not tell me what to cover, what not to cover, or how to cover anything that I cover. But I also agree that I will abide by NBC news rules and standards in terms of what we put on the air, and that has all sorts of very specific logic in terms of, you know, things needing to be double sourced; there needing to be transparency about the sourcing of things – when we are working from other people’s reporting that has not been independently corroborated by NBC News we cite the named source of the reporting. We state overtly if we’ve got any concerns or even things of interest to note about the sourcing of that material. I mean, the solution on this – it’s like free speech – the solution is more of it! Be transparent. Say where this news came from. Say what the origin of it was. And when you’ve done that, it means that other people can reproduce your work – or at least decide for themselves whether or not that sourcing seems true to them. I think there’s more and more pressure because of this epithet – this “fake news” epithet being thrown around – there’s more and more pressure for people to identify sources by name or position, or the means by which they would have access to this information that they are leaking about. And that’s good. I mean, anonymous sources is not a healthy thing, so I just feel like people need to get really aggressive in terms of explaining what makes real news, real news. [WG]: What should we be most interested in seeing what happens now what what what are you looking at what should our listeners be looking at in the days immediately ahead I think there are two things that I am sort of most on the edge of my seat about both as a citizen and as a person who is interested in the news one of them is will there be consequences will we return to political norms into what we previously understood as the sort of rules of the game when it comes to base corruption so when you’ve got somebody working as a regulatory advisor to the White House who is making recommendations to change regulations that will affect his own investments that’s not okay when you’ve got people who are working on behalf of the White House bringing in CEOs to the White House for meetings that will affect the value of those companies it turns out that official owned stock in those companies when you’ve got somebody who’s got a position of power in the legislature overseeing in Tom prices case overseeing health care companies and he’s buying and selling stock in health care companies and then writing and co-sponsoring legislation that affects the price of those companies he holds stock in like there’s really base level corruption stuff even beyond the issues of the conflict of with the family the Trump family and him bringing his children into high government posts I am as a citizen and as a news watcher very interested to see whether or not there will be accountability for base level corruption because if not if our if we’re just throwing our mores out the window on that we’re just going to become like it’s Becca Stan on this stuff that’s a that’s something that’s very very hard to recover from once you let that stuff slide you set precedent that’s bad the other thing is the investigations into the Russia thing we know a lot about what Russia did the piece of it that we don’t know is whether or not the campaign that won the election was helping and that is going to be an existential question when it finally gets answer be a viewer for a moment and you’re watching television what makes you want to scream at the television set what makes you angry uh what what what is it you’re feeling that’s churning that and where does that come from on what you’re seeing on television mostly well you know me well enough to know that if I am watching television it’s probably football yeah it’s probably New England yeah I know no everybody’s screaming at the radio New England I know I know I try not to absorb too much I tried out to absorb too much of content that is similar to what I create because in part I don’t want to inadvertently steal from people so I don’t watch other people who do the kind of work that I do at least I don’t watch them very much because I don’t want to accidentally eight to what other people are doing so sorry if I microphone there that’s part of it in terms of the my frustrations with the way the news is being covered right now I do get frustrated when people treat the administration even the President himself as if he can be trusted to provide you factual information when the White House rebuts an otherwise well reported story and insist that something isn’t true that is an interesting fact about the White House that they are insisting that it’s not true but that doesn’t actually count as a factual confirmation or or denial so and that that to me is I want there to be I think they have I think this White House has earned healthy skepticism when it comes to their factual assertions and it frustrates me when when when reporters are anchors even people consuming the news treat them as if they have credibility what kind of emotions or thoughts do you have that you can’t say on national terms that I would still be willing to say this microphone nice try the best I can exactly please tell me no telus I mean I’m in a gay I’m in and I really feel like we were made for this we were made for this and when you have a an organism system body of some kind that is shocked you don’t just study the shock you study the organism you study the body you study the system to see how it responds to that shock tells you a lot about the health of that system and its resilience to see how it copes and I think the way that we are coping as a country we’re learning a lot about the resilience of our Republic and there’s you know multiple articles in the in Constitution and I’m very very proud to be part of the press corps in this country right now given a very very good work that has happened thus far in terms of ferreting out the truth about this administration that they don’t want none and you know we’re going to have to be strong and nimble and resilient and we need to take care of ourselves and we’re at a time when we’re confronted by a very very very radical change at the top and if we have stuff that we want to stand up for and defend we’re going to have to be good at it and I I relished the challenge and I feel like well alright now we know what the fight of our lives is maybe we didn’t know before but now we know the next question I want to ask you if I didn’t ask it you knowing me as you do you’d say what in the world is wrong with you but I want to ask you about the Johnson amendment and what the president is saying about that I know you’re one of the few people I know that cares as much about religious freedom as people at the Interfaith Alliance care and that that all of us care we went through this in DC a few years ago a really harsh battle on this same thing and Interfaith Alliance was right at the front of it and we that time were successful in getting it put away now this time the president seems to think that is the gift he owes the Religious Right despite the fact that it will hurt religion far more than it would ever help it have you ever heard anybody make a succinctly offense of doing what the president wants to do well his argument is that it’s a it’s a free speech argument right sort of he’s saying unless people can endorse from the pulpit and funnel money to political candidates they’re being oppressed I can write job they can do that all they have to do is give up their tax exemption tackling section and he would just he has described that and the people who are egging him on about this stuff would describe that as a as an assault on free speech I mean you can’t really describe it as an assault on religious liberty right although they would they’ve talked about I’m rubber you’re glue yes absolutely turning it turning it up of that inside out I mean the thing for me the thing that I don’t know how they answer is what we can all imagine about how this would work in practice right if a congregation because if congregations of any kind anywhere in the country become a place that corporations or rich people or regular Americans can in a tax-free way funnel money through the institutions without paying taxes on them to in turn have make political donations I mean that that will be what churches are that will be what religion is for in this country and the only ship it will reshape the landscape of religion in America yes totally yes and it will divide congregations across the board and what church means what the mosque means what the temple means will change totally as if people don’t self-segregate enough on political lines in their congregations you know I mean you talk about we’d essentially have I mean you have literally Republican temples and democratic temples and and and the pressure I mean imagine that for for the family deciding where it’s comfortable to worship if your money is part of how you make it clear to your congregation that you are worthy and that money is used for political purposes and that becomes part of your decision about where you mean yeah absolutely absolutely it’s um it’s a it’s just about if you care about the religious if you care about the religious community and writ large it’s hard to believe that you would do this to them that’s what scares me because I don’t think our president understands that no and there’s a good question as to whether or not anybody who does understand that can get his ear well I mean it’s true you start putting it’s an I mean you start putting you’re unqualified children who have experience in real estate and jewelry marketing into senior adviser positions you know people who run right wing websites and like when those when that becomes the quality of people that you surround yourself with when you run yourself as a ruling family rather than as somebody who’s got you know rationalizing the reasonable argument on either side of an issue and bringing them to your attention so that you can make informed decisions on behalf of the country like there’s a reason that the White House staff is the White House is basically designed to be a machine that produces excellent information for the purposes of presidential decision-making when you undo that and instead just make it a not to pick on whose back is bad no like it is negative the end style you know ruling family sort of kleptocracy organized you know a place where people demonstrate their loyalty if not their family ties there’s a cost to that which is do you hear from people who you need to hear from before making decisions that can really hurt the country and this is one of those examples who’s going to who can get close to him on this issue who is smart on this issue and understands the potentially catastrophic consequence of this thing that sounds good when you run it on a bumper sticker Rachel where are we going I mean what’s going to happen with all of this chaos that we find in in the White House the conflict that we find in the nation where we go pretty I am this the kind I’d ask you where do I ask you for an excellently jointer you got me there you did in fact I don’t know I mean I know what I’m doing I’m interested in what the country is doing I am watching like a hawk in terms of what the new administration is doing I don’t feel like I have well-informed expectations as to where we’re going to go as a you know as a Congress for example in terms of the regulatory agencies just because there’s no previous experience like this that we can extrapolate from in our country we are in new territory but I feel like I know I know what America is about I know what the American Dream is I know what American patriotism is like I know what civic engagement looks like I know what political power looks like that’s why something so interested to see if there’s going to be accountability for law breaking you know if there’s going to be I want it I know the way things work in this country I want to know if our political system is still going to work to correct things when they go wrong and that’s success right where’s your hope come from um I’ve inspired right now I mean I can tell ya you know I don’t feel uh I don’t I don’t feel enervated I really don’t I you know I people say like oh who you who do you think is a big deal in terms of the opposition to Trump like who’s the next political leader who ought to run in 2020 I have no idea even if you just look at electoral politics the Democratic Party right now is no longer the Democratic Party of the Obama era it’s the Democratic Party of the Trump era which calls for a very different kind of smarts and leadership skill and strategy and and I don’t know who’s going to be the captain of that team I don’t know who’s going to emerge as the natural leader already then the household names in terms of opposition to the Trump administration and the worst aspects of what they’re trying to do already the household names of people who we did not talk about in your average household six months ago I mean who knew who Sally Yates was who knew who you and she’s not a partisan player but she became this incredibly important person in terms of correction to what was going on in Washington Adam Schiff is now one of the highest profile Democrats in the country because he’s got this Intelligence role and because he’s behaving in a way that is I think both in confidence-inspiring but also upstanding and a lot of people’s eyes you know I don’t I think you know we were all fascinated in democratic politics by Bernie versus Hillary I’m no longer all that interested in Bernie visibility and at some point you know different fights call for different fighters and we’re in a profound period of change and it’s bringing out the best in a lot of people I’m glad you see that I got to remember I live in Louisiana yeah yeah but I see a lot of people who say to me I don’t have any hope I don’t know where we’re going but I think it’s bad I’ve had no telling how many people say to me I don’t even watch the news anymore yeah I can’t stand to watch the news it just depresses me some people say I’m so cynical that I can’t think straight about what the country’s doing and what’s going on and I have to say that I am where I was with you when I told you that day that I’m scared I’m worried about our country because the leadership doesn’t seem to have the orientation to the Constitution that is essential for our nation and I just I see a lot of blurry places that I wish were a little more clear about what’s going on there I’m saying all that to say I want you to tell me and I want our listeners to over here what you say to me how should we get through this period of time do not allow yourself the luxury of tuning out I mean do what you need to do to take care of yourself this is a really good time to take care of yourself and your family and your loved ones you know figure out who needs help watch out for people in terms of who seems to be sliding I think people are having experiencing a lot of personal stress and ennui and mental health issues and I mean if that’s that’s real and especially as it sort of wears on into not just days but weeks and months and as we’re going to get into years of this it people are going to people who are very profoundly worried and have anxiety about it that takes a physical toll on you and we’re going to have to watch out for that and take care of each other but while doing that don’t check out this is not a time to stop paying attention in the future if you stop paying attention right now you will regret it this is a time to you may not want to you know watch every bit of it you may not want to watch the parts of it that are the most hard for you to take as an individual whatever they are but parts of it that you are going to watch you know if it’s the EPA pay attention every day to the EPA if it is your if your local member of Congress is pushing on something where you want to push them or if they don’t seem possible and they are diametrically opposed where you think they ought to be on something figure out ways to make them Pusha belong it if you you know don’t have if you’ve got a if you’re Republican you’ve got a Republican Party in your district that does not reflect your republican values change your local Republican Party if you’re a Democrat and your Democratic Party locally doesn’t reflect your values or it’s weak or absent change that we’re can work it this is time to do it you never thought of yourself as a political activist well you are now I think there’s there’s a call to citizenship right now to earnest citizenship that I’m ins I’m inspired to see people responding to it I’m inspired to see people say like I never I never saw myself this way before but I want to be able to tell my kids I did something right at this time let’s do it and I have said this to you before it in private and I want to say it on the air there are a lot of people count on you and there are a lot of people who find hope just in hearing you show up every night really that’s true and a close friend said to me and you always doing this interview today that interview will be good for the radio show but it will also be good for the nation and I thank you oh thank you I I I feel that because you are saying it I also I feel like I am you know I meet people on the subway I meet people on the street I meet people in Massachusetts when I go home and I am people look me in the eye and tell me not exactly that but have told me that I’m helping my presence and doing this job is helping them hold on to things right now and I part of me wants to say that’s a gossamer thread you know like hold on to something stronger but I am also trying to be humble about it and hear it and to be worthy of that of that faith thank you for saying it there’s no better better to call us to a renewed kind of responsible citizenship then write you a matter oh thank you so much thanks Mike okay thank you you

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