Once a shining beacon of hope for Russiagate true believers, it looks like Rachel Maddow has left her best days behind her; MSNBC’s conspiracy queen has seen her show plummet to fifth place in cable news ratings. What happened?
You rise fast and fall hard in the fickle world of television. Just last April, Maddow overtook Fox News’ Sean Hannity to claim the title of most-watched host across cable news. She had become a reliable source for Russigate aficionados to get their daily dose of crazy.
Sadly for Maddow, the latest data released by Nielsen shows her show in fifth place with a total audience of 2.4877 million viewers for July – behind Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and The Five (all Fox News shows).
For context, in January this year, Maddow still boasted an audience of nearly 3.3 million, which means she shed around 800,000 viewers in just six months. Maddow was also in fifth place among viewers in the 25-54 age range – the group most-favored by advertisers.
Once dubbed “the smartest person on TV” by Forbes (really), this is certainly not the big payoff Maddow was expecting, having dedicated three years of her career to breathlessly covering every twist and turn in the anticlimactic Trump-Russia “collusion” drama.
There’s no question that Maddow lost a major component of what had made her show so popular when former special counsel Robert Mueller showed up in March having found no evidence of conspiracy or collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.
As former MSNBC host Krystal Ball noted last week in candid criticism of her former network colleague, Maddow had “built segment after segment, show after show, on building anticipation for a big reveal” that never materialized. Indeed, Maddow became something of an expert at promising her audience bombshells that never amounted to anything.
Recall the dramatic teaser tweet she sent out in March 2017 one hour before her show, claiming: “We’ve got Trump tax returns. (Seriously).” When the story turned out to be a big nothingburger (all she had was one boring form which revealed nothing particularly interesting), Maddow lashed out at her own viewers, saying people had “leapt” to conclusions.
Ball also accused Maddow of doing damage to the left, having become “swept up in the ratings bubble” that was being sustained by “feverish Russian conspiracy theories.”
It’s true. Seemingly convinced that the Russiagate story would end with Donald Trump being dragged from the White House in a dressing gown with shackles around his feet, Maddow had abandoned major issues that are important to the American left and trafficked in mental conspiracies and outright fear-mongering instead.
How about that time she suggested that Russia might kill the power in Fargo during a polar vortex and let everyone freeze to death? Or the time she spent three whole minutes dramatically building up to ‘reveal’ that Russia and North Korea share a border – followed by 15 more minutes trying to prove that Vladimir Putin had orchestrated and secretly controlled the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un.
A study of her coverage by the Intercept last year showed that 53 percent of Maddow’s segments focused only on Russia over a six-week period between February and March.
Of course, there were no slaps on the wrist for Maddow at MSNBC HQ for getting stories drastically wrong or failing to deliver on her promises of Trump-destroying bombshells. In fact, it seemed the more dramatic and off-the-wall her coverage became, the more she was celebrated for it. This staggering fall from ratings grace can be her comeuppance.
Boo hoo, Rachel. If you need to cry, you could always use the piles of money you made from lies as tissues.
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others.