Rachel Maddow's basically running MSNBC now

There is one such adult, actually, and her name is Rachel Maddow. Though she provides the network’s ideological vision — MSNBC president Phil Griffin has called her “our quarterback” — she’s neither an executive nor a manager. Griffin, who wears both hats, is, from all appearances, letting the inmates run the asylum. Meanwhile, the network that Griffin has labeled “the place for progressives” is experiencing a free fall in its ratings, which are down 29 percent from 2012. A decline was expected after a presidential-election year, but MSNBC’s competitors did not suffer as acutely. Fox News was down only 5 percent in total viewers (it suffered far more in the coveted 25–54 demographic, where the network has persistently struggled); CNN’s numbers, under the stewardship of newly installed president Jeff Zucker, remained flat…

“I liked Rachel because she is totally sincere, she is what she seems to be, she’s smart, she loves to debate for its own sake,” says Tucker Carlson, a former MSNBC host. After watching a tape her agent sent along, Carlson (who is also co-founder of the Daily Caller) championed Maddow in the face of Griffin’s initial objections. She was, at the time, a radio host at the now-defunct Air America network. “I always got along with Rachel. She’s a hard worker, she’s not a bullshitter,” he says. Maddow appeared regularly on Carlson’s show and began substituting for former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Then she got her own show in the summer of 2008, when Griffin decided to make the network, which had once employed conservatives such as Carlson, Pat Buchanan, and Michael Savage, a refuge for liberals and an answer to Fox News. It was business calculation, not an ideological move.

Maddow, by contrast, is motivated by ideology. “If you debate for a living, you’re going to lose sometimes. Sometimes your preconceptions are wrong — that has never happened to her one time,” says a former colleague. “She is actually not that interested in reality; she is the most ideological person I’ve ever met. That is not somebody you want in charge of your programming, because she might put on a great show, but she cannot make rational decisions — her agenda is changing America. . . . She really thinks she is changing America for the better. You can’t have somebody like that in charge of your programming.”