Brits Identify "Top US News Anchor"

In what should have been a throw-away puff piece in the Guardian, Hadley Freeman inadvertently stirs up a pair of minor tempests for teapots. (And for once it’s a story from across the pond that has nothing to do with the royal wedding.) The first issue pops up in the article tag line as well as the lede graph.

Rachel Maddow: ‘I’m definitely not an autocutie’

The top US news anchor on why she prefers jokes to anger and why she is proud to be gay

It’s 10.05pm on a rainy Tuesday night in the MSNBC studio in the now famous New York address, 30 Rock, and Rachel Maddow – one of the highest profile news anchors in America and certainly one of the most popular with liberal viewers – has just finished another edition of her nightly eponymous prime-time show.

Really? That comment raised more than a few eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic to be sure. Not to take anything away from Maddow or her fans, but if I recall correctly, she wasn’t even the highest rated anchor at MSNBC until Olberman left. That’s not to say that she and her network haven’t been doing fairly well in the ratings war. But as of the latest count, MSNBC came in second over the whole day to Fox, 1.002 million to 426K, a better than 2:1 margin. In her own time slot, Maddow comes on a bit stronger, placing second with 959K to Hannity’s 1.4 million. And those numbers don’t even fold in the network news offerings.

So how does the Guardian arrive at this conclusion? By comparing her to her CNN counterpart.

What it translates into is ratings. In the first quarter of this year, Maddow’s ratings were 26% higher than CNN’s talkshow in the same timeslot (1,065,000 to 848,000), which, incidentally, is hosted by Piers Morgan.

That’s curiously different than the TV By the Numbers tally, which shows Morgan near the bottom of the field, losing out not only to her and Hannity, but trailing “The Apprentice” on CNBC and barely edging out Dr. Drew on CNN Headline News.

The other portion of the article causing a stir was this strangely out of place comment regarding sexual orientation.

Maddow is one of the very few gay news anchors in America – well, one of the very few openly gay news anchors. Does she feel frustration towards an equally well-known news presenter who is widely assumed to be gay but has never come out? For the first time, Maddow pauses: “I’m sure other people in the business have considered reasons why they’re doing what they’re doing, but I do think that if you’re gay you have a responsibility to come out,” she says carefully.

Well that immediately set tongues to wagging, with speculation that she was talking about CNN’s Anderson Cooper. (The number two guess was apparently Shepard Smith at Fox.) But in Maddow’s defense, it should be made clear that she never mentions Cooper (or anyone else) by name, as she points out at her own blog.

Media-about-media today notwithstanding, I did not in my interview with The Guardian say anything about or to Mr. Cooper, nor would I. Although criticism of Mr. Cooper was intimated by The Guardian and picked up everywhere — I did not make that criticism in the interview, nor did I imply it, nor is it what I believe.

For the record, I do not know, nor do I care if Anderson Cooper is gay. I take Maddow at her word that she is, but again… I really don’t care. I think the more important point is that none of them are in this business for the purpose of “being gay” or promoting anything to do specifically with gays. Your job is to deliver the news. (And, in the case of these prime time shows, opinions as well.) Also to attract enough of an audience to make your continued appearance profitable to your employers. We have enough identity warfare in politics, thank you. We don’t need it in the news room as well.