Anthony Weiner is headed to prison, and Rachel Maddow owes her viewers an apology. Maddow, the iconic host of her self-titled MSNBC show, has made a name for herself over the past decade as a kind of white-knuckle television warrior, one of the original “destroyers” that progressives are always going on and on about.
There is something oddly generic about her, a kind of capital-L liberal sensibility, a charmingly forgettable political ethic: she’s like that guy who shows up to every student protest on campus, the fellow you see almost every day for four years but whose name you never actually know.
Maddow has jumped aboard the liberal conspiracy bandwagon over the past nine months, becoming a premier peddler of dark and shadowy theories related to President Trump’s alleged connections to Russia. Maddow has, predictably, a bit of a hobby horse about Trump: back in March she dredged up about 4.1 million viewers’ worth of frenzy over Trump’s tax returns, which turned out to be…two pages from Trump’s 2005 1040, revealing a 24 percent tax rate on about $150 million in income. Neat stuff.
Yet well before the Era of Trump, Maddow was at times a dedicated hawker of conspiracy theories. In 2011, when Anthony Weiner’s career began to fall apart due to his sexting scandals, Maddow went on the offensive on his behalf, dedicating a bizarre and rambling six full minutes of her primetime cable news show to wild-eyed speculation about Weiner’s tweets. At the time Maddow called the scandal “the great big national freakout of early summer 2011,” and presented her viewers several theories as to “how it could have happened” that Weiner was, in his own words, “hacked.”
We know now, of course, that the allegations were true, and that Weiner had been sending sexual pictures to women for years at that point. Yet even at that time, it seemed fairly obvious to any experienced political observer that Weiner had done what Andrew Breitbart said he had, and that the claim that he had been “hacked” was self-evidently bogus.
Never the matter: on her show, Maddow delved into a series of conspiracies with great detail, proposing, “a photo-shopping scheme elaborately played out on the Internet” (“one of our producers,” she added, “was able to replicate [the scheme] in less time than it takes to make a two-minute egg”).
She also put forth “a theory” proposed by “a number of other blogs” involving the metadata of the obscene picture Weiner tweeted, noting that the picture in question was from a different source than Weiner’s other Twitter photographs. Maddow also proposed that someone may have “generate[d] a program” that hacked into Weiner’s image transmission service.
Even after six years, there is still a febrile intensity to Maddow’s rambling, a clear and desperate desire to defend a member of the tribe from outside aggression. By itself, such political tribalism is understandable and unremarkable. Yet Maddow’s position—as a well-known television personality with a relatively enormous viewership—dictates that she not act on mere impulse. Something more measured and thoughtful is required of people in her position. Spreading tinfoil hat conspiracy theories to protect a Democrat from public retribution is unbecoming of television hosts, even those hired by MSNBC.
It turns out that Weiner’s pathology was even more perverted than previously imagined: earlier this year he admitted to sexting a 15-year-old girl, and this week federal authorities claimed he asked her to strip and watched her fondle herself over the Internet. Weiner’s saga is enraging, disappointing, and even heartbreaking in a pathetic kind of way.
Even more pathetic, however, is the desperate partisan television show host who turned to a bunch of goofy crackpot conspiracies in an attempt to shield the disgraced congressman from the professional and personal consequences he was so justly due. Although it has been more than half a decade, Maddow should apologize to her viewers for spreading bonkers paranoia due to her political vanities.