Last night, I grabbed Spencer Ackerman and walked over to MSNBC's public set here in Denver — not to stand around in the background hoisting signs about McCain or, like one lady, to shout about ethanol, but to talk to the one person on which he and I have nearly-identical intellectual crushes — Rachel Maddow. She reads Jezebel, people, for real! So her publicist let us hang out on the set, where we watched Maddow rip Pat Buchanan a new one for the brand of crazy he's obviously bringing in this particular picture and heard the crowd cheer every time she opened her mouth and then I got to talk to her about being herself, being An Issue, and what she actually likes to talk about (unsurprisingly, it's not herself). And Spencer and I both agreed that as pretty as she looks on television, she's actually probably closer to stunning in person — even though she doesn't think so.
Megan: I don't know if you read Jezebel... Rachel: Sure. Megan: ... but everyone is a really big fan of yours, so the opportunity to speak to you is really exciting! Rachel: That's so nice. I don't think of myself as existing in the world in a way that people can see me. But I can see Jezebel and you can see me, apparently. It's a strange dynamic. Megan: It is! So what has it been like, this furor since it was announced that you'd gotten your own show? Obviously, seeing the crowd reaction here every time you open your mouth, it seems pretty positive. Rachel: It is positive. I haven't been able to see any of our coverage, I've only been on it. So the thing that I'm worried about is that I don't know how much our voices carry over the sound of the crowd, and if we ought to be yelling in order to be heard and if we should stop talking when the crowd is yelling. So just as a physical matter I'm not sure what to do. And I also don't want to be rude to my colleagues here. I'm not running this show — I'm part of a four-person panel that is a tertiary thing. I am a very small cog in this machine, so I don't want to be a distraction. But, that said, I can't say that it's not nice that people are being so nice to me. It's very flattering. I don't know what to say but "Thank you," I just keep saying, "Thank you." Megan: Do you read your own press? Rachel: I read some of it. I actually haven't read really anything recently. I read a little bit of the response to finding out I was getting my own show. There was a strange thing that happened with The New Republic, they ran that piece and then Glen Greenwald at Salon having written that long rebuttal to it but I just thought that was like, whoa. That was a discussion of me as an issue rather than of me as an individual. And I found that fascinating academically. But I try not to read too much. It warps your sense of importance and your sense of self. I need to focus on what I think, so that I can stay original. Does that make sense? Megan: Yeah, absolutely. Do you have some idea what you might do with your new show that's going to premiere in about a week to be original? Rachel: [laughs] Week and a half! Week and a half! Two weeks from yesterday! I mean, the mission of the show is that at 8 pm there is "Countdown." And at 10 pm, there is "Countdown." At 9 pm, there is something in the middle that needs to hold that audience as much as it can. That's what the corporate mission is, and that's what the program I deal with was created, that's why they asked me to do it because they think that I'm the best person to do that. So, that's the mission. What's the strategy to get there? The consistent advice that I have received, and I've received it from — and I've received it from people in my personal life from whom I regularly take advice, I've received it from people who I don't know but who I respect in terms of what they've accomplished in media — across the board, the advice from everybody has been "Figure out a way to be yourself." And there's a big difference between TV and radio in the way that they are produced. Radio, it's me and one other person. The maximum size of me and my team is three people and two of them are part-time. I mean, it's a very solitary enterprise. And my reading, and my writing — my radio show is scripted — it's cone of silence, big time. A television show has a cast of thousands that are involved in producing it and therefore it is much more of a process. It is much easier to start off as me and end up losing it. It is much easier to start off as my show and end up with another approach. And so I want to find a way so it can be show. I don't really think that I can compete on the level of "TV Bot," you know, the normal, generic TV host. I'm not that pretty. I'm not that accessible, I'm not that... all of these other things. I'm on specific things, they like what I've got already, so we need to find a way to reproduce that on a show every day. And that's been my entire purpose, figuring out a way to make it to most me as possible. And that's the strategy. Spencer: As someone in whom the netroots and the blogosphere is very invested, someone that speaks our language, someone who tries specifically to bring our perspective out, do you think it will be hard? Do you think you'll be getting more scrutiny from MSNBC, from the corporate side, than a right-wing addition to the line-up would? Rachel: I feel like I could answer that in theory and academically, but my experience thus far is that MSNBC has not nudged me. At all. The only experience I've had is to say, "I'm not interested in talking about this topic and if you guys are going booking me for a long time to talk about that topic, I've gotta say I don't have much to say about blank topic, so, you might not want to book me." And they've been like, "Oh, c'mon, you want to talk about it," and I've said, "Nope, I don't want to talk about it," and that's it. That's been the extent of my editorial back-and-forth as a guest on MSNBC. They've never gone there with me, ever. And I have asked management, upon them offering me the show — and I have no idea how I would've responded if they answered the other way— but what I asked was two things. I asked "Are you looking for me to be different than I am? Talk about different things, or seem different that you've already seen?" Second question, "Do you want me to change the way I look?" I asked the questions because I was curious, but I literally have no idea what I would have said had the answer been anything other than "No, you're fine, we picked you because we like you." But the answer was, "No, you're fine, we picked you because we like you." Megan: Did you think they would ask you to grow your hair out, dye it blonde and get Botox or something? Rachel: I guess I was curious as to whether they secretly wanted that but felt they couldn't bring it up because I'd get mad. And who knows what it will eventually be like, and who knows from here on out. They're launching the show, and working on a very short time frame, but it's not been my experience so far. Megan: Something I wanted to ask, that you brought up a little earlier, is this idea of being seen as An Issue as opposed to a person. Obviously your personal life has come into play in some of the coverage, in terms of being the first lesbian to have a news show. How does it feel to have your personal life out there in a way that it wouldn't be if you were heterosexual or divorced or whatever. Rachel: Yeah, you know, there is definitely a fascination with the personal lives of people that are on television. I get that, it's a visual medium, that's how we connect to people. I have never been closeted, like, never — I came out when I was 17. I couldn't be closeted even if I wanted to. So I'm out, that's not an issue for me, it's not a decision for me, it's not something I've ever thought about my whole adult life. More than half my life, I've been out. I think it is something that of more interest to people that are thinking about me for the first time than it is for me in talking about it. I don't, this is going to sound crazy, I don't like talking about my personal life. I don't like talking about the media. These aren't my topics. I'm really interested in Afghanistan. That's what I want talk about. My radio show today — you know, I was here and then I ran across town to the Gates Center and was like "Okay, okay, okay, finally I get to talk about Iraq now! Ok!" I geek out on the news. Earlier: Rachel Maddow For President (Of Cable News, That Is)