The secret to Rachel Maddow's ratings success

It's all about Princeton professor star power. Go Tigers!

Published October 21, 2008 8:10PM (EDT)

The New York Times exclaims today over the huge success of the 6-week-old "Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC -- she has more than doubled the ratings of the previous 9 p.m. program -- but doesn't dig deep and tell us why the 35-year-old former AIDS activist is a knockout hit. If we were to judge by the Times article alone, we would be left to think that Maddow was just another partisan news host lucky enough to capitalize on the success of Keith Olbermann's "Countdown."

I have an alternative theory. Maddow has hitched her train to the amazing television star power of Princeton University professors, and there's simply no stopping her now.

I've already mentioned Maddow's habit of bringing Paul Krugman onto her show to attempt to translate the latest in geeky TED-spread economist wonkery to her adoring fans. But I did not realize until last night that Maddow has a full-on Princeton faculty fetish!

Like everyone else commenting on the election over the past week, Maddow devoted some time on Monday night to discussing whether we should be taking seriously the so-called Bradley effect -- the idea that white voters may be telling pollsters that they'll vote for a black candidate, and then change their mind in the secrecy of the polling booth.

But unlike her time-slot competitors, Fox's Hannity & Colmes and CNN's Larry King, Maddow gave ample live screen time to someone who actually knows something about the subject, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American Studies at Princeton University. The two courses Harris-Lacewell is teaching this year: "The Politics of American Racial Health Disparities" and "Black Women's Political Activism."

There is much to be dismayed about in the world today. But when featuring Nobel Prize-winning economists and black female academics who specialize in race and politics proves to be a ratings winner on cable television, well, then all is not lost.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works Paul Krugman Rachel Maddow