Rachel Maddow on How She Doubled Viewership Under Trump: ‘I Stopped Covering the Twitter Feed’

“We started covering only what they do rather than what they say,” MSNBC host tells TheWrap of recent ratings surge


MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” has been on a roll, posting her best ratings month ever in February and nearly doubling her viewership. Her secret is simple. Maddow said she covers President Donald Trump’s White House in a very old-fashioned Hollywood way.

“We developed sort of an informal, internal mantra… which is that we basically cover them as if they are a silent movie,” Maddow told TheWrap. “I stopped covering the Twitter feed and we started covering only what they do rather than what they say.”

It’s working. In February, Maddow racked up MSNBC’s largest total viewer audience ever in the 9 p.m. ET timeslot and the best performance among the key news demo of adults age 25-54 since November 2012.

After the February victory, Maddow has now beaten CNN’s regularly scheduled programing for 45 straight months. While regularly holding Trump’s feet to the fire, she has gained 99 percent in total viewers compared to February 2016. And while cable news has been consistently up in the last year, CNN gained 70 percent and Fox News increased 31 percent over the same time period.

“It is an unusual thing that the White House and its chief spokespeople have been called out saying stuff that’s not true over and over and over again,” she said. “It’s the petty stuff but it’s also important stuff that they’ve not told the truth about.”

When a Trump surrogate lies, it has consequences for the MSNBC host. “We no longer go to that person for factual information,” Maddow explained. That realization helped Maddow come up with her recent formula that has resulted in ratings success.

“I really feel like it was helpful to me, in terms of trying to come up with what to talk about every day, and serving up information for our audience that is substantive and not manipulated by people at the White House,” Maddow said. “It was helpful for us to just stop paying attention to what they were saying.”

MSNBC colleague Mika Brzezinski recently said she doesn’t want Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway to appear on her show, citing her as “not credible anymore.”

Maddow said Conway is “a nice person” to whom she enjoys talking. She added she admires Conway’s willingness to engage in “extended difficult conversations.” However, Maddow said talking to Conway is “essentially just talking to a pro-Trump political operative” as opposed to a White House official representing the government’s views.

Despite being one of the most-watched people in media, Maddow typically attracts fewer viewers than Fox News in the 9 p.m. ET timeslot. You can make a strong case that the two don’t exactly have the same target audience, but Maddow respects what the other side is doing.

“It is my sense, and this even goes back to my days in talk radio, part of the way that conservative media has branded itself to its audience is by telling it’s audience, ‘You can’t trust anybody else,’” Maddow said. “We all sort of thought that was clever branding when Rush Limbaugh started doing that in talk radio back in the old days. It has been taken to a high art at Fox.”

Maddow explained that people seeking right-leaning opinion content are “not the majority of the country but a huge, consolidated chunk of the universe of people who are watching cable TV at any one time.”

Maddow’s bet is that under President Trump a consolidated chunk of the universe will tune in to her, too.