Call it serendipitous timing. The host of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show – Rachel Maddow herself – makes her debut at this year's SXSW Interactive just days after the paperback release of her 2012 bestseller, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. It's not often the Festival's frenetic schedule coincides nicely with the book release and cross-country tour of one of the busiest women in news, but Interactive Director Hugh Forrest has a simple explanation: "All the stars aligned in the correct way." Here are some excerpts from our email exchange with Maddow.
Austin Chronicle: This year will mark a first for you as a featured speaker at the Festival – will it also be your first time at SXSW?
Rachel Maddow: I have never been to SXSW before, but it's one of those things that I half-plan to go to every single freaking year, even though I never make it. My partner Susan [Mikula] has been a bunch of times, but I never have. It's part of the reason I was so excited when they asked if I could do it.
AC: As a journalist, you have the good fortune of being able to reach millions of people through your news show, your blog, and Twitter. I'm curious to know how widely your audience demographic varies with each of these avenues.
RM: I don't follow the demographics religiously, but my sense is that my show trends a little younger than the usual cable-news-watching audience. (But take that with a grain of salt: The cable-news-watching [audience] is a lot older than the population in general.) On Twitter and Facebook and the blog, we trend younger still – I think that's just because of who spends their day using those tools. We try to use our online presence not to just broadcast in a different medium, but to get feedback and information for the show. A bunch of our best and most original story ideas started with tips from blog commenters.
AC: What are the downsides of social media, in your view?
RM: It sucks you in! Because it's such a democratic medium, because everyone has access to everyone else's first drafts and raw responses along with the more polished work, the process of reading and sifting blurs the lines between work and distraction. I'm not exactly embarrassed if my executive producer comes in my office and sees that I'm reading my Twitter timeline – after all, we use Twitter a lot for work. But if he knew that what I was really using it for was finding every available GIF of that failed fake field goal attempt ...
AC: In your segment on [CIA director nominee] John Brennan's confirmation hearing, you raised several good arguments for reforming policies on the use of drones for targeted killing and the overall operations and oversight of the CIA. Are you at all optimistic that we'll see any headway in that direction under President Obama?
RM: I think President Obama mentioning increased "transparency" on the issue of counter-terrorism in his State of the Union address was a positive sign. But ultimately, we're waiting on the answers to two questions: Congress passed an authorization for the use of military force right after 9/11 to go after the people who attacked us; does that ever expire? And how long is the CIA going to be treated like a branch of the military? Operationally, the military can do everything that the CIA does now – but we know a hell of a lot more about how the military is overseen by accountable civilians. I'm not against war, but I'm against war that never ends. And I'm not against our country using lethal force against its enemies, but I'm against our government doing anything that isn't ultimately democratically accountable.
AC: During a recent trip to Texas, Gloria Steinem told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Gov. Rick Perry "will go down in history as ... a dictatorial, unacceptable American." She was specifically referring to the governor's war on Planned Parenthood and his evisceration of Texas' women's health care program. What words would you use to describe Rick Perry's legacy?
RM: I want the chance to interview him before I try to put any words on his legacy – can you hook me up?
A Conversation With MSNBC's Rachel Maddow
Sunday, March 10, 12:30pm
ACC, Exhibit Hall 5
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