Last night at the Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Awards Gala held in Prince George Ballroom, the Interfaith Alliance feted MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who spoke to us about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, the recent broadcast anchor firings, and what drink she likes to throw down the hatch. As VIP donors lay in wait for photo opps with the bespectacled news anchor, Maddow spoke about the origin of her involvement with the Interfaith Alliance. She met Welton Gaddy, the organization's current head, when they both had shows on the liberal talk radio network Air America. She described Gaddy an epistemological barometer for how to approach issues of politics and religion, especially treacherous waters during mid-term elections"
"He's been sort of my intellectual and spiritual link to everybody who works on separation of church and state. It's one of these big things in the elections this year that the Right, all of a sudden, is saying that there's no such thing as the separation between church and state. It's been his life's work to not only pastor a Southern Baptist congregation in Louisiana, but also to remind America that there really is a separation of church and state and it's important.
Maddow furthered her belief in the separation of church and state--and the warnings against discrimination that follow therefrom--when we asked her about the Ground Zero Mosque, an issue she has not addressed publicly.
"I think the idea that you would decide on the basis of what religion is building somewhere, whether or not to build, is fundamentally un-American. That in America, religion is a private matter and that we do not prevent people from the free exercise of their religion. And so the idea that we'd be O.K. with a church there and not a mosque means that we are, anybody who's making that argument is making an un-American argument, as far as I'm concerned."
Though Maddow diplomatically negotiates such a polemical issue, many newscasters of late have fallen prey to contentious gaffes and lack-of-filter; CNN canned Rick Sanchez after he called Jon Stewart a bigot, and NPR dealt Juan Williams a pink slip after he espoused a belief while on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" that people should be wary of Muslims. In light of these turnovers, Maddow laid out her philosophy on public pontification:
"Nobody has a First Amendment right to have a television show. The First Amendment doesn't protect our right to be paid to talk for a living. And so any of us who are paid to talk for a living are doing so at the pleasure of our employers."
That said, Maddow, in maintaining her credibility, is not afraid and is not going to hold back on expressing her opinions.
"So that always means that at any point if they've decided that something I've said is something that they don't want to pay me to do anymore, it's their call. It doesn't mean that I'm not gonna...I don't feel afraid to say anything that I believe."
In that vein, she explained it's not her job to try to battle Fox news or any sort of wing-nut agenda. She maintains her broadcast equipoise through focus on proliferating what she views as essential news.
"I don't really see it as my job to combat anything. I don't really see myself as a combatant, if the metaphor is war for what politics is. The motto for our show is trying to increase the amount of useful information in the world. That means reporting on what's going on and what's behind what's going on and trying to tell a cogent story about the facts of the news.
Though anchor's like Greta Van Susteren have criticized the show, Maddow says she hasn't seen it. She says because her show is live at 9, she's slammed the previous hour when the CNN program airs and confesses to watching Keith Olbermann's "Countdown." She has crossed paths, though, with the show's anchor pair and had some nice platitudes to relate about them:
"I have sort of intersected with Kathleen Parker in the media world, and she seems like a very nice person, and I've interviewed Eliot Spitzer a number of times, and I'm incredibly impressed with him as an intellect and as a political mind. I honestly do not know how he's doing at CNN, just because I haven't seen it, but I have a lot of respect for them as individuals."
In parting, the newsanchor, who is known for her skilled bartending (an ability she perfected "by drinking" and which she exhibited at this year's White House Correspondents Dinner afterparty) confessed her favorite cocktail.
"I like old-fashions. I like a rye old-fashions."
[Image via NewsRealBlog]