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Let Rachel Maddow Talk! (On Meet the Press)

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Sunday's Meet the Press, on NBC, featured Rachel Maddow, former Rep. Dick Armey, Chair of FreedomWorks; Sen. Tom Coburn, and former Senator Tom Daschle. With the health care debate heating up to insane proportions, and Keith Olbermann crediting Maddow with getting Dick Armey fired from one of his jobs, I was looking forward to it. I should have known, that Rachel Maddow would have trouble getting a work in edgewise.

David Gregory began, as usual, with going around the table, giving everyone their initial turn at the debate. Unfortunately, most of Rachel's opening time was taken up Coburn's rebuttal (or should I say "prebuttal?") To her credit, Rachel was extremely concise in her comments - I suppose she had to be.

On the subject of the accuracy of the ridiculous claims of the anti-health care reform forces - such as the euthanasia canard - David Gregory tried to get Tom Coburn to admit that Republicans had previously voted for an end-of-life counseling provision. Coburn weaseled out of the question by saying that he wasn't in Congress at the time, then went on to pretend that the government would be weighing in on end of life decisions, merely by making counseling possible. Gregory didn't go back to his original question.

Later on, all Dick Armey had to do was raise his hand and say, "One final point!" in order to fend off David Gregory's attempt to take back control of the discussion (as is his responsibility as moderator.) Maddow, of course, did no such thing.

During the 2008 election, when Sarah Palin was extrapolating "Joe the Plumber's" moniker to all her supporters, Keith introduced Rachel Maddow as "Rachel the Nice." It would be tempting to attribute her difficulty being heard to her personality alone. It would also be in keeping with the rather shrill tone that conservatives have taken in this and other debates of late - with the Obama administration being compared to Hitler and accused of seeking to put senior citizens to death. However, recent studies in education and psychology shed light on the dynamics of this particular Meet the Press installment, in which Maddow was the only woman on the panel.

The phenomenon of men dominating mixed-group discussions is new; it has been observed in the social science literature for decades - particularly in college settings - and has often provided the rationale for arguments for single sex education. A good summary of how the dynamic comes from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard, Catherine G. Krupnick, author: female students were found to be "at the bottom of the conversational heap" - findings Krupnick noted were also observed in various workplace settings by Erving Goffman in the 1960's, and by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the 1970's.

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I've always wondered if Rachel Maddow's relatively non-threatening demeanor has been the secret to her success on prime time television. After all, she is one of the few liberal talk show hosts on TV or radio, and one of the very few who is openly gay.

Unfortunately, the result of her being shouted down on Sunday, has implications far beyond male-female dynamics. The Republican men on the panel were able to continue to stoke the fear that has been effectively used to shut out reasonable debate on health care reform. And now, it looks like the Democrats may be backing down.

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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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