came to Kansas Wednesday night. It originated from the Free State Brewing Co. in downtown Lawrence. The occasion was to call attention to former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline's disbarment proceeding going on this week, and to revisit Wichita, which has not seen an abortion provider set up shop to replace Dr. George Tiller since he was gunned down. That incident was documented in a film narrated by Maddow for MSNBC,"The Assassination of George Tiller."
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— and here's what I saw from inside Free State.7:45 p.m.
While waiting for Maddow to arrive, I chatted with the owner of Free State,Chuck Magerl
. He had heard from a producer Monday night that the show was scouting out locations; by Tuesday night word had gotten out; and by Wednesday morning Magerl had been so bombarded with hate mail he had to post
, noting that the brewery had, in fact, once hostedAnn Coulter
(For the record, I did a story and podcast
, too. Interesting broadcasters come from all angles.)
We stood in the entryway, the only space left in his filled-to-capacity restaurant (occupancy 231). "Tragically, it seems like we can't be content as a nation," said Magerl. "If we don't have an overarching enemy across the pond, we turn on ourselves."7:47 p.m.
Maddow enters to wild cheers and applause, flanked by two Lawrence cops. She retreats to a corner and hunches over a computer, polishing her script with producersRebekah Dryden
(a Wichita native) andLaura Conaway
, the former NPR talent who writes much of theMaddow Blog
, whichMaddow often likes to say
is "better than the show a lot of times."
"What you see here is what happens every night," Bill Wolff, the show's executive producer, tells me. The three women hover over their script until three minutes before airtime, paying no attention when half the bar begins chanting, "Ra-chel! Ra-chel! Ra-chel!"8:00 p.m.
"We're in a bar!" says Maddow to open the broadcast. She can barely be heard over the din. "Well, why not?" she adds. Surprisingly, no attempt is ever made to quiet the crowd during the broadcast, and much of the show will be done in medium shot, not close-up.
The lead story is, inevitably, the prank phone call to Wisconsin Gov.Scott Walker
from noted KansanDavid Koch
— or rather, a Buffalo journalist posing as Koch. As the tape plays, the audio goes silent. "We love you, Rachel!" someone yells.8:06 p.m.
A graphic goes up showing 61 percent of Americans polled oppose a bill like the one in Wisconsin, stripping public unions of their rights. As it does, the crowd cheers.
I notice that audience members are laughing at Maddow's laugh lines before she even gets them out. They're reading her teleprompter.8:14 p.m.
The audio is poor on my side of the bar, so I struggle through the crowd to get to the other side where I'll have a clear view of the prompter. As I do, Maddow comes back on to do one of those 60-second acts. You can see me trying to run out of the frame.8:16 p.m.
The Obama administration has decided to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, so Maddow is going to interview Tobias Wolff about it in the next act. It's a satellite linkup. Maddow turns around and tells the crowd, "This is the part where we have a guest who's not here, so this will be super awkward."8:27 p.m. Seth Sanchez
, who tweets for the restaurant asfreestatebeer
, shows me a report that's come in on his Twitter feed: Two guys were making out on camera behind Maddow during the first act.8:29 p.m."Rachel!" someone yells during a break. "Tell them Lawrence isn't like the rest of Kansas!"She turns and says, "I don't know that!"8:32 p.m.Maddow reads a script — which I later learn Conaway wrote — on the heroic history of Kansas, using a John Brown plaque just outside the Free State Brewing Co. as her chief visual. When she mentions the role of Missourians in the border war battles of the 1850s, someone yells, "Screw Missouri!", not loud enough for mics to pick up. The yelling intensifies as the images of the Free State Brewing Co. and Liberty Hall flash on the screen. It starts to feel a little like the notorious rah-rah speech
given at last year's Symphony in the Flint Hills by then-Gov.Mark Parkinson.
(And, like that speech, Maddow's is given a bit to factual flourishes: "Untold hundreds" didn't die in the 1863 Quantrill raid, between 185 and 200 died. And yes, the side Kansas was on did win the Civil War ... but so did the side Missouri was on.)8:35 p.m.As Maddow begins to link the Missouri ruffians of Bleeding Kansas to the outside agitators at Operation Rescue who moved into Wichita to do their anti-abortion protests, a young woman walks into the Free State holding a big green sign. "MADDOW IS MY BIEBER," it reads.8:40 p.m.Sitting in front of me is the city's state senator, Marci Francisco, one of a small minority of Democrats serving this term in the legislature. She explains that she belongs to a group — not quite sure of the name because I was having a hard time hearing — but anyway, this club/charity/whatever has by-laws that state that the annual meeting shall be held every year at the Free State Brewing Co. on the birthday of one of its members, whose name is Emily. Emily's birthday is Feb. 23, the same day as Free State's founding. The restaurant has a tradition of giving a birthday discount on Feb. 23 equivalent to 1 percent for every year of the customer — and extending that discount to everyone in his or her party. Emily turned 78 today.8:56 p.m.The crowd sits quietly and watches a long pretaped interview with Kristin Neuhaus, a former abortion provider in Kansas — who agreed to share her story with Maddow for the first time. There is respectful clapping, no woo hoos, afterward.9:00 p.m.Maddow grabs a PA mic and thanks the crowd. "I really like it here," she says, "and we are going to come back." She asks the crowd for suggestions. Nobody has any. Clearly there is a clash of perceptions: She thinks this is a classroom with beers. They think this is a rock concert with a prompter. 9:10 p.m.
After giving an interview to the local TV station, she leaves between the two burly cops who brought her in, but slower than her entry. She meets and greets with almost everyone in her path, including Magerl (above). Maddow autographs the Bieber sign. ***Afterward, Maddow spoke with me about the reaction to her George Tiller documentary, her thoughts on whether this crazy Scott Walker phone-prank story has any legs, and whatJustin Bieber
had to do with her decision to "go blind" Tuesday night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
Click above to hear Part 1
Click above to hear Part 2
Click above to hear Part 3