Born into a Catholic family on April 1, 1973 in Castro Valley, California, Rachel Maddow earned a degree in public policy from Stanford University in 1994, and later a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford. While working toward her PhD, Maddow broke into the field of broadcasting when she won a contest held by an Amherst, Massachusetts radio station that was seeking a new on-air personality. She worked at that station for about a year before taking a leave of absence to finish her doctoral dissertation, and then returned to radio because, “like an addict,” she craved the public attention that the medium afforded her. Maddow took jobs with WRNX radio in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and WRSI in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In March 2004 Maddow was hired by the fledgling Air America Radio (AAR) to co-host the program Unfiltered along with hip hop artist Chuck D and comedienne Lizz Winstead. Maddow later confessed that she had, in essence, “forced” AAR into employing her by being tenacious and faking connections. (For example, Maddow’s ex-girlfriend pretended to have been a former Harvard classmate of AAR program host Al Franken, and she brought him tapes of Maddow’s broadcasts at another station.) In April 2005, two weeks after the cancellation of Unfiltered, Maddow secured her own AAR program, The Rachel Maddow Show, which would air until January 21, 2010, two weeks before AAR filed for bankruptcy. Maddow characterized the program as a “mixture of information, analysis and entertainment.”
Venturing also into the television industry, Maddow appeared as a regular panelist on the MSNBC television program Tucker (hosted by Tucker Carlson) during the 2006 midterm election season. Two years later, in January 2008, she became a political analyst for MSNBC, a position that earned her a spot as a panelist for the election-coverage program Race for the White House. She also began doing regular commentary on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. In August 2008, Maddow replaced legal commentator Dan Abrams on MSNBC’s prime-time 9 pm time slot with her own program, The Rachel Maddow Show.
In addition to her radio and television endeavors, Maddow has written occasional blogs for the Huffington Post and AlterNet. Her writing style, like her broadcast style, is characterized by irreverence and sarcasm. In a January 2007 entry, for instance, she likened President Bush’s low approval ratings to “the national approval ratings for herpes lesions,” and urged readers to turn Bush’s upcoming 2007 State of the Union Address into a drinking game: “If the president is caught on camera kissing any member of Congress — drink once. If the person he’s caught kissing is Joe Lieberman again, gargle your drink and try to make yourself barf a little.”
Through her radio, television, and Internet work, Maddow’s primary political objective is to help the Democratic Party increase its influence in America. “I think the more power the Democrats gain, the better off progressive radio and progressive media is,” she says. “…[T]he closer we get to retaking the country, the closer we get to overtaking the traditional media in terms of content and influence.”
Depicting the Iraq War as an illegitimate endeavor of Republican war mongers, Maddow in 2007 implored Democrats: “Repeat after me: ‘This is a Republican war and I will not own it, I will end it.’” In a September 2007 blog post, Maddow urged Congress to end the war by refusing to fund it.
One of the most frequently recurring themes of Maddow’s commentary is the notion that Republicans and conservatives are prone to racism, and that Republican political leaders commonly seek to exploit racial fears and prejudices among their voting base. In July 2007, for instance, Maddow wrote an AlterNet blog titled “Republicans Celebrate Their Whiteness,” portraying the Republican Party as an entity steeped in racial exclusivity and elitism. Asserting that Republican candidates were “not on the right side” of any major political or social issue, Maddow posed the question, “What DO the [R]epublicans have going for them?” She then provided the answer: “[W]ell, they’re WHITE guys.” (Emphasis in original)
On June 3, 2009, Maddow falsely reported that conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh had once said that James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., “should get the Medal of Honor.” She did not apologize for her slander until October 19—and then, only a result of a conservative journalist’s persistence in getting her to address the issue. Immediately after delivering the apology with a very evident smirk, Maddow played a video clip of other Limbaugh quotes that she deemed racist. She introduced the clip by saying: “While we’re setting the record straight here, though, here is some of Rush Limbaugh’s verifiable record on matters of race, just for context.”
In July 2009, Maddow depicted conservative and Republican opposition to President Barack Obama‘s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court as nothing more than a “campaign that is substantially about race.” That same month, Maddow told Republicans that whenever they faced “a more popular opponent” (e.g., Barack Obama) whose ideas they did not “feel confident countering,” they would invariably “steer as far clear as [possible] of ideas and policy, and instead stoke racial indignation among [their] base.”
In August 2012, Maddow condemned what she described as an “overtly racist” campaign ad for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. According to Maddow, the ad, which criticized President Obama for having gutted welfare reform by dropping the work requirements that had been instituted in 1996, was “a blunt allusion to the populist, racist politics of white economic racial resentment.”
To be sure, Maddow’s disagreements with conservatives and Republicans extend far beyond the issue of race. In July 2009, for instance, Maddow lampooned Republican objections to the Democrat plan for healthcare reform as a “whole new crazy conspiracy theory” that had been “hatched” among the “conservative base” and in the “conservative media.” To buttress her point, she aired a film clip of Rush Limbaugh stating that under socialized medicine, “people of a certain age, with certain diseases, will be deemed not worth the investment.” Eventually, Maddow summed up the Republican position thusly: “Health care reform doesn’t have anything to with the fact that our health care system stinks. It’s secretly a way to trick people into killing themselves.”
In January 2010, Maddow derided anyone who doubted that anthropogenic “climate change” posed a major threat to the environment. Asserting that such people were ensconced in “nonsense land,” she said: “I want to have policy fights. I don‘t want to be fighting with people who refuse to acknowledge reality.”
On December 4, 2012, Maddow and several other “influential progressive” advisors (as described by White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest) met with President Barack Obama to strategize on how to best sell the American public on the need to raise taxes on people earning $250,000 or more, while extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all other U.S. residents. Also in attendance at the meeting were Al Sharpton, Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC host Ed Schultz, and Arianna Huffington.
In February 2013, Maddow took strong exception to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent assertion that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had created “racial entitlements” in the form of tortuously gerrymandered congressional districts wherein African Americans are guaranteed representation by blacks; that U.S. senators “have no interest in voting against this” because “they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact” a law whose name is, from a political standpoint, seemingly “wonderful”; and that the tendency for such policies to continue indefinitely is “very likely attributable to … perpetuation of racial entitlement,” a phenomenon that is “very difficult to get out of … through the normal political processes.” In an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Maddow characterized Scalia’s comments as “blatantly racially offensive” and derided Scalia as a “troll.” (For a brief overview of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, click here.
For additional information on Rachel Maddow, click here.