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Who is Rachel Maddow?

A short biography of news and opinion talk show host Rachel Maddow


Talk show host Rachel Maddow

Talk show host Rachel Maddow

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

How do you doubt the political opinion of a talk show host who says that she is "undoubtedly a liberal, which means I am in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform"? In short, if you tune in to that host's show, you know what you're gonna get.

And Rachel Maddow likes it that way. She's anything if not open about her views. And she's pretty open about her personal life, too. She is considered by many to be the first openly gay anchor of a major U.S. news and opinion program, for example. And she isn't afraid to take on bigger names in the opinion boat, like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. (Not only isn't she afraid - Maddow often clobbers them in the ratings.)

California girl
Born Rachel Anne Maddow on April 1, 1973, Maddow grew-up in Castro Valley, Calif., a very conservative community, according to her mother.

She is of Irish, Dutch, English and Eastern European ancestry and was brought up in a Catholic household. Her father was a United States Air Force captain and lawyer; her mother was an educator. Maddow also grew up under the watchful eye of her big brother, David.

And though by definition she is a California girl - having been born there - Maddow was more the competitive kind, taking on all comers in high school volleyball, basketball and swimming. Outside of sports at Castro Valley High School, Maddow was a self-described introvert.

After graduation, Maddow set her sights on public policy and earned her degree from Stanford University in the discipline. Her success at Stanford earned her both the John Gardner Fellowship and a Rhodes Scholarship. She went on to earn her doctorate in philosophy in politics from Oxford University in 2001.

On the radio
Though she studied public policy, one of her first forays into professional work was as a radio personality. Maddow finished school and, while living in Massachusetts, entered a contest held by local radio station WRNX. The contest sought a new on-air personality for its morning program, The Dave in the Morning Show. Maddow won.

After a few years on local radio, honing her on-air skills and planting the seeds of her eventual on-air personality. In 2004, she left local radio in Massachusetts to join the fledgling liberal radio network Air America.

Maddow co-hosted Unfiltered, a news and opinion program that landed Maddow alongside Chuck DThe Daily Show. Unfiltered only lasted a year before it was cancelled.

But Maddow's career was just beginning. Just two weeks after the end of Unfiltered, Maddow was on the air again, hosting her own program, The Rachel Maddow Show. Maddow shared her political opinion with a growing audience of listeners. The show became so popular, it grew from two hours a day to three, until the launch the television version of her program in 2008.

Time for TV
As her radio show gained prominence, Maddow was soon asked to make appearances on television opinion programs, like MSNBC's Tucker, with conservative Tucker Carslon, and CNN's Paula Zahn Now. After success as a political analyst during the 2008 election on Race for the White House and contributor on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, along with a guest hosting gig on Olbermann's program, Maddow was encouraged to launch her own show.

Olbermann was such a fan of Maddow - and had such influence at MSNBC at the time - that he was able to help persuade the network to give Maddow her own program. So, in September 2008, MSNBC debuted The Rachel Maddow Show.

The risk was worth it. Maddow's show quickly became the top-rated program on MSNBC and continues to top similar news and opinion programs on other networks.

Fast Facts

  • Maddow lives with her partner, artist Susan Mikula, splitting her time between Manhattan and western Mass.
  • Won an Emmy for Outstanding News Discussion and Analysis
  • Named in 2008 as one of Out magazine's "Out 100"
  • Earned a 2009 Gracie Award from the American Women in Radio and Television.

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