Maddow has stated that her family is "very, very Catholic" and she grew up in a community that her mother has described as "very conservative". Maddow was a competitive athlete and participated in high school volleyball, basketball, and swimming.
Referencing John Hughes films, she has described herself as being "a cross between the jock and the antisocial girl" in high school. A graduate of Castro Valley High School, she attended Stanford University. While a freshman, she was outed as a lesbian by the college newspaper when an interview with her was published before she could tell her parents.
Maddow's first radio hosting job was in 1999 WRNX (100.9 FM) in Holyoke, Massachusetts, then home to "The Dave in the Morning Show". She entered and won a contest the station held to find a new sidekick for the show's host, Dave Brinnel. She went on to host Big Breakfast on WRSI in Northampton, Massachusetts, for two years. She left the show in 2004 to join the new Air America. There she hosted Unfiltered along with Chuck D (of the hip hop group Public Enemy) and Lizz Winstead (co-creator of The Daily Show) until its cancellation in March 2005. Two weeks after the cancellation of Unfiltered in April 2005, Maddow's weekday two-hour radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show, began airing; in March 2008 it gained an hour, broadcasting from 6 to 9 p.m. EST, with David Bender filling in the third hour for the call-in section, when Maddow was on TV assignment. In 2008, the show's length returned to two hours when Maddow began a nightly MSNBC television program. In 2009, after renewing her contract with Air America, Maddow returned to the 5 a.m. hour-long slot.
In 2008, Maddow was the substitute host for Countdown with Keith Olbermann, her first time hosting a program on MSNBC. Maddow described herself on air as "nervous". Keith Olbermann complimented her work, and she was brought back to host Countdown the next month. The show she hosted was the highest-rated news program among people aged 25 to 54. For her success, Olbermann ranked Maddow third in his show's segment "World's Best Persons". In July 2008, Maddow filled in again for several broadcasts. Maddow also filled in for David Gregory as host of Race for the White House.
Maddow makes cocktails during the show
Olbermann began to push for Maddow to get her own show at MSNBC, and he was eventually able to persuade Phil Griffin to give her Dan Abrams's time slot.
The Rachel Maddow Show
In August 2008, MSNBC announced The Rachel Maddow Show would replace Verdict with Dan Abrams in the network's 9 p.m. slot the following month. Following its debut, the show topped Countdown as the highest-rated show on MSNBC on several occasions. After being on air for more than a month, Maddow's program doubled the audience that hour. This show made Maddow the first openly gay or lesbian host of a primetime news program in the United States.
The initial reviews for the show were positive. Los Angeles Times journalist Matea Gold wrote that Maddow "finds the right formula on MSNBC," and The Guardian wrote that Maddow had become the "star of America's cable news".Associated Press columnist David Bauder opined that she was "[Keith] Olbermann's political soul mate", and he described the Olbermann-Maddow shows as a "liberal two-hour block".
Of her collegial relationship with Roger Ailes of Fox News, whom she sought out for technical advice, Maddow said she doesn't want to talk about it because "I don't want anybody else to use it. It was a nice thing that he did for me, and it's been valuable for me - it helped me get an advantage over my competitors."
In mid-May 2017, amid multiple controversies surrounding the Trump administration, MSNBC topped the news ratings, surpassing CNN and Fox News. For the week of May 15, The Rachel Maddow Show was the No. 1 non-sports program on cable for the first time. She has been called "America's wonkiest anchor" who "cut through the chaos of the Trump administration - and became the most trusted name in the news." Maddow has argued that these issues "are the most serious scandals that any president has ever faced.":38
Maddow has stated that her show's mission is to "Increase the amount of useful information in the world.":56 She said that her rule for covering the Trump administration is: "Don't pay attention to what they say, focus on what they do...because it's easier to cover a fast-moving story when you're not distracted by whatever the White House denials are.":37
Maddow often begins her broadcast with a monologue, some of which have run over twenty uninterrupted minutes. About this process she has said, "The thing that defines whether or not you're good at this work is whether you have something to say when it's time to say something. Because you're going to have to say something when that light goes on...I want to have something to say that people don't already know every single night, every single segment, and that makes it hard to get the process right, because that's the only thing I care about."
In December 2013, The Washington Post announced that Maddow would write a monthly opinion column for the paper, contributing one article per month over a period of six months.
On March 2, 2018, the "New York Times" published Maddow's first crossword puzzle, in collaboration with Joe DiPierto. On the eve of its publication, she said: "This is kind of it, like there will never be a baby, but there's this freaking crossword puzzle, and I am very, very excited about it." (Retrieved "Rachel Maddow Show." MSNBC. March 1, 2018)
Public image and publicity
A 2011 Hollywood Reporter profile of Maddow said that she was able to deliver news "with agenda, but not hysteria". A Newsweek profile said, "At her best, Maddow debates ideological opponents with civility and persistence ... but for all her eloquence, she can get so wound up ripping Republicans that she sounds like another smug cable partisan." The Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik accused Maddow of acting like "a lockstep party member". The editors of The New Republic similarly criticized her--naming her among the "most over-rated thinkers" of 2011, they called her program "a textbook example of the intellectual limitations of a perfectly settled perspective". On awarding the Interfaith Alliance's Faith and Freedom Award named for Walter Cronkite, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy remarked that "Rachel's passionate coverage of the intersection of religion and politics exhibits a strong personal intellect coupled with constitutional sensitivity to the proper boundaries between religion and government".
A Time profile called her a "whip-smart, button-cute leftie". It said she radiates an essential decency and suggested that her career rise might signify that "nice is the new nasty".
Distinguishing herself from others on the left, Maddow has said she is a "national security liberal" and, in a different interview stated that she is not "a partisan".The New York Times called her a "defense policy wonk".
During the 2008 presidential election, Maddow did not formally support any candidate. Concerning Barack Obama's candidacy, Maddow said, "I have never and still don't think of myself as an Obama supporter, either professionally or actually."
In 2010, Republican Senator Scott Brown speculated that Maddow was going to run against him in the 2012 Senate election. His campaign used this premise for a fundraising email, although Maddow repeatedly stated that Brown's speculation was false. Brown continued his claims in Boston media, so Maddow ran a full-page advertisement in The Boston Globe confirming that she was not running and separately demanded Brown's apology. She added that, despite repeated invitations over the months, Brown had refused to appear on her TV program. Ultimately, it was Elizabeth Warren who ran in 2012, defeating Brown.
Maddow has suggested that the alleged Trump-Russia collusion has continued beyond the 2016 presidential election. In March 2017, she blamed Russia for WikiLeaks' Vault 7 disclosure of the CIA's hacking tools, saying: "Consider what the other U.S. agency is besides the State Department that Putin most hates? That Putin most feels competitive with? That Putin most wants to beat? It's the CIA, right?... Smart observers say this is the largest dump of classified CIA material maybe ever, and it really could be a devastating blow to the CIA's cyber war and flat-out spying capabilities, and that dump was released by WikiLeaks." Regarding the Trump-Russia investigation, Maddow said: "If the Trump presidency is knowingly the product of a foreign-intelligence operation, that is a full-stop national crisis." Concerning "alternative facts" and fake news, Maddow said: "The president denigrating the press is important in terms of his behavior as an increasingly authoritarian-style leader, period.":56
Maddow has dealt with cyclical depression since puberty. In a 2012 interview, she stated, "It doesn't take away from my joy or my work or my energy, but coping with depression is something that is part of the everyday way that I live and have lived for as long as I can remember." She has explained why she decided to speak about it in interviews: "It was a hard call...Because it was nobody's business. But it had been helpful to me to learn about the people who were surviving, were leading good lives, even though they were dealing with depression. So I felt it was a bit of a responsibility to pay that back."
Maddow said "There are three things I do to stay sane: I exercise, I sleep - I'm a good sleeper - and I fish.":56
On October 5, 2017, two Emmy Awards for coverage of the tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and for Maddow's interview with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. ("Variety." October 5, 2017. Retrieved variety.com/2017)
In December 2017 The Advocate named her as a finalist for its "Person of the Year".