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rachel maddow
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Happy Birthday, Rachel Maddow, Political Commentator

April 01, 2010
by Liz Colville
Rachel Maddow is a Rhodes scholar, out lesbian, radio host, TV host and all-around sharp political commentator whose star began to rise when she earned her own hour-long nightly MSNBC show during the 2008 presidential election.

Rachel Maddow's Early Days

Rachel Maddow was born April 1, 1973, in the San Francisco Bay Area to Bob Maddow, a lawyer, and Elaine Maddow, a school administrator. Maddow was a “curious, serious child who never spoke baby talk,” her parents told Newsweek. She has one older brother, David. Her mother said that when Maddow was 4 years old, in the morning she could be found on a kitchen stool reading the newspaper. She also felt a “loathing” toward Ronald Reagan at age 7 “although she is not sure why now.”

Maddow attended Castro Valley High School in Castro Valley, Calif. and earned her undergraduate degree in public policy from Stanford University, where she came out as a lesbian at age 17. The event was discussed in an article in a Stanford newspaper that was sent anonymously to her parents. In Newsweek, her mother Elaine explained that she and her husband were concerned about their daughter’s safety in the face of “prejudice and bias.”

In a 2008 article in New York Magazine, Maddow’s former professor Roger Noll of Stanford’s Public Policy Program described her as “a brilliant student … one of those that only come around every few years or so.” Her thesis, writes the magazine, was about the “shift in the perception of AIDS patients from ‘the other’ to ‘one of us,’” and won a medal at Stanford. Another professor, Debra Satz, remarked, “I still send students to that thesis as a model.”
After college, Maddow pursued the subject of her thesis by working for the San Francisco groups ACT UP and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.

Notable Accomplishments

With a Rhodes scholarship in tow, Maddow went to Oxford University, where she earned a doctorate in political science but admittedly felt “out of place.” She returned to the United States and began a career in radio, hosting a show at a radio station in Amherst, Mass. after winning a contest, and then hosting “Big Breakfast” on WRSI in Northampton. In 2004, she joined the new station Air America. Soon after, she got her own show, “The Rachel Maddow Show,” which began at the 5 a.m. slot and graduated to a two-hour evening slot.

But Maddow’s big break came in 2008, when she filled in for Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC primetime show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” Maddow had already charmed television viewers with appearances on the network’s “The Situation with Tucker Carlson,” so much so that New York Magazine’s review of the program focused almost solely on Maddow’s presence.
Maddow has always taken a tough stance on President Obama and every other politician. The executive producer of her Air America show, Vanessa Silverton-Peel, told The Nation that Maddow “is a civics geek. She wants to talk about AIDS in prison and the Constitution and the war in Iraq. Policy is her main focus. Not winning elections.”

The Rest of the Story

For Maddow, her decade-long relationship with Susan Mikula, an artist and accountant, is the top priority. Now, they spend much of their days apart with Mikula at their house in Western Massachusetts and Maddow in New York City. Maddow told Newsweek, “[I]f it made sense for my relationship with Susan that I needed to stop being on TV, and stop being on the radio, and go live full time in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and raise chickens, we'd go live in the Upper Peninsula and raise chickens. It's the single clearest thing in my life.”

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