Maddow is Liberal Queen of US News
America's liberals are pinching themselves in delight and disbelief at the surprising emergence of a self-proclaimed 'butch dyke' as a star of America's cable television news.
Rachel Maddow, whose publicity material describes her as 'the first openly gay Rhodes scholar', was only given her own show on the MSNBC cable network on 8 September, but she has already doubled the ratings. Last week she even beat CNN's veteran Larry King.
Liberals are thrilled because America's cable TV news has long been the preserve of angry right-wing white male presenters, such as Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.
Thirty-five-year-old Maddow's low-key humour, rigorous research and empathetic approach has made her the overnight darling of the liberal media. One rapturous blogger called her 'the Everlasting Progressive, the Princess of News'.
'Ms Maddow's deep, modulated voice is reassuringly calm after so much shrill emotionalism and catfights among the channel's ageing, white male divas,' says Alessandra Stanley, television reviewer for the New York Times
The success of The Rachel Maddow Show has helped to position MSNBC - the cable news division of NBC - as the anti-Fox News network.
Maddow is also proving that a woman can be a big ratings draw on cable TV news. Even so, she believes her long wait for her own show was 'not only because I am gay, but because of what I look like. I am not a Barbie girl with Barbie doll-like looks.'
Despite her sudden rise to stardom, Maddow has not come out of nowhere. Since 2005, she has had her own evening show on Air America, the liberal radio network. There she established herself as a 'smiling but obstinate liberal', as she has put it. In 2006 Maddow became a regular guest political analyst on CNN and MSNBC.
'The one time Fox News ever asked me to be a guest,' she told the New York Times, 'was when Madonna made news by kissing another famous female, Britney Spears. They thought I had expertise, maybe. I said, "No, duh".'
Maddow came out as a lesbian when she was just 15. 'You have to learn to survive and prosper in a hostile environment,' she has said. At Stanford University in the early Nineties, a university newspaper noted she was one of only two openly gay freshmen. When a reporter later asked if the other gay freshman was her girlfriend, Maddow said: 'Funnily enough, only one other person was out, and she was not one of the many girls I was sleeping with.' Maddow majored in public policy and became an Aids activist. Winning a Rhodes scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1995, she got her doctorate in political science, studying Aids and prison reform.
When she returned to America to finish her dissertation, she supported herself doing odd jobs, cleaning buckets in a coffee-bean factory and working as a handyman. That's how, in 1999, she met her girlfriend, Susan Mikula, an artist. Mikula had been looking for a 'yard boy' to help out with her house in Massachusetts.
Maddow is no knee-jerk liberal and says she is 'frequently underwhelmed' by Barack Obama. Although she believes he was right to oppose the Iraq war, 'his war policy stuff now is total bullshit. [Withdrawing] one or two brigades a month? You want your son to be in the last brigade?'