MSNBC host Rachel Maddow shocked the media in February by announcing her temporary break from cable news.
Since then, Maddow has returned to the network on a new schedule. Instead of going on air every weeknight, she’s airing only one night per week to make time for other projects… and she just gave a bombshell interview to reveal her new plans.
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Specifically, Maddow is working on a narrative podcast about World War II, she said in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine shortly after announcing her hiatus.
The magazine reported:
Maddow talked about the project that had been consuming most of her bandwidth, a historical-narrative nonfiction podcast in the vein of Bag Man, except this time set in World War II–era America. She led me to a second-floor annex that doubles as [her partner] Mikula’s art studio and Maddow’s home office, with stacks of archival documents neatly arranged on the floor and a whiteboard scribbled with plot points.
The podcast, scheduled to debut this fall, was her first pitch under the Surprise Inside umbrella. “It’s an American history, underappreciated story,” said Maddow, “that has resonance for all these things we’re dealing with today—the threat of authoritarianism and the question of whether or not criminal law is the appropriate venue, and has the right constitutional powers, to handle those kinds of threats. It’s about journalism and journalistic ethics, and the ability of powerful people to manipulate American systems.” (She sold an accompanying book to Crown.)
Maddow’s other projects include another podcast, another book, “two potential movies and two potential TV shows,” one of which actually sounds a little more than potential. “It revolves around a group of women in post–World War II America in Washington, D.C.,” says Susan Rovner, the NBCUniversal executive who oversees the company’s television entertainment portfolio. Rovner said there was a decent chance the show could air in 2023 on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, which, to be honest, could use a high-wattage period drama if it expects to tussle with HBOMax and Netflix.
Maddow has released podcasts in the past. In 2018, she worked with Hollywood actor Ben Stiller and Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels to create Bag Man, a podcast recounting former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s scandals over bribery.
The MSNBC star has spoken about her desire for projects outside cable news. With her demanding schedule on MSNBC, Maddow reported “losing the ability to be able to sort of have the energy and the intellectual bandwidth to do other kinds of work.”
According to the Vanity Fair report, Maddow negotiated the podcast as part of a $30 million deal with MSNBC’s parent company.
Vanity Fair also reported that Maddow passed on an offer from CNN+, the streaming service known for folding only one month after launch. She dodged a bullet.
Maddow told the magazine that she’s legally barred from discussing her contract.
As expected, the liberal magazine heaped praise onto Maddow. “Of course, Maddow being great on TV can’t… save democracy,” it said.
Still, not everyone is happy with Maddow’s plan to launch a new podcast. One industry insider said that NBC Universal was “so nuts” for investing $30 million for Maddow to appear only one hour per week.
A media critic for The Washington Post said that Maddow, instead of telling new stories about World War II, should correct her earlier stories about the Russiagate scandal.
“Maddow broadcast credulous segments on the Steele dossier but declined to revisit them after the document fell to pieces,” media critic Erik Wemple wrote in a column earlier this year. “Perhaps that’d be a good side project now that Maddow has some more time on her hands.”
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Maddow defended her coverage of Russiagate during the Vanity Fair interview.
The magazine wrote:
“Do you remember what the Dan Rather scandal was about?” [Maddow] said, referring to a 2004 controversy in which the legendary newsman’s career came to a screeching halt over a 60 Minutes segment based on allegedly forged documents that CBS News failed to authenticate. “There was a document that was involved. He was reporting on, like, how did George W. Bush avoid going to Vietnam? How was his National Guard service arranged? Why did he get this coveted spot in this group that wasn’t gonna be fighting? The story of George W. Bush getting a sweet gig in the National Guard so he didn’t have to go fight in Vietnam was true. Somebody giving Dan Rather a forged document, so he had a screwed-up news story about it, is fascinating, and it’s an interesting thing about CBS News. But it doesn’t mean that the National Guard thing about George W. Bush was not true! It just—it neutralized it. Like it made that go away. And the whole thing became a Dan Rather scandal. That’s what’s going on with the dossier.”
The Horn editorial team