Rachel Maddow, now the most watched person in cable news, stopped by the Stern Show on Wednesday to talk to Howard about politics, why she keeps her hair short, and her professional relationship with late Fox News exec Roger Ailes. Even though she was working for a competing network, Rachel told Howard about the career advice she received from Ailes as well as the surprise job offer he once made her.
"He once told me that he wanted to hire me at Fox," Rachel said. "And then he told me he'd never put me on the air." Ailes seemingly wanted to pay Rachel to not go up against his own conservative TV channel. The deal never came to be and "The Rachel Maddow Show" stayed on MSNBC, but the conversation between her and Ailes didn't stop there. The two formed a sort of friendship, with Ailes even giving Rachel broadcasting tips.
"He was really, really kind about it," she told Howard, explaining that Roger advised her on how to speak to the camera and even how to sit while on the air.
As grateful as Rachel was for Roger's help, she made it known she did not take the news of Ailes's workplace misconduct lightly.
"The sexual harassment allegations against him … that was serious stuff," Rachel said. "I just want to say, I didn't know about any of that and I was never in touch with Roger after all that stuff broke."
Howard wondered if Roger ever acted inappropriately towards Rachel or suggested she wear a miniskirt on her show.
"He's a smart enough guy to know how that would have ended," Rachel replied.
In addition to not wearing skimpy clothing, Rachel also doesn't follow Fox's lead when it comes to pitting two people with opposing viewpoints against each other in order to make an entertaining TV show.
"I just don't like those fake setups," Rachel said, explaining no matter what the on-camera argument, someone is always set up to be the loser in those segments. Instead, Rachel relies on journalism fundamentals—seeking the truth and reporting the facts.
"You can agree with me or disagree with me, but if I'm telling you something is true you can take it the bank," Rachel said of her nightly news show.
Reaching the top of the cable news ratings book takes hard work from Rachel and her staff. She told Howard she has about 12 to 15 full-time employees working on her show and that she surrounds herself with individuals she trusts wholeheartedly. "The people who I've held onto for a long time ... I feel like I can't breathe without them," Rachel explained.
The grind of a nightly news show is grueling, however, and Rachel said some in the past simply couldn't take the demanding schedule of working 5 days a week, 12 hours a day, and 50 weeks a year.
"The daily production that we've got is absolutely exhausting," Rachel continued. "Everybody always says to me, 'Oh, when do you tape?' We don't tape. We're live."
According to Rachel, producing her show has become especially challenging since President Donald Trump took office. With so much news coming out about him, she and her colleagues are forced to stay on their toes at all times.
"The news has lost its clock," Rachel told Howard. "We have to be way more nimble."
Rachel has dedicated countless hours of coverage to the Russian election hacking scandal and the ongoing investigations into the Trump White House and she didn't shy away when Howard asked her about current U.S. relations with the foreign nation.
"Russia is not a superpower," she said.
"Russia wants to think of itself, still, as a superpower," she continued. "Russia has one aircraft carrier where they don't even have a catapult on it. It goes up at the end like a ski jump. Like, it looks like it's got a bucktooth, and it belches diesel, and every time they send it out on a little deployment, they have to send a flotilla behind it."
She explained that, with the arms race clearly won by American forces, Russia has focused on winning a different kind of war. "The way they decided to keep up militarily … was with cyber," Rachel told Howard, adding that they've already broken into some of the U.S.'s most secure networks. "These are the same people who hacked the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They hacked the Office of Personnel Management at the White House," she said.
As busy as Rachel is at MSNBC, she told Howard she still manages to return to her Western Massachusetts home every weekend to spend time with her girlfriend Susan. She even gets a chance to sneak off and do a little fishing.
"I'm terrible but I love it," Rachel said. "It's just hard enough that you have to think about it while you're doing it."
Fishing is a fine hobby for Rachel, but Howard shared with her a horror story he once endured while fishing with his pal Jimmy Kimmel. While out on the water, Howard recalled being attacked by violent swans who came right up to the boat looking for a fight.
"We rowed like crazy," Howard told Rachel. "They actually stand up on the water and come after you, and they're as big as a human being. It is scary!"
"Killer swans attacked you and Jimmy while fishing?" Rachel asked with a laugh.
Now that "The Rachel Maddow Show" is No. 1 in cable news, Howard wondered if she'd make any big changes, like grow her hair out.
"I don't look good with long hair. My face is kind of the wrong shape for it," Rachel said.
Howard disagreed and reminded Rachel he's seen photos of her with long hair from her high school yearbook. He then suggested they swap hairdos for a day.
"I think you'd look good with this 'fro," Howard joked.
"I look like this on purpose," Rachel told him, saying her short hair is here to stay.
Though her looks won't be changing, the way the world pronounces Rachel's last name might be. She explained the correct way to say "Maddow" is with a long o sound, like "shadow," not like "Ow! You're hurting me." Howard heard late-night hosts Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert introduce her recently and assumed they misspoke.
"Call me anything you want," Rachel told Howard. All that matters to her is that she's allowed to continued to come on the Stern Show.
"I love you, man," she said to Howard at the end of Wednesday's interview. "It's been a long time since I was here and I don't like doing any other media, but whenever you want me to come in, I will do this. I have so much respect for you and this is my favorite conversation, outside of my own show, ever."
Watch "The Rachel Maddow Show," weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.