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Rachel Maddow’s ‘Deja News’ podcast a boon to fans who like her historical tangents

NEW YORK (AP) — Rachel Maddow has something special for anyone who appreciates the occasional digressions into history on her weekly MSNBC show.

She and her longtime producer, Isaac-Davy Aronson, debuted the first episode of “Rachel Maddow Presents: Deja News” on Monday. The six-episode podcast looks at historical incidents that can teach us lessons about current events.

The first program, about a little-remembered Feb. 6, 1934, riot outside the parliament building in Paris has obvious parallels to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection in Washington.

“If Jan. 6 was history repeating itself in some form, does that help us?” Maddow asks in the episode. “Does that help us in our understanding of what Jan. 6 meant and what we should do about it going forward? Would it be comforting to us to know that this really wasn’t the first time, or would we be just even more weirded out about it?”

Both of Maddow’s prior podcasts have roots in history: “Bag Man” was about former Vice President Spiro Agnew, and “Ultra” examined American extremists.

“I have this soft spot for history as an explanatory thing,” she told The Associated Press. “I’m a completist. If you tell me something is going on geologically, I want to know about the formation of the star that created the solar system, that created that planet, that created that rock.”

“Deja News” is the nickname that “The Rachel Maddow Show” privately uses for some of its historical segments. While they can occasionally test a viewer’s patience during a TV show — get to the point, Rachel! — the stories are perfect for a podcast.

Extra time allows the podcast to more thoroughly examine the historical similarities and grapple with what may come next, Aronson said. “Having that time and space to breathe is really great,” he said.

A day after the Paris riot, the new head of France’s government resigned and was replaced by someone more conservative — precisely what the demonstrators wanted. Yet the incident united leftists, and led to the election of a much more liberal government two years later.

Nearly 90 years later, though, like-minded French citizens honor leaders of the far-right riot with rallies commemorating the day and visits to the grave of its leader.

In Maddow’s view, news is too often covered in a vacuum, when a passing knowledge of history can put things into better perspective.

“Recognizing that some of these problems are recurrent, rather than truly novel, doesn’t make the problems any smaller,” she said. “It just makes me more confident in my ability to keep engaging, to not shut down, to not be overly scared or intimidated by the scale of a problem and to think about it with the help of people like us in previous generations who had to contend with the problem before.”

It also underscores the importance of who is in charge of writing and teaching history, she said.

Anticipation for “Deja News,” which has a logo starring an inquisitive groundhog, put it near the top of Apple’s podcast chart before being released. New episodes will come out every Monday, with the second one showing how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ battles with woke politics and the LGBTQ community echo an effort from nearly 60 years ago.

Maddow is a year into her new schedule, with her TV show airing on Monday nights.

“It’s great,” she said of the reduced workload. “It has absolutely saved my life.”

Five nights a week on TV was burning her out. She initially resisted the once-a-week schedule, not wanting to do a magazine-type review of the week’s news. Instead, they hit upon the trick of doing it as if it were just another daily show, focused on that day’s news.

She’s immersed in other projects. Besides “Deja News,” she’s adapting “Bag Man” and “Ultra” into movies, finishing a book that will be out this fall and making a scripted TV series about a group of women in post-World War II Washington that is being held up by the writer’s strike.

“I need to learn time management,” she said. “I’m actually probably working more hours than I used to. My girlfriend thought I was going to have more time off and more time to spend with her.”

She appears on MSNBC during big events, like last Thursday, when news broke that former President Donald Trump had been indicted. But she said she’s been energized by the ability to try new things.

“I thought I had the best job in the world but I didn’t,” she said. “Now I do.”

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