Rachel Maddow's 'Ultra' Podcast Makes History by Winning Prestigious Journalism Prize

Rachel Maddow
Rachel Maddow
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Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra, the lesbian MSNBC host’s podcast about efforts to spread Nazi propaganda in the U.S. and overthrow American democracy in the 1940s, has received the 2023 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism, marking the first time the prize has gone to a podcast.

The award is bestowed by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, named for a union leader who was a key figure in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Hillman Prizes have been presented annually since 1950 to the daily, periodical, and labor press as well as authors and broadcasters. The prize program “aims to honor and foster investigative reporting and deep storytelling in service of the common good,” according to the foundation’s website.

In Ultra, an eight-episode program that premiered in October, “Maddow and her team unearth a dramatic chapter of American history, nearly a century old, but with themes that echo loudly today,” the foundation’s announcement reads. “It is a forgotten story, set in the 1940s, of determined American extremists who came dangerously close to toppling American democracy in the run-up to World War II — and the serving members of Congress working alongside them.” The leaders of the effort stood trial for sedition in 1944.

This movement represented what was possibly the greatest threat to U.S. democracy until the Capitol riot of January 6, 2021, in which members of the far right sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the foundation notes.

To create the series, “Maddow and her team undertook months of extensive research at libraries and historical archives across the country and conducted numerous interviews with historians and subject-matter experts,” the announcement says. “The team unearthed hours of audio recordings that had not been heard in nearly 80 years and which provide the vivid detail that brings this nearly century-old story to life.”

The prize recognizes the work of Maddow, who wrote, produced, and hosted Ultra; Michael Yarvitz, who was co-creator and executive producer with Maddow; and Kelsey Desiderio, a writer and producer on the podcast.

The prize was presented in a ceremony Tuesday. “All of us are deeply cognizant of the fact that it takes trust and a certain tolerance for risk on the part of our employers to let us chase these things, and that’s hard, no matter what part of the business, so I feel thankful for the freedom to do this,” Maddow said upon receiving it.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg has optioned Ultra for a possible movie adaptation.