The left has yet to find its voice in the world of radio talk
Shocking news: President Donald Trump gets made fun of in the media a lot. Crazy, right? Not like this is anything new, considering Trump’s been a pop culture punching bag for over three decades. If the concept of making fun of Trump on late-night TV was a person, it’d have three kids and two divorces by now. Now that he’s President of the United States, we’ve got wall-to-wall media coverage dedicated to various refutations of his administration and his equally abhorrent partners on Capitol Hill.
While conservatives have enjoyed a monopoly on AM talk radio screamfests since Rush Limbaugh’s halcyon days in the Clinton ’90’s, the newfangled format of podcasting proved to be a perfect match for the liberal outrage industry. Among the ranks of West Wing-quoting liberal media resistors, few have the audience or clout of Pod Save America, the “no-bullshit” podcast that bills itself as, “A political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane.”
Pod Save America is the second podcasting child of ex-Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. Having previously hosted the lameley-titled Keepin’ it 1600 for Bill Simmons’ The Ringer throughout the 2016 election cycle, Favreau and company used their newfound media clout among the #Resistance set to their advantage. After their beloved Hillary Clinton lost the election in stunning fashion to Trump, the hosts of Keepin’ It 1600 launched Crooked Media in Jan. 2017 in order to podcast full-time. While the Crooked Media empire has since sprawled out, Pod Save America very much remains its crown jewel. Since its debut, Pod Save America has not left iTunes’ top 20 podcasts, and has racked up over 2 million dedicated subscribers, or as they call them, “Friends of the Pod,” per a Nov. 2017 New York Times . Based off the success of the show, Crooked Media has done several live podcasting tours.
Furthermore, the show’s guests are a real “who’s who” of the Democratic Party. Pod Save can boast Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Chris Murphy, Hillary Clinton and their old boss Barack Obama as “Friends of the Pod.” During the 2018 midterm cycle, almost any Democratic candidate looking for national exposure made an appearance on the show.
How does this spearpoint of Democratic resistance to the unmitigated awfulness of the Trump administration operate? For all the hullabaloo, Crooked Media podcasts are almost painfully declawed. On the policy front, Pod Save America largely offers the same solutions as its ideological North Star Obama did during his eight years in office, many of which largely failed to generate any enthusiasm or long-lasting change. Favreau in particular has come out against nearly every single serious progressive proposal, stating his opposition to single-payer health care, the Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage and prison reform. No one in the Crooked orbit is making any real suggestions for change, but instead simply whining about the unfairness of Republicans and their attached media lapdogs.
Speaking of Republican media lapdogs, right now is not a good time for Crooked. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a whole set of troubling revelations surrounding Tim Miller, Crooked Media’s resident Never Trumper and “Good Republican.” While Miller’s presence was always proof that the Pod Save boys couldn’t resist the nonsensical “both sides” rhetoric that makes CNN unwatchable, they clearly should have conducted a more thorough background check on him. Remember that hugely anti-Semitic Facebook operation where, as on Nov. 14 by the New York Times, COO Sheryl Sandberg hired a Republican ops firm to connect any criticism of the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to George Soros, and that of general right-wing canards about the “Jewish media?” Yeah, Miller was the head of that whole operation, and lied through his teeth about his connection to it. Nothing screams leader of the voice of progressive America quite like having one of your hosts be a corporate operative perfectly happy to team up with Nazis to save face for the rich, right?
For some perspective on the Crooked Media crowd, one only needs to look at a different left-wing comedy podcast that rose to prominence with Trump’s ascent, Chapo Trap House. Compared to the White House bonafides of the Crooked Crowd, Chapo emerged from the strange corner of the internet known as “Weird Twitter,” where its founding hosts Will Menaker, Felix Biederman and Matt Christman had carved out a delightfully off-kilter niche for themselves.
Compare straight-laced Pod Save episode titles like “Every state is a swing state,” and “They’re coming for your health care,” to Chapo’s irony-poisoned “Condom Depot Presents: Fighting in the Age Of Horniness,” and “RIP Krauthammer 40K,” and you’ll get a sense of their respective tones. Pod Save utilizes anecdotes about Obama kissing babies or that time that Hillary said something slightly brisk to Leon Panetta to highlight the rare moments of levity in politics, while Chapo does riffs on how Bill Clinton and Alan Dershowitz were in the flight logs of Jeffrey Epstein’s private sex crimes plane and why YouTube white nationalists are deathly afraid of soy and female video game characters to point out how idiotic and strange politics often are.
While Pod Save would have you believe that the goodness of the American political system is being corrupted by the Republican Party and its allies, Chapo would tell you that America’s neoliberal capitalist system is inherently dehumanizing and flawed. In the Chapo playbook, neoliberal Democrats like the Clintons and Joe Biden are only superficially preferable to Republicans. The Chapo hosts instead offer a brand of democratic socialism closer in line to that of Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn, and Rosa Luxemburg than anything Obama ever did.
If you’d believe the Chapo hosts, Trump isn’t some unique blight on the American populace, but an unskilled moron who just so happens to enable the worst excesses of an already shamelessly genocidal and unhinged Republican Party. As Biederman once put it, Trump is just “a fat, orange baby rolling downhill in a barrel,” and might actually be the overall least evil member of his administration by the sole virtue of his boundless incompetence.
Chapo Trap House is just the most prominent antidote to the tedious neoliberalism of the Crooked Media universe. There’s plenty of great podcasts for those trying to save face in the Trump Hellworld, from Citations Needed, to Struggle Session, or even Slate’s Political Gabfest for some more centered fare. If you really can’t stand Favreau and Lovett, there’s always Pod Damn America, a clever title that references Obama’s condemnation of his own pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and his overall failure to effectively use his mandate to impose real change on a deeply flawed country. At the end of the day, Pod Save America is self-important and wildly ineffectual, but the hosts are not bad people; they’re just bad podcasters.