An exciting trend in recent years is the emergence of traditional print media giants as exciting political podcast producers. Can He Do That? from the Washington Post is consistently excellent. Coffee House Shots from the Spectator (the venerable British publication), is a real gem. The Daily from the New York Times is nearly flawless nearly all the time. Politics and More from the New Yorker is… well… meh.
And I hate saying that.
The New Yorker should do better
Few publications can claim as much credit for broadening the cultural landscape in America as the New Yorker. Out of my huge respect for this magazine, the New Yorker Politics and More podcast was one of the first I sought out when I first got the political podcast bug. But within a few episodes I had a sinking feeling that something was wrong (although, as an inexperienced podcast consumer, I could not say exactly what it was).
Now a grizzled veteran consumer of the form, I am know exactly what the problem is – a lack of purpose and/or sparkle.
A good political podcast should use the freedom the format provides to do at least one of the following:
- Cover topics with a level of detail traditional media does not (i.e. the Weeds)
- Cover topics that are not in the mainstream of political news (i.e. Why is this Happening? from MSNBC’s Chris Hall).
- Be informative but also entertaining (i.e. Political Gabfest).
On rare occasions, a podcast will do all three (i.e. Trumpcast at its height). Politics and More does none of these, however. And I take no joy this conclusion.
Politics and More: irritatingly mediocre
At its best, Politics and More will hash through the main political stories circulating through the mainstream political media, broadly following the standard media narrative. If you lived on a desert island and Politics and More was your only source of news, you’d do okay.
But we expect more from the New Yorker. We expect excellence, dammit! The sad truth is, if you are a hardcore enough political junkie to be reading a political podcast review (that’s you, dear reader) you could skip Politics and More most weeks and miss absolutely nothing.
No wait, that’s not true. You’d miss some really stupid political analysis which, although not common, does appear on occasion. I find these moments hugely disappointing.
In the November 8th edition, for example, staff writer John Cassidy discussed the fallout from the recent midterm election with guest host Eric Lach. He said, “In the House, Pelosi and her colleagues are very wary of the 1990s precedent when the Republicans pushed through impeachment of Bill Clinton and it rebounded horribly against them…it was basically a disaster for the Republicans.”
Really? A disaster? Two years later at the next election in 2000 the Republicans maintained control of the House, and gained control (narrowly) over the White House and the Senate. If that’s the sort of disaster that follows an impeachment process the Democrats have no time to lose! Get those articles drafted!
Even more ham-fisted has been the coverage of Brexit. The British staff writers the New Yorker employs do a decent enough job, but the American hosts are totally out of their depth and seem to think it’s cute to complain about how complicated everything is. In the November 19th episode David Remnick managed to confuse “Middle England” (a socio-political term which is roughly analogous with “Middle America”) with the English Midlands (a geographic region that encompasses some of the UK’s largest manufacturers). Seriously, why is this okay?
This sort of thing would be okay for some media, but the New Yorker name should stand for something better.
Going through the motions
It’s hard not to conclude that the purpose of the Politics and More podcast is just to have a political podcast. All the other great media names have one, so why not the New Yorker?
The weird thing is, Politics and More is produced in conjunction with the New York public radio behemoth, WNYC, and WNYC produce an excellent podcast called Trump Inc. that is definitely worth listening to (more than adequately addressing points 1 and 2 from my list above). It makes me wonder how much worse the New Yorker would do on its own without the help of WNYC.
The New Yorker should be better, and the New Yorker certainly could do better.
With so many excellent new podcasts coming on line regularly, there just is no longer time in my podcast listening schedule for something that is so… meh.