It’s Super Tuesday, folks, one of the more consequential dates on the American presidential elections calendar, so it’s only fitting that we do a couple things on politics and podcasts.
First things first. Ahead of today’s big occasion, I wrote a lengthy essay for Vulture that came out last week on the ever-healthy election podcast sub-genre, revisiting its boom during the 2016 cycle and exploring how the sub-genre has evolved since then. It’s mostly a recent history piece, one where I tried to argue the ways in which the 2016 election cycle helped pushed podcasting towards innovation and industrialization in specific ways, but it was also an opportunity to mull over something I’ve long wondered about: as we move deeper into the 2020 cycle, can we unambiguously say that politics podcasts, far from being tech oddities, are properly part of the wider media ecosystem with the capacity to really affect society, political opinion, and electoral outcomes?
However you approach the question, I think we can at least acknowledge that the relationship between politics and podcasting has grown noticeably more complicated since 2016. Consider Joe Rogan’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders, and how that was treated with seriousness. Same goes for the on-going phenomenon known as Chapo Trap House, the prime church of the “Dirtbag Left.”
Speaking of, Chapo Trap House was the subject of a Nellie Bowles portrait in the New York Times that caused a stir over the weekend. It’s the sort of write-up that tends to draw strong, typically negative, reactions from all sides, whether it’s Chapo Trap House followers who feel displeased about the way they are portrayed or folks who are wary about those followers for what they suggest about certain corners of the Sanders movement. For what it’s worth, I thought the piece did its job, functioning better as an illustration of a phenomenon rather than an analysis of it, though it does run this risk of positioning the podcast and its followers as overly representative (synecdochal?) of the Sanders base. And what a wild picture it paints of Chapo Trap House: frustrating, peppered with internal contradictions, and a little scary, but also resonant, voracious in its beliefs, and compelling in its anger.
Meanwhile, 2016 continues to not end. On Thursday, Politico reported that Hillary Clinton is apparently planning to launch a podcast with iHeartMedia. Now, I should note that the write-up is riddled with inaccuracies: neither are Ben Shapiro or Glenn Beck’s shows are iHeartMedia properties, for example thus hollowing out the piece’s attempt to link Clinton and these major figures of conservative audio through patronage of the same radio company, and the Joe Rogan Experience, thought to be one of the biggest podcasts in the universe, certainly isn’t an iHeartMedia show either. There’s also no mention of the fact that this wouldn’t be the first time Clinton is hitting the podcast well: that honor goes to With Her, the agitprop-ish official campaign podcast that was produced by Pineapple Street (now an Entercom company).
But there is nonetheless some meat on this bone. Much is made in the Politico piece about one of the key inspirations for the new Clinton pod: Howard Stern, the legendary radio talent whose on-mic ability, persona, and multi-year exclusive contract basically laid the foundation for SiriusXM. Also interesting are the individuals who will apparently be producing the show: Kathleen Russo, credited as the creator of WNYC’s Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin, and Julie Subrin, the former executive producer of audio at Tablet Magazine.
Not that anybody’s asking, but I find the choice to partner with iHeartMedia somewhat unexpected, given the existence of Crooked Media, the wildly popular progressive media company founded by a crew of former Obama staffers — which is now expanding beyond politics, by the way — and Higher Ground, the Obamas’ production company that has a podcast partnership with Spotify, which is decidedly sexier. Then again, maybe a close association with the Obama administration isn’t something the Clinton camp finds agreeable, and perhaps working with an old-school radio giant that’s working hard to drag itself out of a bankruptcy and reposition itself as a next-generation audio company is more… appropriate.
Anyway, Clinton’s re-entry into the podcast world raises another question: what’s the over/under on the amount of time before we get a Buttigieg/Klobuchar pod? A Yang pod, meanwhile, feels imminent.