Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Demonstration in front of the White House on November 6, 2020

For Inauguration Week, here are the best podcasts about the worst administration in history

Demonstration in front of the White House on November 6, 2020
Photo: Samuel Corum (Getty Images)
PodmassPodmassIn Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

For the last half decade, we’ve all had to think way harder about Donald J. Trump than we ever wanted to. He was supposed to be forever relegated to the time-honored position of C-list punching bag, one whose irrelevance was his only virtue. As his victory accelerated our nation’s increased political polarization and created a landscape in desperate need of repair, podcasts have come and gone that attempt to grapple with these seismic shifts in reality. Here are some of the best episodes from the past five years that say something uncomfortably true about the state of the union.


It Could Happen Here
The Second American Civil War

Illustration for article titled For Inauguration Week, here are the best podcasts about the worst administration in history
Screenshot: Apple Podcasts

Listening to ex-Cracked editor Robert Evans talk about the possibility of a second American Civil War in 2019, you’d have thought he had a strong argument. Listening to his podcast series today? You’d think he owned a time machine. On It Could Happen Here, Evans rationally theorizes how a second American Civil War is all but imminent and explores the multitude of ways liberals and conservatives have become increasingly hostile toward each other. Evans not only makes a compelling case for why a war could happen, but also how, providing historical anecdotes and data that convey America’s polarization in the Trump era. The podcast might be unsettling to hear, but today it feels doubly so, as much of what Evans cites as small “sparks” for a potential war sound more like a review of news clips from the past year: Portland being at the center of national attention and representing a microcosm of America living as a whole; an economic collapse freeing up more time for protests to happen nationally; and a erosion of trust in governments and fellow countrymen. Though much of this podcast accurately describes America’s political climate today, let’s hope Evans’ war theory remains pure political fiction. [Kevin Cortez]


Reply All
The QAnon Code ⚡️⚡️

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Screenshot: Apple Podcasts

In mid-2018, when the QAnon conspiracy was still in its infancy and not yet a strong artery running through conservative America, Reply All host PJ Vogt asked his co-host Alex Goldman and boss Alex Blumberg to explain a strange string of tweets he found while snooping through Roseanne Barr’s favorites on Twitter. The tweets in question were written in a barrage of emoji and sentence fragments, but all involved a hashtag Vogt had been actively avoiding: #Qanon. In true Reply All fashion, Goldman brings everyone up to speed with what this conspiracy is, how it was birthed, and how it slowly drew the attention of the internet via 4chan. Today, the episode plays out as a slightly naive and dismissive glance at the dangerous conspiracists QAnon has rallied up, but taken alongside the show’s 2020 follow-up episode,“Country Of Liars”—which goes deep down into the rabbit hole to uncover Q’s true identity—it’s the perfect companion that shows two sides of the conspiratorial coin: one side a laughable internet theory crafted by offensive nerds, and the other reckoning with the result of that theory catching on like wildfire. [Kevin Cortez]


Still Processing
We Watch Trump TV with Emily Nussbaum

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Screenshot: Apple Podcasts

Debuting way back in the fall of 2016, this spicy pop culture podcast hosted by New York Times writers of color Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris has been around just as long as this wretched administration. During that time, Wortham and Morris have done many episodes where they chopped it up about the downright dysfunctional state of the country ever since Trump got into the White House, and this one from May 2017 is most notable for the way it breaks down how the situation is partially television’s fault. They invite Emily Nussbaum, Pulitzer Prize–winning TV critic for The New Yorker, to the studio to discuss how Trump’s knack for being a savvy, showboating asshole (which helped him become a reality TV superstar on The Apprentice) led to his political ascension. Nussbaum even brings up the possibility that TV viewers’ increasing love for kickass antiheroes made many of them go to the polls and vote for someone they thought of as a real-life Tony Soprano. In the end, all we got was another Ralphie Cifaretto. [Craig D. Lindsey]


1A
When Journalists Say They’re Objective—What Does That Even Mean? 

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Screenshot: Apple Podcasts

At its best, news journalism is considered “objective.” Journalists are expected to eschew their perspective, the lens through which they see the facts—but is that even possible? If it is, does it positively impact journalism as much as we think it does? On this 2020 episode of WAMU’s 1A, panelists Ricardo Sandoval-Palos of PBS, Morgan Givens of 1A (who has since left WAMU for reasons related to so-called objectivity), and Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times beg to differ. They aren’t saying that bias shouldn’t be moved through consciously and critically when reporting on the news. Instead, they make the argument that bias is assumed with inequity, and that one’s closeness to an issue can often result in more informed coverage, rather than contributing to inaccuracies. The clearest example here is Black journalists being turned down for their writing on the Black Lives Matter movement and other stories about racial injustice. And in 2021, this conversation has been renewed in the wake of white nationalists staging a failed coup, making this episode the perfect crash course on what “objective” journalism really means. [Wil Williams]


Note To Self
Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics

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Screenshot: Apple Podcasts

In 2018, news broke that Cambridge Analytica had secured the personal data of about 87 million Facebook users to assist in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. But an entire year prior, in 2017, WNYC’s Note To Self was already covering the unfolding scandal, speculating on just how bad the data theft was and how much of an impact it would have on Facebook users. Note To Self, now a Luminary exclusive, is a show about how technology affects our lives, but it’s always had a specific edge on talking data privacy. Between “Privacy Paradox,” a mini-series with a built-in challenge to increase your data security, and a harrowing interview with the creator of Facebook’s ad algorithm, Note To Self is a must-listen primer on why data privacy is crucial and how exposure can be wielded against users. “Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics” is an ominous listen that doesn’t get everything right; it was created with some understandable shreds of optimism that, of course, wound up undeserved. Listen in for a snapshot from the past, with some uncomfortably telling visions of where this story could have gone, and some shockingly accurate predictions about where it did go. [Wil Williams]

Kevin Cortez writes on the internet. He wrote this. Follow his dumb tweets @kevvincortez.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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