Written by Ben Morley
The hosts of Pod Save America (L to R Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett) with Washington Governor Jay Inslee (centre).
Spring of 2020 was a crazy time. Life and its normal patterns and routines were postponed, and we all adapted to staying at home. Amid the endless free time, people turned to new, uncharted pursuits. Many I know got heavily into fitness, others tried to write, and some probably learned a language, though I do not know anyone who actually did. I did not do any of that. I got into podcasts. There were many to choose from since the industry has exploded over the last couple of years, but after listening to a couple of episodes over the previous year, I chose Pod Save America.
Since then, I have listened every week, twice a week to their blunt, frank, and thoughtful conversations about American politics. They lead with the biggest and most important stories and discuss them with a level of deepness rarely seen in our fast-paced 24-hour news world. They will explain what the intentions of policies, campaigns, speeches, and even politicians’ tweets are and whether the politics will work. Make no mistake though, this is not an objective both-sides kind of show. The podcast is unashamedly left-wing. While the show calls out Republican policy and tactics with intent, it also tries to create a base to organise against the GOP’s brand of politics. Alongside the podcast, Vote Save America was formed: an organising website offering the chance to donate, register to vote, or even ‘Adopt a State’ to organise ahead of the 2020 election. They have had deep success, raining in 30 million dollars in the 3rd quarter of 2020 and registering over 50,000 voters.
The hosts of the podcast epitomise its appeal. All four hosts have vast Washington DC experience under their belts and were senior in the Obama White House. Jon Favreau was the 44th President’s Chief Speechwriter through his run for President in 2008 and up until the end of his first term, while Jon Lovett was another speechwriter under Obama, who specialised in writing the President’s Correspondents Dinner speeches. Tommy Vietor served numerous roles for Obama on the campaign trail and in the White House, including Assistant Press Secretary, and Dan Pfeiffer was Obama’s Communications Director. Their background gives them insight other commentators and activists miss, and their extensive history as colleagues and friends gives the podcast an atypical naturalness and ease. Its great quality is that it manages to take even the driest niches of politics and DC and turn them into a fun, relatable, and genuinely cool topic.
After typically 45-60 minutes of talking about the news, one of the presenters will typically interview a politician, journalist, activist, or comedian. The individuals they book are compelling and seriously impressive. Their guests are probably the best marker of their success. Several times they have had on Presidents Biden and Obama; Hillary Clinton has appeared as well, and all the 2020 Democratic Primary field was queuing up to be interviewed. News anchors like Jake Tapper and Rachel Maddow to late-night hosts like Seth Myers and Jon Stewart have appeared. Even Hollywood megastars like Will Smith have been guests.
The podcast was created in the same month Donald Trump was inaugurated as President: January 2017. All four hosts had done some podcasting the year before, but realised with Trump’s victory they had to join the resistance and fight back. Today, they get millions of listeners twice a week, and their success has brought expansion. Pod Save America is the flagship podcast of the media company created by the four hosts, Crooked Media. It now runs close to two dozen podcasts and is a sizeable chunk of the US political podcast market. Their incredible rise has led to some claims that Pod Save America and Crooked Media could be a blueprint for the American left to respond to the all-powerful right-wing media eco-system in the US.
There is a reason Pod Save America became a political-cultural icon. Its detailed, progressive, and activist-centric conversation about politics in the US is genuinely inspiring and hopeful at a time of record cynicism in all Western politics. Perhaps as the left in the UK struggle to find its core and direction, we should take note of the simple yet highly effective model of Pod Save America. While the lockdown and restrictions continue, I cannot recommend trying out Pod Save America enough, just as I did 12 months ago.
Pod Save America streams on all podcast providers with new episodes every Monday and Thursday.
Photo source - Flickr (Governor Jay & First Lady Trudi Inslee)