Last week, a caller into Impeachment: A Daily Podcast, a carve-out of public-radio host Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show, admitted to being up all night listening to impeachment podcasts. Lehrer wisely advised the caller not to do that.
I was not that caller, but I did spend the last week bingeing eight (!) daily and weekly impeachment podcasts—from the center left to the far-right perspective—to answer the question: Which impeachment podcast should you listen to?
On Wednesday, November 13, the public phase of the impeachment inquiry begins into Donald Trump’s alleged (though also already admitted) transgression with the Ukranian government to seek help with information on the Biden family. A presidential impeachment is still a remarkable thing—this is only the fourth such effort in U.S. history, though the third in the last 46 years—and when you combine it with the, um, uniqueness of Trump’s tenure as president, it’s no surprise that this moment has produced a number of impeachment-focused podcasts designed to keep listeners up-to-date on the events as they unfold.
It’s likely unrealistic to watch it all at work, and as breathtaking and relentless as the Trump era has been, it’s about to get weirder. Here’s your guide to the myriad efforts to be your guide to the Trump impeachment.
A weekly recap of a fast-moving event could be valuable—something to listen to on a Saturday morning while making breakfast or running errands.
Impeachment Explained from Vox, hosted by Ezra Klein and launched in mid-October, along with ABC News’s The Investigation, which is a repurposed feed that previously covered the Mueller investigation, are well produced, with dramatic theme music, expertly edited-in news clips, and the kind of soothing, NPR-style cadence that one would expect from establishment media.
They’re also really boring.
These podcasts are too short (typically 35 to 55 minutes), and they’re often anchored around an interview that’s designed to offer some context but that makes the whole affair seem optional.
The more significant issue is that they fail in the same way that most mainstream media has failed in its attempt to cover Trump. These episodes presume that there’s something that’ll turn public opinion against Trump, that’ll convert 20 Republican senators into votes for impeachment. They remain shocked that public officials can lie as brazenly as they do and get away with it. It’s like reading the 10,000th Peanuts comic strip where Lucy pulls away the football from Charlie Brown and still having the ability to be surprised by it.
Slightly better is Rubicon: The Impeachment of Donald Trump from Crooked Media (the Pod Save America folks) and hosted by Crooked editor Brian Beutler. The show is also too short and generally too self-serious, but I give credit to Beutler for implicitly understanding that the impeachment effort is a political exercise. What elevates Rubicon is that it, like most Crooked podcasts, embeds a measure of civic activism into its programming, urging listeners to pressure their representatives on the impeachment issue and why it matters to them. As we’ll see, this will be rather important.
With the hearings beginning, I would not be surprised to see these shows go daily, but for now, they don’t seem up to the moment.
These offerings at least understand that you have to stay on top of this story every day if you want to keep straight your Sondlands from your Vindmans, and if you want to follow the evolving spin coming from the White House and Trump’s allies.
The aforementioned WNYC’s Impeachment: A Daily Podcast and CNN’s The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch are serviceable efforts. Both run about 20 minutes and mix headlines with a guest or two, and kudos to the public-radio podcast for regularly weaving in a listener question. I would give the CNN show a small edge, though, because it’s faster-paced and therefore feels more urgent. Maybe it’s just that the hosts and guests speak a little more quickly—but it works.
Of the mainstream daily impeachment podcasts, though, the only one I’d wholeheartedly recommend is Impeachment Today from BuzzFeed and iHeartRadio. Impeachment Today brings some much needed absurdity to the genre. Recurring bits like the “Nixonometer”—measuring the likelihood of Trump leaving office—and “This F—ing Guy,” profiling a player in this bizarre drama, keep things sprightly and amusing, which helps immensely.
The view from the right
I’ll admit that I did not initially think that there’d even be right-wing impeachment podcasts.
But there are—and they’re fantastic.
Veteran right-wing talker John Ziegler is a Never Trumper, and his Individual 1 Podcast offers a highly engaging, rather clear-eyed assessment of what’s happening. I couldn’t find a podcast devoted to impeachment from a leftist perspective, but if I had, I think it’d share Ziegler’s dark fatalism about the whole affair: Trump will be impeached by the House and none of it will matter. Plus, kudos to anyone who can monologue for almost an hour twice a week and hold a listener’s attention.
Ziegler, though, is a self-described libertarian conservative, and that remove from the Trump mind-set makes his show less vital than the uncut real thing. War Room: Impeachment is hosted by Stephen K. Bannon (yes, that Steve Bannon) along with 2016 Trump campaign messaging czar Jason Miller and former Breitbart London editor Raheem Kassam. If you want to know tomorrow’s talking points today, this is the place to be. It’s the closest thing to hanging out with Trump himself in your bathrobe.
Bannon’s well-cultivated sense of the dramatic is on display as he frames impeachment as an existential event for the man he helped elect president three years ago and who sees this effort to remove Trump from office (or at least discredit his historical presidency) as a rebuke of Bannon’s own America-First foreign policy beliefs.
In a daily 45-minute dispatch from the basement of the “Breitbart Embassy” in Washington, D.C., (which also airs live on some radio network I’d never heard of but I have to bet is broadcast into a lot of red districts across the United States), the hosts bring a sharp understanding of impeachment packaged in a rollicking radio format. The president did nothing wrong, and process arguments are losers. This is a fierce political fight, and the Republicans need its most virulent attack dogs, such as Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz, to be part of impeachment and pushback on the “master class in political disinformation warfare” by Nancy Pelosi.
The highest praise Ezra Klein can offer Pelosi is that she’s good at counting the number of votes she has, which, you know, is a lot less fun than Bannon and company’s bluster.
Beyond sheer entertainment value, one can see Bannon pulling every string possible and amplifying others in stoking Trump’s grassroots support against the impeachment effort. A regular feature of War Room is “Make ’em Famous,” a segment spotlighting freshman Democratic congresspeople who won in districts that voted for Trump in 2016 and targeting them for particular pressure in the impeachment fight. He wants to ruin their political careers if they dare vote to impeach Trump. It’s a far more visceral effort at civic activism than what Rubicon musters, and it may prove to be more effective, too.
In just three weeks, they have been consistently ahead of the curve in seeing not just where impeachment is headed but in shaping that future. On Friday, Rudy Guiliani appeared on the show saying that Adam Schiff, who will be running the hearings this week, should be called to testify before his own hearing for orchestrating this sham proceeding to begin with. On Saturday, Trump called for not only Schiff but also Pelosi and former VP Joe Biden to be witnesses in the inquiry.
It’s exactly the kind of “No, you’re fake news,” through-the-looking-glass mind bender that can make a rational person go bonkers in 2019. But as Bannon put it, the real impeachment jurors are the American people, not the senators.
So better to hear it unfiltered and figure out an effective response than be fooled and outmatched again.