The Peabody Award-winning On the Media podcast is your guide to examining how the media sausage is made. Hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield examine threats to free speech and government transparency, cast a skeptical eye on media coverage of the week’s big stories and unravel hidden political narratives in everything we read, watch and hear.
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The Amazing Randi (just don't call him a magician)
Famed conjurer, illusionist -- and even more famously exposer of supernatural fraud -- James Randi died last week at his Florida home at the age of 92. Co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry the Amazing Randi tirelessly exposed the deceit behind (as his New York Times obituary summarized): "spoon bending, mind reading, fortunetelling, ghost whispering, water dowsing, faith healing, U.F.O.-spotting and sundry varieties of bamboozlement, bunco, chicanery, flimflam, flummery, humbuggery, mountebankery, pettifoggery and out-and-out quacksalvery."
He’s lauded as a great “debunker,” but he didn’t like that descriptor, preferring “investigator.” And if you didn’t wish to be corrected, it was also wise not to call him a magician. Because “magic” isn’t really magic, is it?
For The Genius Dialogues (Bob's Audible.com podcast series of interviews with MacArthur Genius Grant laureates) Bob visited the then 87-year-old Randi in Plantation, Florida. Here is that conversation.
The Games We Play
With the election underway, both camps are pushing their “get out the vote” messages. This week, On the Media looks at the origins of the modern presidential campaign, and how livestream technology is transforming the look and feel of voter outreach. Plus, how a mysterious network of fake news sites duped real journalists into creating propaganda. And, the empty, recurring trope of Republicans "distancing" themselves from Trump.
1. Makena Kelly [@kellymakena] explains the rising role of fandom in politics, and how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's event on Twitch this week was a landmark in online organizing. Listen.
2. Greg Mitchell [@GregMitch] and Jill Lepore on how modern methods of seeding lies and hysteria into a campaign can be traced back to a single race in 1934. Listen.
3. Priyanjana Bengani [@acookiecrumbles] on the emergence of "pink slime" news outlets, which take legitimate journalism and use it as a cover for more nefarious goals at home and abroad. Also featuring Pat Morris and Laura Walters [@walterslaura]. Listen.
4. Bob [@Bobosphere] explains why outlets need to stop saying Republicans like Ben Sasse are "breaking" with Trump. Listen.
OTM presents - Blindspot Ep. 5: The Idea
For this week's podcast extra, we're once more highlighting the work of our colleague Jim O'Grady and his brilliant podcast "Blindspot: The Road to 9/11." This is episode 5: The Idea.
The World Trade Center was built with soaring expectations. Completed in 1973, its architect, Minoru Yamasaki, hoped the towers would stand as “a representation of man’s belief in humanity” and “world peace.” He even took inspiration from the Great Mosque in the holy city of Mecca with its tall minarets looking down on a sprawling plaza. What he did not expect was that the buildings would become a symbol to some of American imperialism and the strangling grip of global capitalism.
Our story picks up in Manila — January 6th, 1995 — where police respond to an apartment fire and uncover a plot to assassinate the Pope. A suspect gives up his boss in the scheme: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef has been on the run for two years and has disappeared again. Port Authority Detective Matthew Besheer and FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino fly to Manila to follow his trail. They learn that Yousef has a horrifying attack in the works involving bombs on a dozen airplanes, rigged to explode simultaneously. President Bill Clinton grounds all U.S. flights from the Pacific as the era of enhanced airline security begins. Yousef’s plot is foiled. But what it reveals about his intentions is chilling.
Premonitions of Election Day violence abound, especially with the growing visibility of extremist militia groups. This week, On The Media looks at a little-known app fueling those groups’ recruitment and organizing. Plus, why skepticism of election forecasts might be a good thing. And, how election coverage has changed (and stagnated) since 2016.
1. Jay Rosen [@jayrosen_nyu], media critic and author of the blog PressThink, on how political journalism needs to switch to an "emergency" setting. Listen.
2. Nate Silver [@NateSilver538], founder and editor-in-chief at FiveThirtyEight, on how his election forecast model has changed (and remained the same) since 2016. Listen.
3. Sam Jackson [@sjacks26], professor at University of Albany, on the debate over "militia member" vs. "domestic terrorist." Listen.
4. OTM reporter Micah Loewinger [@MicahLoewinger] investigates how a walkie-talkie app called Zello is enabling armed white supremacist groups to gather and recruit. Listen.
Music from this week's show: Mysterioso — Kronos Quartet Full Tense — Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet I Saw The Light — Hank Williams I Saw The Light — Hank Williams (reprise)
Brooke speaks with Lulu Miller about her new book, "Why Fish Don't Exist"
Earlier this month, Stanford University announced it would rename Jordan Hall, named for David Starr Jordan, noted natural historian, ichthyologist, and Stanford's founding president back in 1891. Jordan's name is also coming off of several sites at Indiana University, where he also served as president. So who is this long-heralded, lately-demoted David Starr Jordan? He was, among many other things, a great obsession of Lulu Miller, co-host of Radiolab and author of the book, Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life. In this podcast extra, Brooke and Lulu discuss Jordan's history, as well as the author's obsession with him, as a supreme taxonomist who sought determinedly to order the natural world — at least, in part, by finding and naming its fish and later, notoriously, by ranking its people.
The Unlucky Many
GOP Senator Mike Lee tweeted this week that “we are not a democracy.” On this week’s On the Media, why the Republican party’s political future may depend upon anti-democratic — small-’d’ — ideas. Plus, how the good luck of the so-called “silent” generation has shaped the politics of Joe Biden. And, how the bad luck of the millennial generation might shape our collective future.
1. Nicole Hemmer [@pastpunditry], Columbia University research scholar and author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, on the origins and evolution of the "republic, not a democracy" slogan. Listen.
2. Matthew Sitman [@MatthewSitman], associate editor at the Catholic journal Commonweal and co-host of the Know Your Enemy podcast, on the anti-democratic state of the Republican party. Listen.
3. Elwood Carlson, sociology professor at Florida State University, on the "silent generation," members of which comprise much of the governing elite. Listen.
4. Anne Helen Petersen [@annehelen], author of Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, on the downwardly mobile millennial generation. Listen.
Music from this week's show:Prelude of Light — John Zorn Invitation to a Suicide — John ZornThe Glass House - Curtains — David BergeaudTrance Dance — John ZornWhistle While You Work — Bunny Berigan And His OrchestraYoung At Heart — Brad MehldauThe Invisibles — John Zorn