Hard News: NY Times’ Rutenberg Praises Podcast Full of Obama Acolytes as Heading Trump Resistance

March 22nd, 2017 8:49 PM

New York Times media reporter Jim Rutenberg took his usual spot on the front of Business Day on Tuesday, with a new angle in his regular hammering of Trump, this time praising “Pod Save America” (get it!?) a popular podcast under the auspices of the ironically named Crooked Media, produced by former Obama White House aides: “Opposition and a Shave – Former Obama aides use a podcast to counter Trump on his terrain (And they have advertisers.)” Go team!

It’s a news-thin, partisanship-heavy reed from which to hang a prominently placed story, but the Times does so without embarrassment, completing the soft sell with a flattering informal photo of the former Obama White House aides involved: Tommy Cieter, Jon Lovett, and Jon Favreau. Trump won with Twitter apparently, so the left thinks they can win it back with a podcast, and Rutenberg enthusiastically cheered the team of former Obama acolytes on, with an overdose of references aimed at the left-wing cultural connoisseur:

The cultural-political revolution of the Nixon era was neither televised nor sponsored. If you listen to the coolest protest anthem ever, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil Scott-Heron, you’ll hear that it was not “brought to you by Xerox,” did not “go better with Coke,” did not have stars like Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or the entertainment value of “Green Acres.”

The Trump era’s #Resistance is flipping all of that on its head. It’s being televised, podcasted, hashtagged, Snapped, Facebooked, Twittered and Periscoped.

It doesn’t yet go better with Coke. But it does go better with a good night’s sleep in Parachute sheets, a slick new web page designed with Squarespace and an affordable shave with Harry’s razors -- bearded Bernie bros notwithstanding.

Just go check out an episode of “Pod Save America,” one of the big breakout hits of the nascent resistance movement. Running twice weekly, it has all of the above-named brands and sponsors, stars several members of former President Barack Obama’s inner circle and seeks to entertain as much as it tries to inspire anti-Trump action.

It regularly sits near the top of the iTunes list of most popular podcasts, riding the same indefatigable Trump clicks-and-ratings tiger that has propelled Stephen Colbert ahead of Jimmy Fallon, sent Rachel Maddow to viewership records and, from the opposite perspective, made Breitbart a household name.

Rutenberg sounded giddy in his promotionalism of the liberal show.

There’s something happening here, and to get clear on exactly what it was, I met up with the members of the “Pod Save America” crew while we were all in Austin.


It’s only fitting that Mr. Lovett and his co-founders -- Mr. Obama’s former chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and the former national security spokesman Tommy Vietor -- should be part of the anti-Trump resistance.

They were co-authors of Mr. Obama’s 2011 speech at the White House Correspondents Association dinner that lampooned Mr. Trump so harshly that it helped form his decision to make a real presidential bid, I’ll-show-’em style. (The speech depicted him as a moon-landing truther and ended with eerie prescience: “He certainly would bring some change to the White House.”)


Mr. Trump won the presidency by turning his campaign into a prodigious content studio. It pumped out programming that obliterated all opposing messages in its path, across all media. For news organizations, it was a traffic, ratings -- and therefore ad-revenue -- bonanza.

His White House is running much the same way -- operating less in the real world of actual intelligence reports, solid data and expert analyses, and more in the media sphere’s mix of hard facts, rumor and wild conspiracy theory.


So as the Crooked Media guys set out to counter Mr. Trump, they realized that they were already on the right track with their podcast. They were going to have to meet him on the terrain that he was quickly overdeveloping. You don’t start a super PAC, you start a show; you counterprogram.


So they set out to mix jokes with insider descriptions of executive branch norms and interviews, often with people who can recommend political action -- a protest, a phone-call campaign, an organizing drive -- which is the sort of thing mainstream news media can’t do because, as Mr. Favreau said, “it would be picking a side.”

The mainstream media has clearly already picked its side – anyone but Trump.

With episodes being downloaded up to 1.4 million times, according to data they shared from their hosting platform, ART19, they tapped into “a wave of interest about this president, a lot of it based on fear,” Mr. Favreau said.

The NYT finds yet another way to plug Rachel Maddow’s ratings boost.

It turned out they were joining a hit program already in progress -- what with booming ratings for Ms. Maddow on MSNBC and, for that matter, Mr. Colbert’s “Late Show” on CBS.

Rutenberg circled back to his esoteric reference to praise the media-based resistance:

You’d think Gil Scott-Heron would be shocked. But his biographer Marcus Baram told me he might actually be heartened. His poem was actually about not being a passive-resistance media consumer. This current show is decidedly interactive.

Somebody get me a Coke.