Thursday, November 15, 2018
Events

Pod Save America’s Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor talk about how Trump fueled their podcast and live show

Donald Trump has been a gift to much of the media world he maligns.

TV ratings for Trump critics including Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee have soared. Circulation and online clicks at newspapers including the Washington Post and what the president calls "the dying New York Times" are up, too.

Alums of the Barack Obama administration turned their fear of the Trump presidency into one of the hottest podcasts streaming today, Pod Save America. Former Obama speechwriters Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor created Pod Save America after Trump won in 2016. Former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer co-hosts.

Imagine eavesdropping on a few liberal, plugged-in 30-something political operatives’ often funny rant sessions about current events. Throw in softball interviews with assorted Democratic politicians and journalists, and you get the idea of the podcast, which is on tour with a live version called Pod Tours America. It hits Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, before heading on to two shows in Miami on Friday.

Before the show, the Times spoke by phone to Lovett, 35, and Vietor, 37, about politics, how the podcast started and more. Here’s an edited excerpt.

So who goes to your shows, paying as much as $125 to hear Trump bashing that is free so many other places?

Vietor: We have members of MS-13 (the criminal gang often cited by Trump). The George Soros kids…

Lovett: … Russian bots, You’d be amazed how many Russian bots come to these things. … No, I think people listen to a lot of shows on their phones, and they feel like they want to be part of the community of people that care about something, they want to be around people that listen, too, and are participating in this new way. … The energy in these rooms is pretty exciting because it’s either people who are more passionate about politics than they have been before or maybe getting engaged for the first time.

What was the pitch you made in starting Pod Save America?

Vietor: Keepin’ It 1600 was essentially a hobby. It was a way to get your fix of politics even though none of us were working in it at that time. … Lovett and Favreau and I made a decision to get back into the political process more than we’d been in the past year. I think we all felt some guilt that we had been in the sidelines more than in previous elections. We decided to start a company, Crooked Media. We wanted to have a simple mission statement, which was to entertain, inform you, and help inspire action.

Do you think it would work if Hillary Clinton or a more mainstream Republican won the presidency?

Lovett: I don’t know that we would have launched this company if Trump hadn’t won. Probably we wouldn’t. There are two big reasons why we decided to do this. One, it was because we thought that Trump winning was a national emergency and a national crisis, something we felt like we wanted to be involved in fighting back against.

But long before … the three of us felt there was a market for a different kind of political conversation. The way we talk about politics has been broken for so long. … There are incredible reporters doing investigative work, writing about politics, doing journalism every single day, but the analysis, the punditry around politics is so broken, and frustrating and dispiriting that we felt we wanted to have the kind of no bulls--- conversations that we have when the microphones aren’t running.

In election cycle after election cycle, we hear predictions about a surge in young voters, and it never happens. Do you think it will happen this year?

Lovett: One of the lessons of 2016 is to spend less time worrying about what will happen and more time worrying about what we want to happen. … What we are seeing, whether it’s the Parkland kids leading this youth movement against gun violence, or people showing up the airport to protest (DACA) or people showing up at the women’s marches, there is an enthusiasm and energy among young people that speaks to the promise of them turning out in a new way because they’re so fundamentally dissatisfied with the politics that they’ve been handed. … If anything (positive) comes out of Trump being president, it’s millions and millions of people taking their democracy back.

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