JF: I love public radio. It’s a real fixture in my life. While I’m disappointed when they talk about electronica and never mention the drugs, or recommend hip hop like it’s extra credit in a black-studies program, I’ll always be up for the clear-eyed political reporting, the fact-based assessment of science issues, and their general working assumption that their audience might understand a complicated thought.
But sometimes public radio isn’t enough!
That is why it is my real pleasure to point you toward Slate‘s daily podcasts. On The Gabfest, the official topic is usually Washington politics. Although the D.C. beat is pretty well-traveled territory, the show is a standout. If you watch pundit shows on Sunday mornings, or on television news networks, you might notice pundits skating across issues unchecked by their peers who, in turn, will check off their equally intellectually dishonest talking points. Civility is nice, but as Jon Stewart reminded the dudes at Crossfire a few years back, sometimes it’s all so jive you just want to kick in the screen. The Slate Gabfest is the opposite of that. The panel’s dynamic is both confrontational and convivial, and the format is expansive and flexible enough to let the panel drill down on topics if there is actually more to be said. Free-range provocateur David Plotz is the editor of the other two panelists, and his frequent (and occasionally manic) prodding moves things briskly forward even as it exasperates his co-workers. Emily Bazelon reports on the Supreme Court and has an extraordinary grasp of the law and the real politics of the issues in front of the court. Her insights are tantalizingly easy to claim to be your own (don’t get called out; other people listen to these shows now!). John Dickerson is the rarest kind of pundit–someone who actually knows real facts about the real world. But it is the way the three all merrily call each other out all throughout the conversation that animates and elevates the program.
The other Slate podcasts are also totally worth your time: Hang Up And Listen is a sports show that keeps even me, a dedicated indoorsman, involved about half of the time (which is higher praise than it sounds like). The Culture Gabfest covers an extraordinary amount of new cultural phenomenon both high and low and gives it all a quick, strict shaking out. Their conversations about film are especially useful and praise should be given for the enforced lack of spoiling. They even talk about poetry. (Don’t you want to know about poetry?) Their affection for $10 words at times makes the podcast sound like a Yale class reunion, but at least they aren’t pandering. Slate‘s Lexicon Valley deals with language directly but never seems stuffy. Bob Garfield, better known as the co-host of public radio’s completely excellent On The Media, is recast here as Mike Vuolo‘s curmudgeonly wing man—a role he seems to relish. (Garfield recently ran afoul of listeners for lashing out at the trend among young women to “creak” when they speak; kind of a side effect of up-speaking. Controversy aside, that program was filled with unexpected information—it’s episode 24—check it out!) The DoubleX Gabfest, which is dedicated to women’s issues, is remarkably real in ways that even these other great programs aren’t. The panel of three are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, respectively, and it is their candid examination of their personal, sub-generational differences that leads to the sharpest insights.
Subscribe here and make that subway ride more interesting!