Can ‘Pod Save America’ Live Up to Its Name?

The origin story for Pod Save America, one of the most popular podcasts in the country, reads like an Avengers script written by Aaron Sorkin. The villain—misinformation—has risen, say liberal pundits (and most everyone else), thanks to a new generation of radical right-wingers who’ve found massive audiences on social media. Facts no longer matter, if they ever did, to the president and those who support him.

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EsquirePablo Declan

Cue the unlikely heroes: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor, a crack team of precocious ex–Obama staffers who launched a podcast company called Crooked Media to fight back. “People are tired of getting their political analysis in two-minute sound bites on cable news,” says Favreau. “Podcasts allow you to have a more nuanced conversation.” Their flagship product is PSA, hosted by all three (sometimes with their White House colleague Dan Pfeiffer). Its recipe is simple: one part policy discussion, carried out with wonkish rigor; one part activism; plus a dash of sophomoric humor. The challenge is how to go high as their conservative counterparts race to the bottom. “Limbaugh, Breitbart—they’re not trying to help people understand or to provide facts,” Vietor says. “They’re trying to sow racial animus and grievance. They’re trying to tear down government and tear down people.” Lovett adds, “Yes, we come at things from a liberal point of view. But we’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.”

Problem is, the other side has no shortage of sheep (for the wool, we mean): The weekly listenership for conservative radio’s top shows, according to industry analysts, is 14 million for Rush Limbaugh, 13.5 million for Sean Hannity, and 11 million for Michael Savage. (Not to mention the Drudge Report, with its 19 million monthly readers, and Breitbart, which peaked during the election with a breathtaking 45 million readers in a single month.) Contrast that with PSA’saudience of 1.5 million.

Crooked’s founders say they’re not progressivism’s saviors. A liberal movement isn’t built overnight, and certainly not by three hypereducated, technocratic white dudes. So they’ve launched six more podcasts (one hosted by longtime lefty Ana Marie Cox, another by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson) and a site (crooked.com). This past fall, PSA hit the road for what was billed as Pod Tours America, selling out all but one show. (More dates are in the works.)

Jon Favreau, Tomy Vietor, and Jon Lovett

Twitter


MEET THE “OBAMA BROS”

Pod Save America’s hosts met while working for the previous administration.

Jon Favreau, 36

Obama connect: Chief speechwriter

Tommy Vietor, 37

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Obama connect: National-security spokesman

Jon Lovett, 35

Obama connect: Speechwriter


PSA took shape in the wake of the presidential election: Favreau & Co. owned up to miscalculating Trump’s chances big-time (it’s okay, we all did) and solemnly promised their listeners to never again be so blinded by bias. Much of their podcast’s appeal lies in seeing how this mea culpa has played out. They haven’t yet cracked the code, but their quest is an undeniable draw for disillusioned liberals who, since Obama left office, have had no port to call home.

Hunter S. Thompson once said that if you rode a Vincent “at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die.” Never one to take his own advice, the journalist had several torrid affairs with the brand over the years. His attorney, Dr. Gonzo, suggested buying a motorcycle before their famous narcotic-fueled bender chronicled in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In 1972, Thompson made a detour from the campaign trail, hopped on a Vincent, and took a raucous road test through California.

Favreau at the ’Pod Save America’ panel during Politicon in July 2017.

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If you’re headed to the Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction on January 25, take Dr. Gonzo’s recommendation and put in a bid for the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning. Offered through Bonhams auction house, the bike is in its original running condition and broke the Australian land-speed record, at 141 mph, in 1953. If you’re wondering how much cash to allocate for this one, consider the fact that the last Black Lightning sold at auction for $293,423 in 2008.

Only 34 Black Lightnings were ever built, and it’s not hard to see why. They were custom orders stripped of any street equipment and topped off with an angry 998cc engine. These were the first superbikes of the postwar era. And in a time before helmet laws were widespread and molecular body armor was standard, only a small group had the nerve and the bankroll to mount one.


This article appeared in the Winter ’18 issue of Esquire.

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