Perhaps you’re suffering from Scandal Fatigue. Or some version of PTSD (President Trump Stress Disorder). If you feel you are, you certainly wouldn’t be alone. It’s draining and depressing, this never-ending epidemic of predators and miscreants who slither across the top of your morning newspaper. They clutter your mind and stain your conversations. And you begin to feel the world you knew slipping through your fingers. No sooner has one malignant grifter left the stage than another pops up, and they’re often worse than the one that just exited.
Just in the past three years—well, since November 8, 2016, if you want to put a hard date on it—we’ve had enough grifts, scandals, and general nincompoopery for a decade or more: Weinstein, Flynn, Cohen, Manafort, Theranos, Cambridge Analytica, Stephen Miller, Brexit, Russian interference, Epstein, the Khashoggi murder, the fake German heiress, WeWork, Prince Andrew, Ukraine (along with Trump, Giuliani, Perry, Sondland, and on and on). Have I left anybody or anything out?
I’ve spent the late summer and fall in Provence, and I must say that it helps to have an ocean between yourself and the grasping venality and illogic of Trump and his Republican enablers; although it doesn’t make the loony culture wars of the intolerant Left any easier to understand. The distance doesn’t get rid of all the underlying problems back home; it just delays the pain by six hours.
We’ve had enough grifts, scandals, and general nincompoopery for a decade or more.
In these weeks of constant revelations about the corrosive corruption in Washington, I’ve found that there are a handful of podcasts that help make sense of it all, and two in particular: Cafe Insider, a spin-off of Preet Bharara’s Stay Tuned with Preet podcast; and Pivot. The first is about the intersection of justice and politics—a combination that is way too front of mind these days. And the second is about Silicon Valley and, by extension, Wall Street. Neither podcast is exclusively about these subject areas, but they are the focus of most of the conversation, and they provide springboards for their hosts to digress into other terrain.
Back in the mid-70s, when Elton John and Kiki Dee released their hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” I remember reading about a study that said that the combination of the male and female voices in a recording is far more alluring to the listener than a single male or female voice. And in a way, that is why Pivot and Cafe Insider work so well. Both have a Pat and Mike sophistication and banter that is infectious and somewhat electrifying.
Pivot is hosted by Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway. Kara, whom I used to work with at Vanity Fair, has been covering the tech beat pretty much since there was a tech beat. For years she was the Silicon Valley reporter at The Wall Street Journal alongside the great Walt Mossberg. She now writes an op-ed column for The New York Times. On the podcast, Kara’s a combination of Rosalind Russell (in her speediest His Girl Friday delivery) and Joe Pesci—Goodfellas Joe Pesci, not the calmer Irishman version; although sometimes the My Cousin Vinny Joe. Kara’s smart and fearless, but no less so than Scott. He’s a business guru and professor at New York University. He’s got something of the Jeff Spicoli about him. But beneath the surfer-dude drawl is a ready wit and a razor-sharp mind.
On the podcast, Kara’s a combination of Rosalind Russell (in her speediest His Girl Friday delivery) and Joe Pesci.
Their predictions (about the imminent collapse of WeWork’s I.P.O. and other tech shell games) are informed and way out in front. And their criticisms of the evils of big tech are levelheaded and searing. Don’t even get them started on the evils of Facebook. It helps that both hosts are funny. (Kara regularly refers to Jeff Sessions as her “favorite lesbian.”) In the end, though, it’s the cut-through-the-BS sanity they bring to any discussion that I find most compelling—and most refreshing.
Over at Cafe Insider, Preet Bharara, the storied former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, reviews the week’s events with the same keen mind that used to scare the hell out of terrorists, state politicians, organized-crime members, and Wall Street thieves. Inasmuch as the show focuses on the constant friction these days between politics and the law, much of the attention has focused on the Russian investigation and the widening Ukraine-related impeachment inquiry. Preet does this with his partner in crime-fighting, Anne Milgram. Anne’s no slouch herself, having served as the attorney general of New Jersey. She comes from a family of professors, and she is now indeed one—at New York University. As is Preet. And you wonder why N.Y.U. is the hot school these days? You can feel the professional affection the two have for each other.
Together, they sort through the legalities of the Trump morass and all the attendant morasses. Preet thinks and talks fast. Anne is softer but just as incisive. And she’s got a voice—oh, does she have a voice. I think of her as the Jean Arthur of podcasters. Which is about as high a compliment as you can pay anyone. Again, as with Kara and Scott, Preet and Anne are a reservoir of knowledge, decency, and common sense. And, boy, would you have drawn the short straw if you had to face off against either of them in a courtroom.
There are other podcasts that help an American in France sort through the mire of contemporary U.S. politics. The audio portions of The Rachel Maddow Show and Morning Joe are lively wake-ups, as is the previous day’s episode of The New York Times’s essential The Daily. Still, I have to hand it to Preet, Anne, Kara, and Scott: these four are out there on the front lines fighting for reason and truth and doing it with wit and clarity. For that recurring case of Scandal Fatigue you think you have, I suggest taking two every day and calling it a morning.