In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, Sam, and De’Ara dive into recent overlooked news including Sag Harbor, Colorado’s sweeping marijuana pardon, job markets, and Tanqueray from Humans of New York. Then, DeRay chats with CNN’s Brian Stelter about his new book “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” which examines how a media empire is responsible for our current commander-in-chief.
DeRay [00:00:02] Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, it’s is me, Kaya, De’Ara and Sam, as usual, talking about the news that you might not have caught in the past week, but news that you should know. And then I sat down with Brian Stelter to discuss his new book about Trump, about Fox News and about dangerous distortions of truth. I learned a lot. My advice for this week is to clean up my apartment. I feel like I’ve been here forever now because of Covid. But I did a deep clean over the weekend, and it was one of those things where, like, I just needed to, like, get rid of some old stuff, recycle some stuff, throw out the trash, hang this stuff up in new places. I decided that, like, the books really belonged over here and not over here. And now like the, the space I’m living in and working in just like work so much better because I devoted the time to clean up there. There’s probably a lot of things in your life that you need to clean up. And let’s just make it a goal this week to like, do some of them. Let’s go.
De’Ara [00:01:01] hello. Hello. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Twitter, where I don’t do too much tweeting, and Instagram @DeAraBalenger.
Sam [00:01:14] I’m Sam Sinyangwe @Samswey on Twitter and Instagram.
Kaya [00:01:17] I’m Kaya Henderson @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
DeRay [00:01:20] I’m DeRay @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara [00:01:23] All right, folks. So there’s no way we cannot talk about the person that lives in the White House who has Covid. He and the first lady tested positive earlier this week, along with a lot of other folks that are prominent in the GOP. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about how to make these episodes hopeful. So here’s our chance. We hope that he recovers. But we also hope that he now thinks Covid is a real thing. We also hope that folks that need treatment are getting the same treatment that he’s getting right now. So I’ll leave it there before it goes into a different direction. But I don’t know if you all have thoughts on the current state.
DeRay [00:02:10] He is play, I don’t know if he’s playing us anymore as much as he is definitely playing the media like a fiddle. I mean, he has the media wrapped around his hand. So it’s like, I saw that clip of him getting out of the hospital bed to go wave to the people or at the hospital…And it’s like he is just a master dominating the news. And, you know, they are complicit in it, like they have been complicit for a long time. But you’re like, this man didn’t care about the, 200,000 people died. He doesn’t care. He hasn’t cared about any of the people sick. Herman Cain, rest in peace. I mean, like everybody. Hey, he is just, like, disregarded their lives completely and now he has it. And it’s the number one story. And people aren’t even calling out the hypocrisy. I’m actually shocked at how well he was able to turn this into a media story about himself.
Sam [00:03:02] So there are two things that come to mind when I think about this story. One, you know, going to your comment, De’Ara, around hoping that this makes him take coronavirus more seriously.
Sam [00:03:11] I hope so. But I really am not optimistic because you’re just looking on, on social media. A few minutes ago, seeing his caravan, like him in his motorcade, driving around, endangering Secret Service agents who are like trapped in this like sealed, air sealed vehicle with somebody who has just tested positive and is definitely within the range of still being infectious. And like, it is just wild that he is, even after this, even after contracting Covid, he’s like still gambling with people’s lives, still like flaunting social distancing guidelines, showing up to places, endangering other people, creating super spreader events. Right. Like that is like wild.
Sam [00:03:50] It also reminds me of an article that I read a week or so ago that was tracking differences between countries in terms of how big their, sort of, Covid outbreaks are. And what they found was that it really comes down to super spreader events, that there are a smaller set of people that just in the wrong circumstances, the wrong time, not social distancing like lead to these massive infections that just like completely alter an entire country’s ability to deal with it. And like the fact that, like the president of this country is literally hosting super spreader events is just like a level of public health risk that is like wild to even think about.
Kaya [00:04:29] What has been interesting to me about this whole thing. There’s lots that’s interesting to me. But looking at the regimen of, of medications that he has access to, the failings of doctors that he has access to, and thinking about just what is not available to regular people, is pretty astounding. There are lots of doctors who are coming out and talking about how promising the regimen of care is, how it’s the the steroids, the trial drugs, all of these different things that they are actually working together to really ensure that he has the best chances of survival, which is what you would expect for a president. But it just is another glaring indication of the fact that, you know, two hundred and thirteen thousand people have died. And if they had access to any of that, it doesn’t have to be the case. And you can trace that decision directly back to the president, who again knew before he said he knew. In fact, he knew that he had Covid before he said he knew, is what it looks like. And this pattern of deception is, frankly, the pattern around the media circus. It’s galling. When you, if you know anybody who has died from Covid, like to watch all of this is really pretty offensive. And, you know, I think DeRay is right, he has manipulated this and is playing the media in really effective ways. And that just makes these people’s deaths and people who struggle with this, this virus really, really unimaginable. It makes me even sicker. And I don’t know I don’t have anything hopeful to say about this.
De’Ara [00:06:19] I mean, I think the one hopeful thing is that it is going to have an impact on his campaign. I mean, he’s not gonna be able to be a fundraiser. He’s not going to be able to be at these wild rallies. At least we get a break from that. So I think, you know.
De’Ara [00:06:34] Seeing that there thirty.
DeRay [00:06:35] Maybe, hopefully hopefully.
De’Ara [00:06:36] I mean, hopefully, but I mean, the fact of the matter is it’s going to be, you know, a couple weeks again, we hope a couple weeks of having a break from all of that and, you know, and also being hopeful that that has some type of impact.
Sam [00:06:51] He also appears to have infected enough Republican senators to delay the Supreme Court proceedings.
De’Ara [00:06:56] [00:06:56] That’s that part, Sam. That part!
Kaya [00:06:57] [00:06:57] That’s hopeful, that’s hopeful.
Sam [00:07:00] Running on a very narrow timeline. There’s a really narrow timeline. They don’t have days to lose.
DeRay [00:07:03] That’s good.
Sam [00:07:03] It’s not looking good for them now either.
Sam [00:07:05] So a big unforced error from Donald Trump
Kaya [00:07:07] Thank you, Sam.
DeRay [00:07:08] I didn’t even think about that. That is that is real.
Kaya [00:07:11] I’m bringing a little reminder of how good human beings are in this crazy week, in that mine news is highlighting this story of Tanqueray. If you don’t know Tanqueray. Oh, my gosh. Where have you been? She is the star of the Humans of New York storytelling franchise on Facebook and Instagram.
Kaya [00:07:36] Tanqueray’s real name is Stephanie Johnson, and she is 76 years old and she is a former burlesque dancer who has lived an incredible life full of rich and engaging stories that the humans of New York folks have captured. And they started a about a year ago when Brandon, who runs Humans of New York, who writes Humans of New York. Brandon Stanton. He ran into her as he was coming out of the gym and she had on a full-length fur coat and this headband. And she’s a very colorfully dressed character. And he complimented her on her outfit. And she said to him, Tell me something. Why do white boys always wear shorts when it’s cold? And that began a relationship between them, where she told her stories and he captured her stories. And last year, he ran a few pieces on her and then he hadn’t seen her for a while. And he went to check on her. And it turned out that she was ill and she was and she needed some support. And so he embarked upon a campaign to raise money to support her medical expenses and her life expenses. And within a week asking, it was a GoFundMe campaign, within a week. Humans all over the country and all over the world who have enjoyed Tanqueray’s story raise 2.5 million dollars to take care of this woman as she ages in place. And her story tells of gritty New York City, mobsters and pimps and prostitutes and and burlesque dancers and thieves and all kinds of things. And it also tells about the goodness of people and how people take care of people. And I thought that it was incredibly hopeful, that the world kind of rallied around her story and engaged in her story, but also that people contributed to support this lady. And she, in turn, likely has, they’ve raised more money than she will probably need. But she has created, they’ve created a trust where whatever is left over after she no longer needs anything after her death, the remaining money will be donated to the Association to Benefit Children, which is a nonprofit that serves underprivileged children in New York City. And one of the panels that they did, one of the pieces that they did on her showed that the young people from the association to benefit children coming to her house and they drew her pictures and just brightened up her her place. And so at a time where we have very big questions about people’s humanity and people’s care for one another, I wanted to lift up a story that was hopeful and a story that reminds us that we do take care of each other and that our stories matter, our lives are important. Nobody would have known about Stephanie Johnson if it wasn’t for Brandon running into her on his way from the gym. And I think we’ve got to keep telling each other stories and keep supporting each other. So that’s my news for this week.
DeRay [00:11:05] One of the things that I loved about this is that she had been approached by TV and movie executives after the first posting on Humans in New York. And she said that she wanted the Humans of New York Instagram page to tell her story. Like she chose, she was like, I trust him.
DeRay [00:11:20] Like I want him to tell my story. And there’s so much agency in thinking about, like who you trust to tell that story. And I like, I love that about like this part of it. Another thing that I’m always mindful of, especially with that generation, is that there’s.
DeRay [00:11:34] Interview in The New York Times where she talks about that all of the people she came up with, all of those stories and darara, that they are dead now. There she is, the survivor. Right. She’s like the ballroom scene in the gay community and did it like she’s like, I don’t have any of these people anymore. Like, I have lived such a full life. But there is a, I’m alone in this moment. And there is something interesting about the Internet actually allows you to build community. And I think that she benefited from like a community building that is very different than like, what, a TV show or what a, you know, podcast can do it a little bit. But there is something immediate about the community that can happen like this. And this is really like the best version of it. So that is really cool. And that she changed her name so many times so that she could protect the people that she was in the, like she was a stripper. She was in the sex industry. She was a sex worker. And like she needed to protect the people around her, which is why she brought on these these different identities.
DeRay [00:12:34] I loved her story. And I was surprised when they were like, we’re going to do a multipart, I mean there’s a lot of posts about Tanqueray.
Kaya [00:12:39] 33 this time and how many ever there were before.
DeRay [00:12:43] And I was like, are people going to stay tuned to this? And like Brandon Stanton is a storyteller. He got it. He got the juice.
Kaya [00:12:52] Just a couple of numbers, that according to Instagram, the Humans in New York account has gained over 15,000 new followers on Facebook and over 66,000 followers on Instagram since the Tanqueray series started last week. And the account has received over seven million likes and one hundred and forty thousand comments on Facebook.
Sam [00:13:13] So it’s been fascinating to see sort of humans of New York like how it’s sort of grown over the years and how many stories like we’ve learned through Humans of New York and, you know, both in the U.S., all across the world, like so many different people and how wild it’s been that it’s like just an IG platform, like, like account. Right. Like you can post, like, whatever you want and like, how they’ve used that account in such a powerful way to lift up stories that are really unique, that teach us about the world and about like about experiences that we may have thought about or heard of, but never had met anybody or heard directly from people who had experienced things that, like we might have read about or like heard about or seen in a movie, but like like the real being that people, like, really went through in so many different contexts in places across the world. And it’s always fascinating to see, like how people in the community responds to particular stories, which stories seem to like be really compelling and and resonate with people. I think with Tanqueray, it was a really good example of, like somebody who has really, like seen it all, has seen so much that is fascinating that like, like for me, like as somebody was like 30 years old, things that like I, like, never knew about or like had access to or could have read and like a history book, but just like never would’ve known who to ask or like how to ask the right questions, like really hear from somebody directly what happened in that particular context, in that particular culture and moment. So it’s, I think Humans of New York has been really powerful and like lifting up stories like that and just demonstrated the power of like being creative with like, you know, Instagram. You know, everybody has Instagram and like a lot of people have an Instagram account, the like how you use that account, like you can do so many incredible things with it.
De’Ara [00:14:54] OK, my news is from New York Magazine. It’s actually a visual piece, so I encourage all of you to watch it. It’s called A Beach of Our Own, and it captures the history and the present, of black families that live in SAG Harbor. So in the Hamptons, but in the Hamptons, there’s a town called SAG Harbor. So during Jim Crow, this group of trailblazing black families essentially built a haven for themselves, which has thrived for generations and generations. And now this small community, though, is at risk. I’ll get to that. So SAG Harbor’s Eastville community actually welcomed formerly enslaved black men as early as 1818, many of whom worked as whalers, fishermen or shipbuilders. So, but by the mid-20th century, the villages, these these villages that they established that they founded. They were collectively known as SANS. Eastville is also an adjacent settlement that was sold to black folks and indigenous folks, actually 100 hundred years prior to that. So this community has been around for a very long time. And by the 1940s, SANS became a summer destination for Middle or Middle-Class Black folks. It was a destination of black folks were building homes, but they can only really build small homes because of redlining. So a lot of folks couldn’t get mortgages or couldn’t get a loan essentially to build a bigger house. And we know that redlining is discriminatory practice by which a financial institution could and often did refuse or limit a loan or insurance within specific geographic areas. And this particularly happened in the inner cities. I just wanted to raise this because one of the things that it’s gotten me to thinking about it in SANS is similar to other, you know, established beachfront black communities like an Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, also Highland Beach, which is in Maryland that was founded in 1893.
De’Ara [00:16:49] But what it got me to thinking about is, yes, one, why it’s important to keep these safe havens for black folks and why it’s important for them to continue to exist. Many of them are at risk now by developers. Hopefully that whatever is done that needs to be done to help protect these folks happens. What it made me think about is my grandparents, who we are not Martha’s Vineyard or Hamptons people, we’re from St. Paul, Minnesota. My both, my grandparents were born in the 30s. My grandpa worked in a paper factory. My grandmother grew up as a migrant worker, but then was a foreman at at a factory called Eunice’s.
De’Ara [00:17:23] But they went fishing all the time, whenever they can. They went to the lake and they would take us kids up to the lake and we complain and we’d hate it. So we go up to the lake. We go to the cabin. We’d wake up five o’clock in the morning, go sit on the lake.
De’Ara [00:17:36] And my grandpa would always go, shush, shut up, shut up. So we would just be quiet and still.
De’Ara [00:17:43] And now as I’m getting older, I’m thinking back to it and how my grandpa was really teaching us mindfulness. And he was teaching us how to be still. And he was teaching us how to find peace, which I think as black folks or oppressed folks, vulnerable folks, whatever the moniker we’re comfortable with. I think it’s so important for us to find ways to get peace of mind. And so, really, no matter your socio-economic status, whatever that self-care practice looks like, really figuring out what that is, even if that’s taking a nap.
De’Ara [00:18:15] So I think this is one this is a really beautiful story that you all should watch. The visuals are beautiful and the black folks in it are beautiful and bronzy and magical.
De’Ara [00:18:25] But I think it’s also just important for us to explore our elders and how they found quiet and stillness and peace.
De’Ara [00:18:33] And when I think about my grandparents in what they came up in, how much they needed that as an interracial couple in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the 50s and 60s. So that’s my news ya’ll.
DeRay [00:18:44] So I hadn’t known as much about SAG Harbor. I’d heard about it, like people had said SAG Harbor. But I didn’t realize the black history of it. One of the things that I looked up in preparation for this show is that there are only about 20 of the original families that still maintain their homes that redeveloped, that developers have bought off so many of the properties to like make them into McMansions and like do something else to them, and that there is a concerted effort to, like, try to help keep these homes like owned by the families that pioneered this space. And it is just a reminder that, like, you know, that’s one of the challenges of the intergenerational wealth, then you get the developers come in and there is so much money to be made in destroying parts of history and creating new things that often are not creating new things for the people that made the history like, you know, black people made this space magical. And then you develop it and darara and, you know, like I know who is moving in all of a sudden? Right. And and I’m always interested in that. So that was really shocking that it’s such a small group of families left who still own houses.
Sam [00:19:54] So my news is about Colorado, where this past week the governor, Jared Polis, issued a pardon to two thousand and seven hundred people in the state who had marijuana convictions, particularly convictions for marijuana possession of under an ounce. And this is important because, you know, Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, but a whole host of people who had been convicted prior to that still had those convictions on their record. And so in one sweeping move, the governor expunged those records. Now, this highlights the power that governors have to address issues like mass incarceration through the clemency process and pardon process. But again, it’s also a reminder of just how many people are still impacted by the war on drugs and by the war on marijuana in particular. So data just came out from the federal government on arrest that happened nationwide last year. And what they found was that there were over 500,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2019. In fact, that was more than the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined. And again, that while that number has gone down a little bit, in part because of big drops in states like Texas that legalized hemp and made it pretty hard for prosecutors to prove that somebody has marijuana versus hemp. So, like, they just couldn’t charge people for marijuana. And in many cases. But yet and still, despite those small declines from the past year, it remains like an obscene amount of people that continue to be arrested for marijuana. They continue to have marijuana convictions on their records despite legalization continuing to happen and more and more states.
De’Ara [00:21:43] I thought this one was extremely hopeful and hopefully more of it will continue. I also think for folks to understand, like what an ounce of cannabis is like, it’s like 28 grams. So it’s probably like, I don’t know, like 25 or so joints. Yall’ know what I’m talking about. Which is not a lot for that to be put on your record and for you to be subject to arrest, especially in a place like Colorado, where in just the month of June, they sold one hundred and ninety-eight point eight million dollars’ worth of marijuana. So you don’t lock me up for a joint or two? Come on. That’s wild. Wild. So I think.
De’Ara [00:22:23] This is extremely good action and hopefully other governors follow. I also hope that just are regulars, regular old-line prosecutors stop prosecuting people that have such a small amount of marijuana on them because they have the discretion to do that most places.
De’Ara [00:22:40] But yeah, this is this is great now, and I hope there’s there’s more to come.
DeRay [00:22:44] So remember that, you know, Colorado obviously has legalized marijuana and they did it in 2012. So what the legislature passed is a bill that allows the governor to pardon people for 50 years before 2012, which is what happened. Remember that before this bill and before these pardons, people who had convictions prior to legalization would have to petition the courts individually and get the judge to individually expunge his record. That’s wild. This should be basic, right? This should be like what comes with legalization should be this sort of law, like a just expunge at all. The other thing is that this is a reminder that the legislatures have a lot of power, that when we think about incarceration across the country, we think about the number of people arrested, the number of people like in jails. Almost everybody who’s incarcerated is in a local or state prison or jail like local state prisons and jails is really where the vast the majority of people are. It’s not the federal prison system. So, like, we should be pressing on all our legislators to, like, do this sort like to pass laws that actually decarcerate, that keep people out of jail. I feel like I feel like this is where the media is, not necessarily our friend is that if you watch the media, you would think that like the federal government was like the arbiter of who goes to jail and who doesn’t. And like. And that’s just not true. It’s like there are about two million people in jail, less. It’s about 200 ish thousand people are incarcerated in federal prisons. The vast majority of people are in local prisons in jail. So, like, shout out to the legislature in Colorado from not only moving on the end of qualified immunity, which is the first day they did that, but also for like moving on these things, because like, ya’ll, these legislators at the state level are punking everybody, like they don’t have a lot of power and they are the reason why things are moving. My news was reported in the 19th, which is an amazing new publication started by black women focused on women. And what it talks about is it the headline is “eight hundred sixty-five thousand women left the workforce last month.” And it was interesting because I hadn’t seen a breakout like this before. So what there a couple of things that were fascinating to me about this analysis. The first was that it reminded us what a lot of people already that was happening. But the burden has fallen mostly on working mothers and not fathers in heterosexual relationships who are more than three times as likely to be responsible for the majority of housework and childcare during the pandemic, which was published by Lean In this week that studied 317 companies and more than 40,000 employees. It also showed that this is the first time in six years of research that this study has found evidence of women intending to leave their jobs at a higher rate than men. Which is interesting. And then the unemployment rate itself, which is fascinating. So it notes that unemployment went down for most groups last month, hitting the seven-point seven percent for all women, down from the peak of fifteen-point five percent April and seven-point four percent for men, compared to 13 percent April. But it remained in double digits for black women at eleven-point one percent, for Latina women at 11 percent. So it’s like when I look at this, you know, this is like our theme of the past couple weeks is like y’all we have not yet reckoned with, like the large-scale impact of coronavirus. And part of what we need when Trump gets out of office, is for there to be like a real cross functional task force of every agency and the federal government to, like, help deliver a plan so that unemployment, the small businesses closing education so that we get back on track, because everything I’m looking at makes it clear that we are just like maintaining right now. But like we are not in the clear by any stretch of the imagination. And there is certainly no plan.
Kaya [00:26:40] I mean, this is just the continuation of the piece that I did a few weeks ago on had a child care crisis was affecting women and women of color. How even when jobs are coming back, they are coming back at about 60 percent for white people and less than 40 percent for people of color. I mean, this is I feel like a broken record on this. All I mean, Disney just laid off 28,000 people last week. The airlines are furloughing people. We have not begun to reckon. And, you know, states don’t have money. We saw it last week, and that they’re are running out of stimulus funds and the mayor’s office in New York has furloughed people. We’re going to see this winter people being laid off in droves and our economy is not going to bounce back. Even the stock market people are predicting devastating consequences. And we just keep on acting like it’s business as usual. But as. Always when, you know, America gets a cold. People of color get pneumonia and or Covid or whatever. And we just keep seeing it in a numbers, these reports are going to keep on coming out, showing that the people who bear the economic burden of this are women because they not only have to take care of their own children, they have to take care of family members. You know, they attend to people. And these are the ones who are losing jobs and not going back into the job force. And so there’s more to come, unfortunately.
De’Ara [00:28:10] Ya’ll, I guess I’m just processing and still stuck on the Lean In foundation. Sheryl Sandberg, you got the resources. What you gonna do now? You got the report. What are you gonna do now? That’s what I want to know. Got an election coming up. What’s Facebook going to do about that?
Sam [00:28:27] So it is sort of wild, like seeing the data on how a tiny proportion of the population, like super wealthy people like Jeff Bezos and like Mark Zuckerberg and other people have like made billions during the pandemic. Meanwhile, it has exacerbated inequities that we’re already at like an extreme, an unsustainable and ridiculous level before the pandemic and like multiplied them like like poured gasoline all over that and made things even worse. Right. And so, like, now we’re in the situation where it is going to take a massive restructuring of society, a massive reinvestment and redistribution, frankly, from those who have benefited by this pandemic have taken money from, you know you look at businesses that made all of that money from the PPP loans. You looking at at places of companies that made all this money from the bailouts. You’re looking at rich people that continue to make money by making their money, make money. And like all of that, like that wealth is being accumulated and that wealth needs to be invested in black women. It needs to be invested in black communities. It needs to be invested in the places that are absolutely bearing the brunt of this crisis. And yet, despite that clear reality we’re seeing in Congress, they’re not even taking up the coronavirus legislation like they’re not even interested in any relief. And so, like, it is a complete disconnect.
Sam [00:29:49] And I hope that in this election, there will be enough turnout to put all of those things politically on the table as soon as possible and to pressure and frankly, vote out of office. People like Mitch McConnell that have stood in the way of any type of reinvestment in the context of this pandemic.
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DeRay [00:31:28] There’s a lot of great ways to start your day. Eating breakfast, meditating, walking the dog. I start out with a little bit of stretching just a little bit because I am, you know, working out, not my forte. I also make sure that I drink a lot of water. That was one of the things that quarantine actually did, is I like I’m all about drinking water and then taking some vitamins. But what about starting your day with making your bed? I’ve never made my bed as a kid. This is like a new thing for me to make my bed every day. But it is there’s like a level of order and just like calmness that provides that I really didn’t believe in until I became an adult.
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DeRay [00:34:54] Pod Save the People is brought to you by, To See Each Other. I want to tell you about a new podcast called, To See Each Other Does Each Other as a documentary series, a complicated scenario about rural Americans and our most misunderstood and often abandoned communities.
Kaya [00:35:06] Host George Goehl, a leading grassroots organizer, travels to Michigan, Iowa, New Jersey, North Carolina and Indiana to reveal how small-town folks are working together and fight for everything from clean water and racial justice, to immigration rights and climate change. The show believes that when we see each other will understand that we can never give up on each other.
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Kaya [00:35:29] Pod Save the People is brought to you by the ACLU. If your vote didn’t matter, politicians wouldn’t be working so hard to take it away. The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting to ensure that won’t happen. Your vote can help determine the future of civil rights in America. Immigrants’ rights, reproductive rights, criminal justice reform and so much more.
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DeRay [00:36:26] Today’s episode of Pod Save the People is brought to you by the all new Showtime Limited event series, the Good Lord Bird. Based on the award-winning novel by James McBride. This epic pre civil war story centers on abolitionist John Brown and his holy crusade to end slavery.
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DeRay [00:37:06] Today’s interviews with Brian Stelter, who is a new book out called “Hoax.” In “Hoax,” the CNN anchor and chief media correspondent tells a twisted story their leadership between Donald Trump and Fox News. From the moment Trump glided down the Golden escalated announce his candidacy, Fox hosts have spread his lies and smeared his enemies.
DeRay [00:37:23] Here’s our discussion about where everything went wrong.
DeRay [00:37:25] Here we go. Brian, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Brian Stelter [00:37:29] Great to be here. Thank you.
DeRay [00:37:30] Now, you just had a big book come out, “Hoax,” but you’ve been in the journalism game for a long time. I can only imagine that this moment must be so wild. As a journalist, to see how people treated Hillary in and all the scrutiny she got there in the campaign. And then we are stuck in this moment. Can you talk about why you wanted to write a book about the lies and about Trump?
Brian Stelter [00:37:54] It was definitely a way to get some of my energy and angst and rage out. “Rage” to borrow Bob Woodward’s book title. Look, I think that the president has concocted a giant hoax, which is ultimately why the book is titled “Hoax.” You know, he’s out there telling people not to believe the media, only trust his friends at Fox News. And that’s been really damaging and destabilizing. It’s the biggest hoax of all and we’ve seen on the pandemic this year. But I think it actually goes back five years. It goes back to his campaign and his attempt to destroy news outlets that he doesn’t agree with. And that campaign just gets more and more fierce. So I felt like somebody needed to document it all and figure out where it where this is taking us, frankly.
De’Ara [00:38:39] And what did you learn in the process, like all as one of your biggest ah-has! That came through in the process?
Brian Stelter [00:38:44] Yeah, well, I think that it’s hard to say where Fox ends and where Trump begins or or vice versa. You know, there’s never been this kind of alliance, this merger between Trump and Fox. Maybe there never will be again. Or maybe this will be the new normal. Right. Maybe every president in the future will have a propaganda arm like this. But it’s an incredibly strange thing and it creates an enormous amount of tension inside FOX. I would say that those are some of the biggest findings in the book. The amount of tension that exists inside the network about trying to cover for and cover up a serial liar, trying to make excuses for his mistakes and screw ups and controversies. You would think it would be the best of times in Fox News more profitable than ever and having a blast. But no, it’s actually pretty stressful over there.
DeRay [00:39:34] And why is it stressful for them? Why are they not having a blast? Like is it? They seem to be benefiting immensely from Trump.
Brian Stelter [00:39:41] Well, they they they are from a profit perspective and from a ratings perspective, you know, audiences are sky high. The money is coming in hand over fist. But, you know, let’s take a look at the Trump tax story. The New York Times breaks this big story about Trump avoiding paying taxes. Fox is covering it not just with kid gloves, but with several layers of kid gloves, like try to force them onto your hands. The way they cover the tax story is by framing it through Trump’s denials. Now, most Americans know that Trump’s word is basically worthless, that he contradicts himself and lies a lot and can’t be relied on to tell the truth. But on Fox, they have to pretend like his words are really meaningful and that that he is a truth teller. And so they frame all their coverage of this this huge explosive story through Trump’s words. And I think that’s an example of the stress. You know, how do you cover this story in a way that’s not going to tick off Trump or your audience? And that’s a hard you know, I’m not trying to suggest there should be sympathy for these folks, but that’s a hard thing to do.
DeRay [00:40:43] And what do they get out of it? Like, why do you think why is Fox so invested in this?
Brian Stelter [00:40:48] Well, you know, in some ways, A, there’s a mutually beneficial relationship, although I argue in hopes that Trump actually suffers quite a bit. When he thinks he’s being helped by Fox, he’s actually being hurt by Fox because he’s being told just to focus on his basically a white Christian conservative base and not try to pull the rest of the country. So I would argue that when they do Trump a service, they’re doing him a disservice. But he thinks they’re helping him. Uh, and Trump thinks he’s been helped by Fox. He likes the pro Trump propaganda on Fox, you know, and Fox likes having him and millions of his fans as viewers. Right. So, frankly, you know you know, this is interesting. It came up time and time again in my interviews for the book. I was interviewing Fox staffers who would say, I feel like we’re being held hostage by the audience. I feel like we’re being, the audience is being radicalized. These are these are wild things to hear Fox staffers say about their own viewers. But there is an element of truth to that idea that the Fox audience has moved more and more to the right. They expect to hear good news about Trump and bad news about the evil Democrats. And so Fox serves that up again and again and again, even when it’s far from the truth.
DeRay [00:41:58] Why won’t those who will quit?
Brian Stelter [00:42:01] Well, some of them. Some of them do. Most do not. Some of them do quit. They say they can’t take it anymore. And I have about a dozen stories and hoax of staffers who have quit. Although here’s something that’s really interesting, DeRay. They almost never say why. Like, for example, Shep Smith is launching a new show on CNBC. He snapped. He left because he couldn’t take it anymore. But in his interviews for his new show, he doesn’t talk about what went wrong on Fox. He’s been trying to avoid it. Now, maybe that’s because he has a big contract or he has a nondisclosure agreement or non-disparagement clause. But I find this happens over and over again. People leave Fox because they can’t take it anymore and then they don’t talk about why. Which I would argue is a bad thing because people should hear their stories. But why do people stay? Why do the folks who don’t quit stay? There’s a few reasons that people identify for me. Number one, probably the biggest is money. You can make a lot of money in the television business can be very lucrative. People worry about not finding another job elsewhere. And number two, power, in various ways. You know, the power of having a job where a million people are watching your show, the power of influencing Trump and his aides. And then, you know, the third one is not to be discounted. It’s a sense of family, a sense of community at Fox, a sense of us against the world. And that can be very intoxicating. Like, when sources brought it up to me, I said I understood it. I can I can understand that feeling. I can sympathize with that feeling of not wanting to leave your family. But, of course, at the end of the day, it’s on a family. It’s a giant corporation.
DeRay [00:43:33] Got it. Who’s like the big protector at Fox? Is there one person that if we change that person, like no longer will they be invested in protecting Trump?
Brian Stelter [00:43:42] Yeah. I mean, I think Sean Hannity is certainly the the single loudest propagandist on Trump’s behalf. If Hannity were not there, the channel would not have its single biggest connection to Trump. But I guess the way I would say it. You know, Trump is so invested in Hannity and vice versa. But there’s lots of different flavors of Trump’s support within Fox. There’s the Tucker Carlson flavor, of being Anti-anti trump and focusing on white identity politics. There’s the Laura Ingraham flavor where she tries to be like a White House press secretary and give the president communications advice through the TV. There’s lots of people that have carved out their own niches within the Fox universe. And I mean, that’s kind of what’s twisted about this. It’s the incentive structure that’s gone all wrong there. The incentive is to be Trumpy. We have to become Trumpier and Trumpier. What does that mean to be Trumpier? It means to be unhinged from reality. It means to mislead the public. And those are not journalism incentives. Those are entertainment incentives or or political warfare incentives.
DeRay [00:44:43] So what can we do about the Fox-effect? Like, can we rein in Fox or are we do we just stomach it and hope he loses the election?
Brian Stelter [00:44:50] I don’t want to play the role of giving advice about about challenging FOX. There’s groups like Media Matters, that, you know, activist groups that do that. But here, here’s what I think matters from a media perspective. Scrutiny of Fox does matter. Coverage of Fox does matter. The network does issue apologies or at least issue corrections when there’s enough scrutiny, when things go wrong. Not every time, but sometimes there are moments where they will run a correction or they will fess up. It, it, look one of the reasons why so many sources talk to me for “Hoax” is because there’s this sense of a lack of accountability at Fox. But there is accountability when there’s enough outside pressure from advertisers, from journalists, you know, from from average viewers and citizens. So I do think that has an impact, at least around the edges. It doesn’t change what Tucker Carlson’s monologue is going to say, but if he goes so far away from the facts or the story is totally bogus. There are times where Fox comes under pressure to address that, to at least issue a short correction. But but I think that the bigger picture is this, Fox doesn’t have to be this way. You know, it doesn’t have to misinform the president every day. This is fundamentally the choice the Murdochs are making to have the network be the way it is. If James Murdoch, the more liberal son of Rupert Murdoch, were to try to take over one day, you can imagine a very different right-wing media ecosystem as a result. Now, to be fair, that’s not going to happen anytime soon, but it is a possibility in the future.
DeRay [00:46:22] Is there anything that you went in thinking was one way and then in doing the research you were like, wow, this isn’t, this isn’t what I thought it would be.
Brian Stelter [00:46:29] There definitely are. I mean, I think there are more nuanced reasons why staffers are working at Fox than I realized. And then we would also talk about some of those reasons why people stay in jobs they don’t like. And, well let me put it this way. I always viewed Fox as a TV channel, just like CNN or MSNBC. I think they do a very different thing. They’re more political. But, you know, I viewed it as another channel on the dial. And when I realized that the course of the reporting was, it is so much more than a TV channel, it is a way of life for its viewers. Fox is an identity. Fox is like a senior citizen center and a town hall and a city square and the supermarket and all these things rolled up, into, into a brand. And that’s really powerful. You can say it’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing, but it’s really powerful. And so I try to meet Fox viewers kind of a little bit toward where they are and understand why the channels so appealing to them, understand why that would, I would consider to be an alternative universe of information is so appealing to them and not dismiss it out of hand.
DeRay [00:47:32] Is the viewer base of Fox
DeRay [00:47:33] what I think it is? Like older and almost exclusively white. Or am I wrong?
Brian Stelter [00:47:38] You are right. And the numbers are amazing.
Brian Stelter [00:47:42] For example, the average Fox viewer, the median age is about 67 years old, which means half the audience over the age of six, seven years old.
Brian Stelter [00:47:52] Furthermore, the audience is almost entirely white. If you take a hundred percent, try to picture a hundred percent of the pie. One percent is going to be African-American.
Brian Stelter [00:48:01] In terms of viewership at any given time, maybe another one percent or two percent Hispanic, Asian-American. You’re going to see an almost entirely white audience on FOX. And that’s different from CNN and MSNBC, where where there is definitely a greater Hispanic and African-American audience for CNN and MSNBC. And look, I think we can actually see, I hate to say it, it’s so depressing, but the ratings for the funeral of John Lewis, the ratings for certain events involving Democrats or African-Americans, the FOX audience drops dramatically. The Fox audience turns the channel when events like that are happening, which I find to be just so depressing. I should be clear, I guess, not not every Fox viewer is turning away the channel. But the ratings fell by about half during the John Lewis funeral, and that just doesn’t happen in other networks.
DeRay [00:48:53] Yeah, that’s sort of wild. One of the things I wanted to ask you too, is has, has Fox taken any responsibility for their role during the pandemic? Sort of saying it wasn’t real and then slowly seeming to turn and suggested it is real.
Brian Stelter [00:49:06] Not publicly, no. But but there has been privately some Soul-Searching, some embarrassment, some distraught individuals who talked to me about this on an individual level, but not collectively, not on a corporate level, no.
DeRay [00:49:20] That is so wild. It’s like I can’t even believe they haven’t been I don’t know, sued or something for the way they pandered at the beginning to his ideas that it wasn’t true.
Brian Stelter [00:49:30] One group did sue in Washington State. It didn’t get a lot of attention cause it was always a long shot case, long shot cases sure enough, it did get thrown out of court. You know, maybe that’s going to discourage others from trying to sue. I think, here’s, here’s what I would say DeRay, like, obviously there’s a lot of blame to go around, a lot of responsibility to go around, mayors and governors and other media outlets. But at the start of the pandemic, Fox had the biggest audience on cable and President Trump has the biggest platform of anybody at all. So they have a lot of responsibility for that reason. And yes, there’s great journalists at Fox, and there were doctors on the air saying all the right things. But I think those voices were drowned out by the Sean Hannity is drowned out by a Laura Ingraham’s who were downplaying the pandemic. And, you know, how they were downplaying the epidemic? They were focusing on politics and not medicine. They were focusing on what was easy to cover, which is Trump versus the Democrats. So they were out there saying, you know, the Democrats are trying to hurt Trump with the pandemic. And this wasn’t about politics. And that’s ultimately why there was so much damage done in February and March. There was this obsession with politics over public health. And that is, I think, fundamentally what went wrong in Fox’s airwaves.
DeRay [00:50:38] One of the last questions I wanted to ask you, so when asked you is what does the Fox look like post Trump?
Brian Stelter [00:50:43] A lot of people there would like to know
DeRay [00:50:44] Does Trump go?
DeRay [00:50:45] Do you think Trump goes to work there?
Brian Stelter [00:50:46] Yeah.
DeRay [00:50:47] Does he does he become the head of FOX? Is it Trump TV? Like, why? You know what do they even do?
Brian Stelter [00:50:52] Right. I don’t see him with a show on Fox, although anything’s possible. I think it’s more likely if he loses the election, that he would go off and get a radio show or something like that, or, of course, launch his own network, that’s often been talked about to launch his own TV network. I’m skeptical. I think Fox is bigger than Trump, and Trump would have a very hard time launching his own network. But, you know, I’ve been wrong before. What happens to Fox? You know, I don’t know if you’re going to like this answer, but I think Fox wins either way, meaning Fox wins with Trump in office. They make lots of money and they have lots of viewers. But Fox also wins with the Democrat in office. Fox, in some ways is better, they know what to do and they know who they are more when there’s a Democrat in office because they know what to focus on. It’s easier, I suppose, to be against something than for something. And there’s lots of people at Fox who feel that. Who feel that it’s, you know, better to have a Democrat in office because that’s a better story for Fox to cover. But, gosh, that’s pretty cynical, isn’t it?
DeRay [00:51:49] That is definitely dark. What advice do you have for people? These are two questions we ask everybody, what’s a piece of advice you have for people who feel like they have protested, called, emailed, they’ve done all the things and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to. What do you say to those people?
Brian Stelter [00:52:03] I don’t know. What what sort of causes, you know, you’re referring to. I’m trying to hesitate to keep my TV anchor hat on. But here’s what I would say is as a TV anchor, I think the country is changing in lots of ways. And I see a lot of progress being made. And what I mean by that is, well, let’s just take Trump in for a minute. Most Americans see through the fog machine. Most Americans see through his lies. If you had asked me in January of 2017 when he was inaugurated, what was going to happen and what, what the country’s media would look like. And there were times I was really worried that there’d be journalists in jail. There were times I was worried that the president would use the power of the state to crack down on media companies in ways that would be really, really shocking and devastating. And what I mean by that is, he uses awful words against the press, but it’s mostly words on actions. So I look at 2020 and I say most Americans see through it. Most Americans know that when he calls something fake news, it’s a signal that it’s really actually very real. And that, to me it is a sign of progress, that the news coverage does make a difference, that it does not fall on deaf ears. So that’s that’s the way I see it as a as a as a journalist.
DeRay [00:53:13] And the last question, Brian, is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Brian Stelter [00:53:20] I remember my high school English teacher gave me a paperweight when I graduated, and it sits on my desk here. I’m still allowed into the office, sometimes, even during the pandemic, uh, so that I can anchor my show. And paperweights says “the ultimate inspiration is the deadline.” And to me, that’s it. That’s advice. And that’s great advice that I got to set myself a deadline. I got to give myself a deadline. I’ve got to even have a fake deadline because otherwise I will never get anything done. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator. I missed so many deadlines for my book, but I need a deadline. And so even if I have to fake it, that’s what my English teacher taught me, that the ultimate inspiration is the deadline. And, you know, as it so happens, sometimes you blow into deadlines and being a six month late on a book ends up being a good thing, ends up having having the timing being right. Because none of us could have seen this pandemic. But sadly, the pandemic is the best example of the twisted connection between Trump and Fox. So I was able to have to rewrite the book and tell the story of Trump using the word hoax. Hannity using the word hoax in ways that were really damaging, unfortunately. And now here we are six months later. And most of us know or are not coming to the office and not and not able to have our normal lives. And I hope that responsibility wins the day and the responsible media coverage wins the day.
DeRay [00:54:45] Tell people where they can get the book, where the book is so they can get it.
Brian Stelter [00:54:49] Very simply. BuyHoax.com, check it out.
Brian Stelter [00:54:52] E-book, audio book or print.
DeRay [00:54:54] Brian, thanks so much for joining us today. And I can’t wait to have you back and hopefully I will talk to you post Trump and we’ll be like, phew! We survived. Right.
Brian Stelter [00:55:02] Or even in person after a pandemic.
DeRay [00:55:05] Right. Or that.
Brian Stelter [00:55:05] Even better.
DeRay [00:55:07] Cool. Talk to you later.
Brian Stelter [00:55:08] Thanks.
DeRay [00:55:11] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple podcasts somewhere else. We’ll see you next week.
DeRay [00:55:23] Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our Executive producer is Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Sam Sinyangwe and our special contributor tonight, Johnetta Elzie.