In This Episode
- On Thursday, there was a big spike in shelling across the front line between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists within Ukraine. The separatists claim that Ukrainians are the ones firing at them, and the fear is that Russia could use this as a “justification” for military action to invade.
- The Beijing Winter Olympics conclude this Sunday. Ava Wallace, who has been in China reporting on the Olympic Games for the Washington Post, joins us to discuss what it’s been like to cover them.
- And in headlines: Over 100 people are dead and dozens more missing in Brazil after mudslides, Florida’s House Republicans passed a bill that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and a judge ordered former President Trump to testify under oath within the next 21 days.
- WAD will be taking a break on Presidents’ Day, and will be back with a new episode on Tuesday, February 22.
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Gideon Resnick: It is Friday, February 18th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I am Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that will soon be twice as expensive due to inflation.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, meaning it will still not cost you anything, but you should just know the amount of nothing that it costs will keep pace with the market.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, by next year it might cost three times as much nothing.
Gideon Resnick: We don’t control this, folks. We wish we did. On today’s show, as the Olympics wrap up, we’re going to take you behind the scenes on what it was like to actually cover them. Plus, Trump is ordered to testify in New York’s investigation into his organization.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, a quick update about the situation in Ukraine. So we have been hearing a lot about this for a while now. Will Russia invade? When will they do it? Is it today? Is it tomorrow, a few days from now? It’s really impossible for us to answer definitively, especially as we go to record this now on Thursday night. But yesterday there was a big spike in shelling across the front line between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists within Ukraine. The separatists are claiming that the Ukrainians are the ones firing at them and because Russia has long held that they have a responsibility to protect the ethnic Russians who live in eastern Ukraine, the fear here is that Russia could use this as a justification, quote unquote, for any military action they may take, like if they turn around and invade, basically.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Got it. Got it. Then this is all happening after diplomatic clashes and really general confusion over whether or not Russian troops are actually pulling back from the Ukrainian border, as the Kremlin has said. So what is the latest word there?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, the Biden administration is still saying that the threat of invasion is really high, and even though Putin is denying that he’ll do it at the moment, they don’t really believe him. They still expect an invasion and they are saying so publicly. So we will do our best to keep you updated in the coming days. Obviously, this is a situation that’s changing really rapidly on the ground, day to day, hour to hour. We’ll be back on Tuesday with the latest. But in the meantime, I highly recommend keeping an eye on the Pod Save of America and Pod Save The World feeds for the latest information.
Gideon Resnick: Again, hopefully there is not the worst outcome here.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, we do hope.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. In other global news, where this is going to be our last opportunity to update you before the weekend, the Beijing Winter Olympics conclude this Sunday. And among the noteworthy recent developments is the end of the saga of 15-year old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva. So she has been at the center of a doping scandal that has really overshadowed much of the coverage in the past few days.
Priyanka Aribindi: Truly, the only thing I feel like I’ve been hearing about for the past week.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And on Thursday, much to the surprise of observers, Valieva came in fourth place in her individual event, and a different Russian skater took the gold.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Meanwhile, Mikaela Shiffrin, the American skier, failed to complete another race on Thursday. That was the third time this has happened in the last two weeks. She has been grieving the loss of her father and is among the many athletes who have been speaking more openly about the pressure and mental health in competition. And, you know, we applaud her for doing so.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and there were plenty of transcendent moments for athletes across these games. Among the American highlights where Erin Jackson’s gold medal in speed skating, Nathan Chen’s in figure Skating—a WAD favorite—and Lindsey Jacobellis’ gold in snowboarding. So for more on all of this, I caught up with my good friend Ava Wallace, who has been in China reporting on the Olympic Games for The Washington Post for close to three weeks now. I started by asking her about what all the reporting has actually been like.
Eva Wallace: So I am one of, I want to say, I think we have 10 or 11 reporters here from The Washington Post covering the Winter Games, and I am one of the designated mountain reporters this time. So I am in a city called Zhangjiakou, 140 miles northwest of Beijing. It actually is the city that has the biggest section of the Great Wall in it, so it’s actually kind of this military stronghold, and that’s where the main ski and snowboard venue is. Unlike Beijing, there is nobody up here. It’s deserted. There are no cars on the road. There are no people who are not associated with the Olympics up here. It is empty right now because the Olympics are being held kind of like Tokyo. They’re not using the word bubble, they’re using the word closed loop here. So basically, if you’re inside the closed loop, you can’t go in, you can’t go out. So when I take the train, for example, when I take the bullet train that connects Beijing and Zhangjiakou, I have to buy a separate ticket that’s within the closed loop so I don’t interact with any normal Chinese citizens or anything. That also means that all the volunteers and people who are working here, they’re all staying away from their families right now because they’re in the closed loop or the bubble.
Gideon Resnick: What is your actual day to day like?
Eva Wallace: So much of my life is spent on busses. There’s a really convoluted bus system. It’s particularly convoluted up here because we are not allowed to walk anywhere because that’s considered not COVID safe. I cannot walk from venue to venue, or I’m not supposed to walk from venue to, even ones that are like four-minute walk away. So a lot of my life is spent on very slow moving busses. I’m either going to the media center to do work for the ski venue to cover an event, and that’s pretty much life in the closed loop—wake up, you get a throat swab, you go to your venue, you go back to your hotel. That’s all.
Gideon Resnick: What has been your favorite thing that you’ve gotten to write/thing that you’ve actually seen so far?
Eva Wallace: I got to cover this snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, who is 36-years old, and in 2006, she became famous because she celebrated too early at the debut of her discipline which is called snowboard cross, which is basically a cross between snowboarding and motocross. She finally won the gold medal that she kind of gave up six years ago. And talking to her about not only that moment of kind of like redemption or absolution, but also talking to this athlete who had spent a lot of her career refusing to be defined by that mistake and also had spent a lot of her career saying a gold medal doesn’t mean that much. So it was really interesting to watch from that point of view, which kind of reminds you of the cruelty and power of the Olympics, that the athletes were doing their day job day-to-day for 16 years but people only care about them every four years. And yes, that was really incredible. But I mean, the memories of this Olympics certainly are going to be things like, you know, when I went to cover an IOC briefing, which they have daily here in the main press center down in Beijing, and journalists get up and ask questions and a lot of differences in Western media [unclear] than Chinese media. Western media were asking about the doping scandal with Kamila Valieva, and a lot of Chinese reporters are asking How proud are you of the legacy of these games, do you feel light at the end of the tunnel now that you know, the pandemic might be coming to an end, or that the Olympics were a success? That is really striking in the different topics of conversation between kind of the two sides of this divide that’s playing outside in the Olympics.
Gideon Resnick: I saw that you tweeted that one of the themes of this Olympics is pressure. Can you talk about what that actually means to you? Is this a different kind of pressure? And if so, why is that?
Eva Wallace: It’s a different kind of pressure for one athlete in particular. Eileen Gu is facing an entirely different type of pressure and seems to be handling it with more aplomb than I could ever expect of an 18-year old. Whatever Simone Biles is to us, that is what Eileen Gu is in China. She is the American-born Chinese skier, born and raised in California, trained with the American team forever, became a really, really good skier, then years and years ago, chose to ski for her mother’s native China. There are a lot of questions given the terrible relationship between the US and China right now and a lot of kind of US nationalism and saying, Why are you doing this? Why are you turning your back on your country? If you ask her any question like that, and she gets them pretty much every time she speaks or does anything, her answer is that she wanted to inspire more Chinese people to get on the snow. She is eloquent and she speaks as well as she skis, and it’s quite something to watch, but it is definitely something no other athlete here is facing. I see her on TV 20 times a day maybe, between commercials and just on CCTV here and everything like that. If you watch an NBC broadcast of Eileen Gu skiing, listen for how many times they talk about this 18-year old’s SAT scores or mentioning that she’s also a fashion model and she’s going to Stanford. And all this stuff which is true, but it’s like we both realize we’re talking about all the pressure that these Olympic athletes in particular face. And then we’re turning around and we don’t know how to cover them in any other way. And I don’t know what the answer to that is, certainly, but it definitely proves to me that for us as reporters, as a media, it’s really hard to learn in real time.
Gideon Resnick: You were sort of alluding to this, but like, how much have politics at all impacted everything? Is that also a through-line that is sort of persistent?
Eva Wallace: Yes, certainly, if only because there are a couple of key journalists who continue to bring it up. The IOC spokesman will get questions about it at the daily briefings. So at these IOC briefings, there’s an IOC spokesman and there’s also a representative of the Games organizers—a Chinese woman I believe it usually is. I believe someone asked a question about Taiwan/Chinese Taipei and she cut in and said, There is only one China in the world—which is a political statement. And meanwhile, the IOC spokesman has been spending the entire games telling people the IOC is not political, the Olympics are not political. You know, he says that and then Peng Shuai shows up, the tennis player, where there’s a ton of swirling controversy around her and Thomas Bach kind of touted as, See, we’re meeting with her. And you have questions like, Well, how is that not political or how are you not using the IOC sway to get political things done then? Covering IOC briefings is truly like being gas-lit. You’re being told not to believe what you’re seeing with your eyes.
Gideon Resnick: You are coming to the end of this experience. What is like the primary thing that’s been on your mind is it’s coming to a close?
Eva Wallace: I have been pretty shocked across the board at how bummed everybody is. Like, usually the Olympics are a party, and I don’t just mean like from the athletes standpoint, but I mean, like from my perspective and a reporter’s perspective. Like, this is when a bunch of reporters from a bunch of different outlets across the country and across the world, you get to meet and hang out with and you experience the country’s culture, and you come away from a sporting event with the taste of the city and the people. And that has just not been the case here. And it is really, I think, affecting everybody. Everybody’s pretty ready to go home, down across the board, in my experience. And again, I’m mostly talking to American journalists, so I can’t speak for everybody. But it’s just the second [unclear] of games feels much more restrictive than the first, despite there being really good legitimate moments of triumph and glory and all of that legitimately excellent stuff that I believe in certainly, and that I believe matters. I was really concerned coming in with the fact that I think what people are viewing at home is not necessarily what’s going on here. That disparity has kind of never felt bigger before. Especially with the doping scandal, and it’s kind of like, can we even believe in this competition is a clean one, is a good one, is something that, you know, the winners are the deserving winners. That has certainly been on my mind a lot.
Gideon Resnick: Priyanka, that is my conversation with The Washington Post reporter Eva Wallace, and my friend, who gets dragged onto this show often. She has been in China reporting on the Olympics.
Priyanka Aribindi: You know what? I am bummed for her and everyone else that this doesn’t sound as fun to be at as previous Olympics. Like, that always seemed like the dream to go, do and be out and report on, like if you’re a reporter, like, what a fun thing to get to do. But you know what? Hopefully she gets out of there safe and sound, and as soon as possible. But that is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s get to some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Over 100 people are dead and dozens more missing in Petropolis, Brazil after heavy rain this week triggered mudslides that crushed homes. Monday’s downpour broke a 90-year record in the tourist city just north of Rio de Janeiro, and the ensuing floods washed away houses, cars, and more from hillside neighborhoods. As of our Thursday night recording, rescuers recovered the bodies of 105 victims, and continue to dig through the debris. Back in 2011, more than 900 people also died in Petropolis, when storms caused landslides and floods. But this recent deadly storm system is just the latest to ravage Brazil, which experts say will only increase because of climate change. For now, Petropolis’s city hall declared three days of mourning while the recovery effort continues.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, those are just huge, devastating numbers and really, really sad and really scary. In other terrible news, on Thursday, Florida’s House passed a Republican-sponsored bill that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which, as we all know, is before most people even realize that they are pregnant. This is the latest bill to move through a state legislature similar to Mississippi’s law that also bars abortions after the same timeframe. And the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to uphold that law. In Florida, abortions are already banned before the third trimester. The current law allows exceptions if it’s necessary to save the pregnant person’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. But this new bill is way more extreme. It does not have that rape or incest exception. The bill now heads to the GOP-controlled Senate before it’s sent to Florida governor and Trump’s frenemy, Ron DeSantis. Meanwhile, similar measures were also passed this week by West Virginia’s House and Arizona’s Senate.
Gideon Resnick: That is not good to hear. Not good news largely from state legislatures these days.
Priyanka Aribindi: We can fix that. With elections. Just so you know, everybody.
Gideon Resnick: There you go. Yesterday, a New York state judge ordered former President Trump to testify under oath within the next 21 days. This is all part of State Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into his business practices and whether the Trump Organization misled lenders and others in its financial statements. Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Jr., were ordered to testify as well. It might seem like Eric’s being excluded, and while that often is the case, it is actually not what is happening here. He was already deposed back in 2020. In calling the Trumps to testify, the judge rejected the arguments made by the Trumps’ attorneys, who tried to block the subpoenas by James. The judge also ordered the former president to turn over documents that had been subpoenaed as well. During yesterday’s hearing, the Trumps’ lawyers indicated that they would appeal the judge’s decision and argued that the investigation is politically motivated. But the judge did say the Trumps would be able to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights during the depositions if they had concerns about self-incrimination. In his deposition, Priyanka, I’d like to add, Eric did that 500 times. So our best bet is that Trump forgets where he is and accidentally falsifies an accounting document in front of the prosecutors.
Priyanka Aribindi: That I really just can’t. I couldn’t before. I still, there’s really nothing more to say about. The only car company that offers self-driving with jump scares, Tesla has had a rough couple of days. The National Highway Safety Administration, or NHSA, announced on Wednesday it had opened an investigation into the phenomenon called “phantom braking” where Tesla’s Model 3’s and Model Y’s set on autopilot will break unexpectedly at quote, “highway speeds”.
Gideon Resnick: No.
Priyanka Aribindi: Literal nightmare status. The NHSA said it has received over 350 consumer complaints about this over the last nine months. It estimates that over 400,000 vehicles may be affected. If Tesla is required to issue a recall, there is a chance it could fix these issues via software updates. Either way, the company should have the recall process pretty dialed-in at this point because it has done it 10 times in the U.S. over the past four months! That is wild. Also, yesterday, Elon Musk’s attorney accused the Securities and Exchange Commission of repeatedly harassing Musk because quote, “he remains an outspoken critic of the government.” The letter cites the 2018 lawsuit, where the SEC fined Musk and Tesla $20 million each after Musk tweeted that his company was on the verge of being bought out for $420 a share, when this was not even close to the truth.
Gideon Resnick: Listen, I think the screens are cool in these cars, but, you know, you can look at a screen in your house and not have it be breaking at highway speeds.
Priyanka Aribindi: Tape an iPad to like your, I don’t know, like front console area. It’s basically the same, and you won’t die. That’s great.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Exactly. Put that iPad on your Honda Civic dashboard and get on with your day. And those are the headlines. We’re going to be back after some ads.
Priyanka Aribindi: Uh, yikes.
Priyanka Aribindi: It is Friday WAD squad, and today we’re doing a new segment called 5 Guys, where will quickly rundown five guys whose very newsworthy conduct we didn’t get to this week. Guy in this case is a gender-neutral term. So after I’m done, Gideon, you get the honor of awarding one of these guys a hamburger, while the other four guys get peanuts, which are free at the restaurant Five Guys and are famously worse than the burgers. This segment, if you are wondering, is not at all sponsored, but it is available to be sponsored. Five Guys, if you are listening, slide in the DMs, we’d love to chat. Gideon, do you understand the rules, and are you ready for this game?
Gideon Resnick: Yes and no. So proceed.
Priyanka Aribindi: All right, that’s good enough for me. All right, guy number one is President Joe Biden. He set aside time this Tuesday to tell a story about a dead dog, at a conference. Biden claimed that as a young elected official, he got a call from a constituent demanding that he move a dead dog off of her lawn. Like a vengeful Amelia Bedelia, he followed her words literally moving it off of her lawn by putting it on her doorstep.
Gideon Resnick: Hell yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: Guy number two is Alexander Vasiliev. He is a 63-year old security guard in Russia who spent his first workday drawing eyes on a $1 million painting. This fine art remix happened back in December, but was only recently reported on. Early reports said Vasiliev was quote, ‘bored”, but since then he claimed he got tricked by teenagers who told him quote, “draw eyes, you work here.” The teens are terrifying in his defense. Guy number three, is Melania Trump, who is the first former first lady to go deep on NFTs. She announced a quote, “POTUS Trump NFT” collection yesterday, consisting of photos from Trump’s time in office. This came days after Vice revealed that when she sold an NFT of her hat back in December for almost $200,000, the winning bid may have come from her own crypto wallet.
Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm.
Priyanka Aribindi: All right. We’re over half way through, Gideon. I hope you are keeping track of your guys.
Gideon Resnick: My burger is on the grill and I am surrounded by peanut shells. Get ready.
Priyanka Aribindi: All right. Good news. Guy number four is Craig Schubert, the former mayor of Hudson Springs, Ohio, who stepped down Monday after comments suggesting that allowing ice fishing in the town could lead to prostitution. He claimed he was using, quote, “dry humor” but you can decide for yourself whether or not that is true.
[clip of Craig Schubert] Additionally, if you open this up to ice fishing, while on the surface it sounds good, then what happens next year? Does someone come back and say, I want an ice shanty on Hudson Springs Park for X amount of time? And if you didn’t allow ice fishing with shanties, then that leads to another problem: prostitution. Now you got the police chief and the Police Department involved. Just data points to consider.
Gideon Resnick: It’s definitely how that goes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Just some points to consider, as he says. And our fifth and final guy, unfortunately, is Joe Rogan, whose Spotify deal was not worth $100 million, as was previously reported. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Spotify paid over $200 million for an exclusive license to the Joe Rogan Experience.
Gideon Resnick: Man.
Gideon Resnick: So, Gideon, those are your five guys: joe Biden, Russian security guard Alexander Vasiliev, Melania Trump, former Mayor Craig Schubert, or Joe Rogan. Time has come. Who is getting the hamburger?
Gideon Resnick: All right, I’m getting my burger off the grill for my guy, Alexander Vasiliev, the Mr. Bean of Russia. My guy, Alexander deserves this burger for two reasons. One, he’s an artistic genius, and he improved a work that he saw while he was at work—for intentions that we don’t really know, but we won’t ask any further questions.
Priyanka Aribindi: We love initiative. We love to see it.
Gideon Resnick: And to as a security guard who has to sit around and, you know, guard paintings that he’s going to alter in the future, he probably gets hungry. So I would like to give him a burger, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
Priyanka Aribindi: You know, I’m going to agree with you, but for completely different reasons. Who among us hasn’t been terrified of the teenagers lately? You seen Euphoria? Absolutely terrified. Anyways, I think this guy deserves a burger, being bullied by these children into doing, I don’t know, making a very costly mistake I imagine. This was five guys. Gideon, thank you so much for playing. I’m sure we’ll do this again sometime. Hopefully with real burgers.
Gideon Resnick: It was my honor. Thank you for inviting me.
Priyanka Aribindi: Well, one more thing before we go: we will be taking a break for Presidents Day weekend and we’ll be back in your feeds on Tuesday.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, visit our would-be sponsor Five Guys, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just the soaring costs of free podcasts like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And recall the jump scares from my Tesla!
Gideon Resnick: Yes, if I want to be afraid, I will go to the multiplex and see Scream 5. I will not be in my car, on the highway, Elon!
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m sorry to anyone who’s listening to this in a Tesla right now.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: We appreciate you.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.