Perhaps the only thing I’ll miss about the Trump era is “Trumpcast,” a podcast produced by Slate and hosted by the longtime journalist Virginia Heffernan. Wise, witty and profane, Heffernan has guided us through the insanity for the past five years. I started listening about two years ago, and I didn’t catch every episode. But I appreciated the way she and her guests guided us through a terrible time in our history. So it was with a sense of instant nostalgia that I listened to her final episode while I was out on a walk Saturday.
The guest on the grand finale was New York University journalism professor and PressThink blogger Jay Rosen. Rosen summarized his most recent piece, in which he argued that the media finally found their voice and stood up for democracy once it became clear in the aftermath of the election that Donald Trump really did intend to steal a second term. Before that, he said, the press too often wallowed in bothsides-ism and normalized Trump’s corrupt, authoritarian behavior.
As I wrote recently, I don’t think the media’s performance was quite that bad. Sure, there was some normalization that took place, which was inevitable in covering the president day to day. But after turning in a horrendous performance during the 2016 campaign, I think much of the media dug in and covered Trump with the harshness and investigative zeal that he deserved. The problem is larger than journalism alone can solve. Our culture has become profoundly tribal, and any negative coverage of Trump was seen by his supporters as just further evidence that the media were out to get their hero. The 52% disapprove/42% approve dynamic never budged.
After Rosen left, Heffernan and her producer, Melissa Kaplan, kicked around the show’s greatest hits. They sounded like they’re going to miss “Trumpcast” too, though not the reason for its existence. It was a fun retrospective, and I think both of them accurately identified what made “Trumpcast” special — its giving a voice to alternative perspectives and not just those from the “normcore.”
As for what’s next, they’re both going to continue to be involved in podcasting. Heffernan will be hosting a show about the aftermath of Trumpism for Lawfare, which I’m looking forward to hearing.