Crooked Media is a progressive podcast platform founded by former Obama staffers Tommy Vietor, Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett during the 2016 presidential campaign. Crooked Media engages in progressive activism, teaming up with groups like MoveOn.org and Swing Left.
- "It was early November, the day before Virginia’s elections, and the Democratic cavalry — in the form of four podcast hosts crammed into a Lyft — was coming to the aid of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. “Do you want to kick things off with something light and funny?” Jon Favreau asked Jon Lovett as their ride — an S.U.V. outfitted with neon lights and a disco ball that were a bit discombobulating before 9 o’clock in the morning — took them to a Richmond campaign office. They’d be rallying volunteers canvassing for Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor, who was at the time commanding a perilously narrow lead in the polls. “I want to go toward the end for some earnestness,” Favreau said.
- "“You should do something real message-y,” Tommy Vietor proposed.
- "“I’m expecting the ‘race speech’ for G.O.T.V.,” Dan Pfeiffer chimed in.
- "It was a joke from the podcasters’ past lives. As Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter for eight years, Favreau had a hand in some of his most memorable oratory — none more so than the 2008 campaign speech about race that followed questions about Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Whenever a knotty issue arose in Obama’s White House, Pfeiffer and Vietor, who worked in the communications department, and Lovett, a fellow speechwriter, would taunt Favreau: “We need a ‘race speech’ for Simpson-Bowles,” or: “Write a ‘race speech’ for the BP oil spill.”
- "The night before, at the National, an 800-seat theater in Richmond, Favreau and his co-hosts performed a sold-out live taping of “Pod Save America,” a liberal political podcast and the flagship offering from Crooked Media, the media company that Favreau, Lovett and Vietor started in January. “Pod Save America” scored its first million-listener episode within its first several weeks, and it now averages 1.5 million listeners per show — about as many people as Anderson Cooper draws on prime-time CNN. Their podcast has come to occupy a singular perch in blue America; where an NPR tote bag once signified a certain political persuasion and mind-set, in the age of Trump, it’s a “Friend of the Pod” T-shirt. “ ‘Pod Save America,’ ” says the Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, “is the voice of the ‘resistance.’ ”
- "Its hosts have not shied away from making use of their newfound influence. In 2017, “Pod Save America” has pointed its audience toward an array of grass-roots groups on the left, partnering with MoveOn.org to send nearly 2,000 listeners to Republican town-hall meetings, with Swing Left to raise more than $1 million for challengers to House Republicans next year and with Indivisible to deluge Republican senators with tens of thousands of phone calls in favor of preserving Obamacare. And in Richmond, the hosts were lending their activist cachet and charisma to Northam, a candidate who, Democrats worried, could use a lot more of both.
- "“With Donald Trump winning the presidency, we have decided — we’ve realized — that democracy is not just a job for politicians,” Favreau told the crowd at Northam’s campaign office, amid half-empty doughnut boxes and carafes of coffee. “It’s a job for every single American, and that job doesn’t just end on Election Day — that job is an every-single-day job. It is a fight.”
- "As the podcasters spoke, Northam looked on with what appeared to be a mixture of bewilderment and admiration. He was the candidate, and the only person in the room wearing a suit and tie — the podcast hosts, like the canvassers, were dressed in jeans and hoodies — but it was clear he knew he wasn’t the star of this particular show. When it was his turn to speak, the man who in 36 hours would be elected Virginia’s 73rd governor recalled a conversation he had the day before with his two 20-something children. “They said, ‘We heard you’re going to be on “Pod Save America”! Is that true?’ ” Northam recounted. The crowd laughed. “Oh, my God!” he exclaimed. “I have finally arrived!”
- "During the 2016 campaign, Favreau, Lovett, Vietor and Pfeiffer — mostly as a lark — hosted a popular politics podcast for Bill Simmons’s sports-and-pop-culture website The Ringer called “Keepin’ It 1600.” But with Hillary Clinton expected to be sitting in the Oval Office in 2017, “we didn’t want to be the people who criticized the White House just to be interesting, nor did we want to be to the Clinton administration what Hannity now is to the Trump administration,” Pfeiffer says. “We all assumed the election was the end of the road for us.”
- "Favreau, Lovett and Vietor were in their 20s when they went to work for Obama in the White House, and they had been somewhat adrift since leaving it around the end of Obama’s first term. They relocated to California in search of a second act, but nothing quite stuck. Lovett helped create a sitcom called “1600 Penn” about a wacky First Family, but poor ratings and reviews led NBC to cancel it after one season. Favreau and Vietor founded a strategic communications firm to pay the bills while they nursed their own TV ambitions, but their projects — a campaign drama-comedy called “Early States” and a public-affairs show that they pitched, with Lovett, as “a millennial ‘Meet the Press’ ” — were rejected by the networks and streaming services. “Lots of people in suits told us that politics was a crowded space as they greenlit ‘CSI [expletive] West Hollywood’ or whatever,” Vietor recalls.
- "The day after Trump’s victory, Lovett was driving Favreau and Vietor to The Ringer’s Hollywood studios when his car ran out of gas. It was while the three of them were pushing the Jeep Grand Cherokee down Sunset Boulevard that they first started discussing what would become “Pod Save America” and Crooked Media. They wanted to get involved in politics again, but none of them had any desire to go back to Washington or to work for a candidate. A podcast and a liberal media company, they thought, could be their contribution to the anti-Trump resistance.
- "In the early days of “Pod Save America,” the hosts leaned heavily on their Obama connections; Barack Obama himself was the guest on one of their first episodes. But as the podcast rapidly built an audience, Democratic politicians outside the Obama orbit began accepting their invitations, or sometimes even asking to appear on the show — even if they didn’t always know what exactly “Pod Save America” was. In a May episode, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota confessed that it had been her daughter’s idea for her to be interviewed: “I, for some reason, thought it was a video, so I spent a lot of time wearing a hip outfit today, and then I found out it was a podcast.”
- "More than 1,600 political podcasts — most of them anti-Trump — have appeared since the 2016 election, according to RawVoice, a podcast hosting and analytics company. “Pod Save America,” with nearly 120 million downloads to date, is the undisputed king of the field. But the show’s numbers alone do not quite capture the nature of its accomplishment. With a shoestring budget and no organizational backing, its hosts seem to have created something that liberals have spent almost two decades, and hundreds of millions of dollars, futilely searching for: the left’s answer to conservative talk radio.
- "Air America, the nationwide liberal talk-radio network, declared bankruptcy and stopped broadcasting in 2010 after six years of middling to abysmal ratings. The independent cable network Current TV, which Al Gore started with Joel Hyatt in 2005, tried to make itself a platform for unapologetically liberal commentary — at one point hiring Keith Olbermann as its chief news officer — but it was sold and shut down in 2013. Part of the problem with these earlier ventures was their arms-race mentality: They offered liberals a mirror image of what conservatives had, rather than something liberals might actually want. “Olbermann was lefty O’Reilly,” says Tim Miller, a Republican media consultant and Crooked Media’s token conservative contributor. “Air America was lefty Limbaugh.”
- "“Pod Save America,” by contrast, has no conservative antecedent. The craft-beer-bar-bull-session vibe of podcasts suits the left better than the shouty antagonism of talk radio. “Rather than trying to replicate what’s worked on the right, these podcasts aren’t taking the same tropes you see on Fox or hear on conservative talk radio and applying them to the left,” Miller says.
- "On “Pod Save America,” Favreau sits in what radio pros call “the power chair,” dictating the topics and pace of the show; Lovett provides comic relief; and Pfeiffer and Vietor contribute an earnest wonkiness. A typical hourlong episode might consist of a breakdown of the latest Republican tax-reform proposal, some war stories from the Obama White House, a dispute about which host was more disruptive at a recent “Game of Thrones” viewing party and an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates. “It’s down to earth and relaxed,” Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts congressman who appeared on “Pod Save America” in March, told me. “I think it’s important for people to realize I’m a regular person, and sometimes you don’t get that when you see me in a suit on CNN.”
- "'If there is one way that I would sum up what the 2016 election was on cable news, it was world-class journalists interviewing morons.'
- "Like conservative talk radio or Fox News, “Pod Save America” is an authentic partisan response to the perceived failings of the mainstream media. While many conservatives hate the mainstream media for its supposed liberal bias, many liberals have come to despise what they see as its tendency toward false equivalence — a grievance particularly inflamed by the coverage of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Liberals don’t want a hermetically sealed media ecosystem of their own, so much as one that does away with the pretense of kneejerk balance: a media that’s willing to say one side is worse than the other. “I screamed at the TV a lot in the White House,” Favreau says. He and his co-hosts particularly loathe the bipartisan on-air panels of blabbering pundits that cable networks deployed during the election. “If there is one way that I would sum up what the 2016 election was on cable news,” Lovett says, “it was world-class journalists interviewing morons.”
- "“Pod Save America,” to its hosts and its listeners, is a twice-weekly reality check. “I think that when you have a president gaslighting an entire nation,” Vietor says, “there’s a cathartic effect when you have a couple of people who worked in the White House who are like: ‘Hey, this is crazy. You’re right, he’s wrong.’ ”
- "What is absent from the podcast, significantly, is any of the usual liberal squeamishness (or, depending on your point of view, principle) about using media as a tool of partisan advantage. Liberal activists point regretfully to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who in their Comedy Central heyday were happy to savage Republicans but refused to champion Democrats: In 2010, the pair drew some 215,000 people to the National Mall a few days before the midterm elections, only to keep the rally strictly nonpartisan. “Pod Save America,” by contrast, isn’t afraid to, as Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org puts it, “actually touch Excalibur.” At the theater in Richmond this month, shortly before bringing Northam and the rest of Virginia’s Democratic ticket onstage, Favreau asked the crowd: “Is everyone registered to vote? Is everyone going to be doing phone-banking and canvassing? Because if not, you have to leave.”
- "Crooked Media’s headquarters consists of a few bargain-priced rooms on La Cienega in a seedy section of West Hollywood, cater-corner to a lingerie shop and across the street from a strip club. On the summer afternoon I visited, I was greeted at the entrance by a goldendoodle. Favreau, materializing behind the animal, said: “This is Lovett’s dog, Pundit — the thing that we hate and the thing that we’ve become.”
- "The office, like the company itself, was still very much a work in progress. An entire wall was covered with “A Beautiful Mind”-style scribbles about “webseries,” “daily micropods” and “chat convos” — the handiwork of Tanya Somanader, who was the director of digital rapid response in the Obama White House and is now Crooked Media’s chief content officer. “This,” she said, pointing at the wall and summoning as portentous a tone as she could muster, “is how you build a media empire.”
- "The self-mockery about Crooked Media’s ambitions belies how outsize those ambitions are. In addition to “Pod Save America,” the company now has six other podcasts and plans to roll out at least two more soon. It has hired two producers, one from MTV and the other from the Oprah Winfrey Network. In October, it poached a New Republic writer to helm its website. A nationwide “Pod Save America” tour, Crooked Media’s first serious stab at live events, has so far played to sold-out theaters in seven cities. For the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential race, Crooked Media is hoping to host candidate forums and debates.
- "Acutely aware of the perils of their new operation resembling the old political-media boys’ club, the decidedly bro-ish “Pod Save America” hosts have slanted Crooked Media’s growing podcast slate toward non-white-male hosts, and the company’s top two executives are women. “Ideally what we’re trying to build is a media company that’s not about one show, ‘Pod Save America,’ but a whole bunch of new shows that are not living and dying by the latest tweet,” Vietor told me.
- "Still, the one show is serving them awfully well. An executive at another podcasting company told me that assuming standard industry rates, Crooked Media is most likely bringing in at least $50,000 in advertising revenue for each episode of “Pod Save America” — which at two episodes a week is about $5 million a year. That has allowed the company to turn away the many investors who have approached it. Peter Chernin, whose Chernin Group acquired a reported 51 percent stake in the media company Barstool Sports last year, was one of them. “I think it’s more unusual than standard to turn down investors,” Chernin told me, “but it’s been very smart on their part.”
- "Chernin was the president of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation when the company enlisted Roger Ailes to get Fox News off the ground in the late 1990s, and he sees some parallels between the conservative cable channel and Crooked Media. “This was true of Roger: It’s not just a business for these Crooked Media guys, it’s a calling,” he told me. “The real execution challenge is about authenticity. Does it feel authentic to the audience? They certainly have that going for them.”
- "Few things are as inauthenticity-prone, however, as the political-pundit business. On a Saturday morning in July, “Pod Save America” traveled to the Pasadena Convention Center for Politicon, a two-day event that has been hailed as the “Comic-Con of politics,” in which several thousand political junkies pay $80 apiece for the opportunity to see their favorite cable-news talking heads in the flesh. When the Politicon organizers first approached them about appearing, the “Pod Save America” hosts recoiled at the idea — “Some of these people are despicable,” Lovett complained to the organizers about the other invitees — but they eventually reconsidered. After all, they had a brand to promote.
- "As they stood at the threshold of the Politicon greenroom, the “Pod Save America” hosts looked like patients about to go into surgery. “I’d rather stay out here as long as possible,” Vietor whispered. Inside, Ann Coulter — flanked by a couple of cops who were providing security — marked her territory, while the Coulter wannabe Tomi Lahren paraded around with a camera crew in tow. In one corner, the Republican rogue Roger Stone held court. In another, Chris Cillizza of CNN dispensed conventional wisdom. The Crooked Media guys mostly talked among themselves.
- "Then Vietor and Lovett spotted Bill Kristol, the founding editor of The Weekly Standard and a neoconservative boogeyman to liberals during the George W. Bush presidency, who emerged as one of the most forthright conservative critics of Trump in 2016. They introduced themselves and fell into conversation about the 2008 election. “You guys had a good team,” Kristol said. “It seems like another era: Hillary and Obama debating the intricacies of whether you could do health care reform without a mandate or with a mandate.”
- "“The primary was about whether the I.R.G.C.” — Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — “should be a terrorist group!” Vietor marveled.
- "Soon, their discussion turned to the Trump administration. “It’s so unbelievable that these guys are trying to run anything,” Kristol lamented. “This level of total insanity is terrible.”
- "“You know what?” Lovett told Kristol. “I like you better lately. It’s like we’re together to fight the aliens.”
- "“It’s like we’re all defending the Earth!” Kristol said.
- "“But at some point the aliens will leave,” Lovett reminded him. “And then we’ll just be sitting at the same table being like, ‘Oh, right, we hate each other.’ ”
- Jon Favreau, founder
- Jon Lovett, founder
- Tommy Vietor, founder
- Brian Beutler, editor-in-chief
- Corinne Gilliard, talent and development producer
- Elijah Cone, digital manager
- Elisa Gutierrez operations and production assistant
- Mukta Mohan, producer
- Sarah Wick, chief operations officer
- Tanya Somanader, chief content officer
- [[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/magazine/the-voices-in-blue-americas-head.html, Accessed 12/17/2017
- [[https://crooked.com/podcast-series/majority-54/ MAJORITY 54 WITH JASON KANDER, Accessed 12/17/2017
- TEAM, accessed 12-11-2017