Slow Burn is set for a return to politics. Earlier this week, Slate announced that its popular documentary podcast series has begun production on its fourth season, with a subject that, yet again, runs straight through to the current political moment: the political rise of David Duke in Louisiana in the ’80s and ’90s, a saga in which an overt white nationalist and former KKK leader made strong pushes for senatorial and gubernatorial positions.
The announcement comes after a successful third season that saw the Slate podcast shift gears genre-wise to focus on one of hip-hop’s biggest tragedies: the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Hosted by Joel Anderson, the Biggie-Tupac season has brought in over 7 million downloads to date. The eight-episode run wrapped in mid-December, but Anderson is currently getting ready for a brief five-city tour, where he and his production team will stage a completely new episode for live audiences.
Anderson will, however, be taking a break for the fourth season. In his place will be Slate national editor Josh Levin, who is taking over reporting and front-of-mic duties, with Christopher Johnson returning as producer. (The show’s first two seasons were helmed by Leon Neyfakh, who currently works on Luminary’s Fiasco.) There’s no clear release date for Slow Burn’s fourth season just yet, beyond a broad “later this year” description. But it’s an exciting announcement nonetheless, one that comes at an equally exciting time for the Slow Burn franchise: On February 16, the TV adaptation of the podcast’s first season will hit Epix, with Neyfakh once again playing host.
Vulture checked in with Slate’s editorial director of audio, Gabriel Roth, to learn more about the return to politics, the upcoming season’s choice of subject matter, and the creative constants of the Slow Burn enterprise.
Vulture: So, why David Duke?
Gabriel Roth: Well, one of the things that Slow Burn does is find the stories from the past that are broadly known in summary, but maybe not deeply remembered the broad audience. Particularly stories that have a connection to what’s happening in our world in our politics today. And when you’re thinking in those terms, there’s no more important story right now than the resurgence of white nationalism, not only as a popular phenomenon, but as something with a presence in mainstream politics at the highest levels.
David Duke’s Senate campaign in 1991 is one of the foremost examples, within our lifetime, of that type of outspoken white nationalism making an incursion into mainstream American politics.
And so the story is a really gripping one, which we hope people will be hooked by the details of. There are also lessons for us, of course, with connections to everything in the present from how the Duke campaign was handled in the media to how the institutional Louisiana Republican Party responded to the rise of this populist outsider. It’s all very palpable.
Tell me about the choice of having Josh Levin lead the upcoming season.
Josh has been a crucial part of the making of Slow Burn since the very beginning. He was the editor on the Watergate season, along with both the other seasons we’ve done. The way he thinks about reporting where he thinks about storytelling, about gathering and presenting information, really informs everything we’ve done under the Slow Burn banner. You know, he’s been podcasting for a long time, almost a decade, mostly through our sports talk show, Hang Up and Listen. He dipped his toes fronting a scripted narrative podcast with a series based on his book, The Queen, which came out last year, and after that, he was looking around for what would be his next project. So he was really a natural person to head up a season of Slow Burn.
And he has a strong connection to this story, in particular, because he’s a native Louisianan. For instance, he would see David Duke campaigning at LSU football games, and as a member of the Jewish community in Louisiana at the time, I think the threat of David Duke’s rise in local politics was a very urgent and frightening presence in the background of his life. This is a story he had always wanted to tell, and it felt like Slow Burn is the right form for him to do just that.
I was a little surprised to hear about the show coming back to politics, given that the third season choice to go after the Biggie-Tupac story felt like Slow Burn being able to stretch out what it can be. But at the same time, it does feel like a return home. How did you all think through the decision?
I think that’s about right. I mean, our hope is that we’re gonna make a lot of seasons over time. Some of them will be political, and some of them will not be political. All of them will involve stories that are widely known, but shallowly understood.
Really, we didn’t think about this strategically in the sense that, “Well, we’ve done two that were politics and one set within the entertainment industry, now let’s do another politics one, and the one after that will be sports.” Not to suggest that the next one will be sports, but just to name another category.
We think more in terms of “What’s the best idea on the table for next season? What’s the one that feels most urgent right now? What’s the one we’re champing at the bit to do?”
Seeing as how Slow Burn is generally designed to speak to the present moment, do you get any anxiety over the fact that it can take a long time — months and months — to get these seasons out?
Oh, sure. I mean, that goes with the territory of doing things that are more ambitious and needing the kind of lead time we’re talking about here. I think everybody who spends time working on something, whether it’s a novel or a movie or a narrative podcast, they’re placing a bet on the future — on what the world is going to look like when you’re ready to show a thing to people.
How was the third season received, given its shift away from politics? What do you think about that experience?
It came out great. The audience was great, and we got a lot of terrific feedback, which we are pleased about. We knew going in that it was going to be a switch from the first two seasons — we had a different host, a different kind of story — and so we weren’t expecting the big fans of seasons one and two to be identical to the big fans of season three. I think some people jumped off the train and others jumped on the train, people who were interested in the history of hip-hop and in the Biggie-Tupac story specifically. We found out that a bunch of people came to it because they were interested in the Biggie-Tupac story and ended up going back through the archives. That was gratifying.
After building two seasons with Leon Neyfakh, who basically invented the show’s format and brought a tremendous amount of talent to the show, it was really interesting to work on it with Joel Anderson, who has an overlapping but different set of skills. Part of the work was extracting what aspects of Slow Burn was continuous regardless of the story we were telling or who was telling it, and what aspects are specific to particular seasons. That was a really fun puzzle to work through.
And how would you describe those continuous aspects?
It’s about recapturing what it felt like to live through these events, what it felt like to follow them in real time. Whether it’s Watergate or Biggie-Tupac or David Duke, there’s a sort of package-received capsule version that most of us carry around in our heads. But when you unpack that, it’s much more complicated and interesting, and there is a way of unpacking the story to mimic a feel for the audience that they don’t know how it ends. I think people respond to that really strongly.
Do those elements carry over to the TV adaptation?
You know, I wasn’t really involved in making the TV version. I looked at some scripts and saw some early stuff, but that’s about it. But I do think they did a great job of taking the work we did in the first season and recapturing the same sense of surprise and unpredictability, twists and turns. But it’s hard for me to watch it without comparing the thing to the audio version I have in my mind. It’s not a great position to assess how effective it is for an audience that hasn’t heard the podcast. I just hope a whole new set of folks are gonna watch the show and hear Leon tell the story, have them gripped in the same way that the podcast audience was.
What’s Joel up to now, as Josh breaks ground for season four?
We’ve got the Slow Burn season three tour is coming up in February: four live shows in New York, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles, plus an appearance at South by Southwest. So Joel is preparing for that. It will be an entirely new story that adds to the podcast and features a bunch of great guests who he’ll interview onstage.
That’s where Joel’s head is right now. And then after that, we have a short list of topics for future seasons that we’re interested in and he’s going to do some research on. We’ll spend some time talking about that. But, really, he’s going to take a break after the live shows, because he’s been going pretty much full tilt since we started up season three in the fall.
Any hints about what’s on the short list?
Well, if I tell you, then somebody else might go after them first. I mean, nothing good would come from me talking about right. So, nah.
So, there’s a meme that pops up among certain Twitter circles: Sometimes, there’s a crazy piece of political news, and someone will go “Slow Burn Season 46,” or something like that. First of all, how do you feel about that? And second, do you see the news these days through the Slow Burn lens?
Firstly, I love it. Obviously, I like it when things we make exist in people’s heads in a way that occurs to them when they follow the news or look at Twitter. Yeah, it’s very satisfying.
On the other thing … yeah, no, I’m not scripting the Trump administration season of Slow Burn in my head. But sometimes, something smaller will jump out at me from the present. Like, I can imagine WeWork being a great season.
The Trump administration just feels too big right now. Now, if, you know, in 25 years, we’re in a position where there’s still a podcast industry and enough of a civilization to make it possible to look back at the Trump administration and break it up into an eight-episode script, then I’ll consider that a great success for the human race.
Well, there’s always Quibi, which will definitely be here in 25 years.
Right. It’ll be seven minutes on the Trump administration, and then seven minutes on which of your relatives to eat first.
New EU Asylum Rules: Even the Bare Minimum Will Require Radical Politics – World – ReliefWeb
For the past five years, European Union leaders have tried but failed to reform the block’s rules on asylum. The main bone of contention was the Dublin Regulation, in particular the rule of first entry, which specifies that the first EU member state that an asylum seeker enters is responsible for hosting them and processing their asylum claim. Because of fundamental disagreements on how to reform “Dublin”, all other reform proposals have gathered dust on shelves in Brussels. Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers still languish in dangerous camps at Europe’s borders.
On Wednesday, the EU Commission finally unveiled the Union’s new reform ideas. On responsibility for asylum applications, they aim to replace the rules of the Dublin Regulation by – drumroll – the rules of the Dublin Regulation. In other words, the basic rules will continue to apply, with some tweaks like member state cooperation in the event of numerous asylum seekers arriving at one member’s borders at the same time. Fundamentally, the proposal cements the sad truth that the EU’s asylum policy has become a sinister race to the bottom on who manages to host the least asylum seekers. Even this lackluster proposal on distributing responsibility was met with immediate and fierce opposition in some member states – including by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who declared it dead on arrival.
But the EU has few alternatives to reform. In 2015 and 2016, when the numbers of asylum applications spiked, illiberal political parties all over Europe were swift to exploit them for political gain. And they will do so again if member states fail to break the deadlock and sensibly reform the Dublin Regulation. Indeed, the current system leads to frustration everywhere: the EU’s border states like Greece will repeat their mantra of being left overburdened, while others like France or Poland will complain that most asylum seekers who end up further north should have been accommodated in the countries of their first arrival.
Given this protracted situation, the upcoming negotiations on the proposed new laws will have to address two questions: What is the bare minimum that would make a reform better than no reform? And how can the champions of this bare minimum mobilize a majority for it? We think that, above all, a new governance would have to stand the test of being a more solidary system. But reaching – and salvaging – such a compromise will require radical political action.
Call the bluff with a different resettlement option. The EU Commission proposes that states who are unwilling to host asylum seekers as part of a relocation effort “in times of crisis” can instead contribute to collective effort by organizing returns of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected (“return sponsorships”). This idea could prove a slippery slope into a situation where virtually every member state wiggles out of a commitment to admit asylum seekers – a recipe for more disasters and human rights violations like the ones the world is currently witnessing in Moria, Greece. To prevent this, the EU should cap the total number of such “return sponsorships” to 10 percent of all asylum seekers who are being relocated in the EU. Member states that still refuse to accommodate asylum seekers could be offered the alternative to accept the equivalent of their share of recognized refugees from outside the EU. Refugees are recognized as such by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, so that this compromise would call the bluff on the argument that redistribution creates a “pull factor”, as well as popular claims that only the most resourceful people manage to reach the EU.
Push through a low threshold for mutual support. The pact is vague on the criteria that would trigger any new mechanism in support of an overburdened EU state. For instance, it does not define the kind of “crisis” that would oblige member states to support each other. To address this flaw, the EU should set a threshold for each member state, depending on its economic power. This would send a signal of serious intentions to the states at the EU’s external borders. In addition, any mechanism for mutual support would have to kick in automatically. Anything else would be an invitation for anti-EU governments to blame the European Union once the numbers of asylum seekers go up.
Up the stakes for spoilers. The single most important leverage the EU has over its member states is its budget. EU leaders have just adopted a new budget for the next seven years, following a 90 hour-long summit. The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court – MEPs have yet to accept the carefully hatched proposal. One of the main points of contention is budget conditionality: many parliamentarians want the EU to be able to withhold funds when a member state does not comply with the principles of democratic rule of law. The EU parliament should explicitly include systematic violations of the rights of foreigners under EU jurisdiction – including during returns procedures – as part of its definition of democratic rule of law. This would finally give the EU leverage when a member state undercuts its minimum standards on asylum. It would also help to address the perverse incentive structure of the current system in which member states are “rewarded” for sub-standard asylum systems, because such systems bar the returns of asylum seekers who have traveled onward to other EU states.
Hammer home the message of international credibility. The EU’s current treatment of asylum seekers is harming its international standing when advocating for principles like cooperation on migration policy, democratic rule of law and human rights. In several African states, EU officials have had to deal with rebuttals and accusations of hypocrisy when trying to argue for upholding the human rights of migrants. In private, German Chancellor Merkel has shared how China’s President Xi – of all people – has also confronted her with the failings of EU migration policy. A new, more humane compromise on asylum policy is a crucial step for the EU to regain some of its credibility on the international stage.
The chances are slim that the “pact’s” proposal on the Dublin Regulation will lead to concrete reforms worth fighting for. But the moment is more promising than it has been for a long time. The numbers of asylum applications in the EU have shrunk by almost 50 percent when compared to their peak in 2015. Since then, governments should have learned that the EU cannot afford a perpetual political crisis on asylum – and asylum seekers even less so.
Politics and relationships – Newsroom
Podcast: The Detail
Can you date, marry, or even just be friends with someone who holds the opposite political views to you? In the US that’s generally a hard ‘no’ – here, it’s a bit different
An Auckland political psychologist says New Zealand’s become more polarised in the Covid-19 era.
We’re not quite as divided along blue-red lines as the pro and anti-Trump brigades in the US but Danny Osborne says the tone of the debate has definitely intensified.
Osborne was born into a poor, Republican-voting family in a right wing city in California.
But when he discovered punk music as a teenager he switched politics.
It’s made for some awkward meals.
“You’re basically born into a party in the US,” says Osborne, associate professor at the University of Auckland’s school of psychology. “I’m a black sheep.”
He’s been in New Zealand for nine years, teaches political psychology, and is part of the team working on the 20-year-old Attitudes and Values study of 60,000 New Zealanders.
“Politics are all about identities,” he says. “So people are National supporters, they’re Labour supporters, they’re Green supporters. Same thing with the US which is an exponentially more polarised environment.”
Osborne talks to The Detail‘s Sharon Brettkelly about the growing polarisation of politics, what happens to families and friends when politics becomes more divisive, and the impact of the pandemic on attitudes.
The latest Attitudes and Values research, looking at political segmentation in the last 10 years shows that until 2018 there was very little polarisation, says Osborne.
But there are signs of Covid’s impact on peoples’ attitudes.
“Everything from managed isolation, to how we’re dealing with debt etc, it has really taken on a partisan flavour that I haven’t seen since I’ve been in New Zealand,” Osborne says.
“I think what the Trump election in 2016 shows us is that democracy is incredibly fragile and you know within the period of four years you can just completely change your way of thinking.
“We used to view the US as this paragon of democracy and in one administration that’s all changed. So I think the same thing can happen in New Zealand, we can very much see these issues start to polarise.”
Studies show that families tend to stick with the same party, says Osborne, though he fits with the small percentage who break the mould. His own close family members are Trump voters and Osborne says he was “a bit of an outcast” growing up in right wing towns in California. Any visits home to the family avoid political discussion.
Osborne cites a study published after the 2016 election which looked at cell phone data from people over the Thanksgiving holiday. It showed that people who had voted for Hilary Clinton, who were returning home to see family in Trump-voting counties, spent on average an hour less at the family home before they headed back to the “blue” counties.
He says as a general trend people are uncomfortable with cross-party conversations but he urges voters to keep having them to keep the debate alive.
Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.
Politics Podcast: Trump’s Tax Returns Challenge His Successful Businessman Image – FiveThirtyEight
The New York Times reported on Sunday that President Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and no federal income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years due to reported business losses. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew weighs the potential political implications of the report. They also discuss what a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court would look like, given Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
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