New York Magazine’s Will Leitch is rooting for Biden to win the 2020 election, but that doesn’t mean he can ignore the obvious: Biden’s podcast is really terrible. Leitch writes that he has found it nearly impossible to get through the two episodes that exist thus far and says the fact that the podcast is so bad worries him. If the leading Democratic contender can’t manage a podcast, how can he possibly win an election?
It’s probably not fair to call either podcast an “interview,” not really; it’s more as if Biden speaks for a while, his guest speaks for a while, Biden speaks again, and then the podcast is over. In many ways, the enterprise feels less like an actual podcast and more like a weekly proof-of-life reminder for Biden. He’s still here, promise!
As someone who envisions no scenario in which Joe Biden is not the Democratic nominee for president, and therefore someone who desperately wants to make sure Joe Biden is well and okay so that we do not all die, I am relieved to know that there is a podcast that proves the man is upright, or at least capable of speech. But as a longtime podcast aficionado — and an amateur podcast producer myself — I find the show nearly impossible to get through. In fact, it is so stilted and awkward that it makes me legitimately alarmed: If they can’t get something this simple right, what’s going to happen in November?
From there, Leitch tries to be constructive, offering five points of advice for improving Biden’s podcast. You can click over if you want to read all of them. Frankly, I’m only interested in the criticisms they reveal because they strike me as an admission against interest. What Leitch is saying is probably what a lot of frustrated Democrats are thinking right now but are afraid to voice. The first of Leitch’s recommendations is to “Get Biden a Co-Host.”
The big problem is that Biden clearly has no natural affinity with the podcasting medium. He’s uncomfortable with the format — he’s a politician, not a talk-show host — and he ends up mostly sounding like he’s conducting his own monologue while the guest patiently waits for him to finish speaking. It’s easy to understand the animating idea behind the show: Biden talks to experts in the field and on the front line, like Klain and Whitmer, to show that his presidential team would be far preferable to the one currently in the White House. But this effect is harder to pull off when the host and his interlocutor don’t sound like they’re in the same room, or even the same time-space continuum.
Later, under the heading “It’s not a campaign event. Stop making it sound like one,” Leitch comes back to the co-host idea:
Podcasts thrive when you, as the listener, feel like you are a silent observer of two (or more) people having a conversation among themselves, in which you truly believe they are speaking extemporaneously and honestly. By contrast, both Biden and his guests never miss an opportunity to fall into campaign-speak. It’s exhausting in real life and absolutely deadly for a podcast. This is another time when a co-host, preferably one from outside of politics, would help.
Leitch then suggests that maybe the podcast should happen more often and Biden can just check-in occasionally: “Why not make it daily, with Biden showing up once or twice to check in, but the other days filled with a co-host or a campaign surrogate doing a deeper dive on an issue that voters care about?”
There’s a point I want to make about all of this. I think it’s fairly obvious when you look at the entire timeline. Last month Biden’s team announced a plan to hold “shadow-briefings” because they wanted the candidate some media time while Trump was on TV everyday. That plan lasted one week. The first briefing was a mess. The second briefing the next day was canceled. The third briefing the following day was also a mess. And the next day or the day after the campaign announced Biden would be launching a podcast.
Clearly, the idea of the podcast was to have Biden share the load with a guest. I strongly suspect the other motive was to allow Biden’s team to edit his remarks before publishing them. But as Leitch writes, the podcast is still “stilted and awkward.” After two episodes, it’s a slog.
So Leitch suggests Biden get a co-host and maybe that he doesn’t even have to be on the podcast all the time.
Are you seeing the pattern yet?
We’ve gone from solo live-streamed Biden every day, to edited Biden with a guest once a week. And now the recommendation is that we need a co-host along with the guests. In short, the secret to success is…less Biden. The less Biden there is, the better it gets.
I don’t disagree. The Biden team wanted to push “emo-Joe” as the guy who really cares during this crisis. But the way to do that isn’t by letting him ramble, semi-coherently, through his talking points. A professionally produced podcast where his team inserts just enough commentary from him to make the point would be much better than what they are doing now. The Obama White House used to publish clips every week showing all the things Obama was doing. It was a kind of low-key state media aimed at his fans.
The problem of course is that it’s difficult to present Biden as a dynamic, competent leader when he’s stuck in his rec room with no actual responsibility during this pandemic. So again, the solution is probably less Biden. Fill up the show with people who are still doing things and then give Biden a few minutes to comment on them.
In any case, I think we’ve all learned a clear lesson from all of this: With Joe Biden, less is definitely more. And if that fact worries Democrats, well, it really should.