Slate's The Gist

Slate's The Gist

United States

Slate's The Gist with Mike Pesca. A daily afternoon podcast about news, culture, and whatever else you'll be discussing with friends and family tonight. Part of the Panoply Network.


Can We Really Fix College Sports?  

For college athletes, performance bonuses outweigh academic bonuses 15 to 1. That’s not acceptable, says Arne Duncan. Duncan served as Barack Obama’s education secretary. Now, he’s on the Knight Commission, which is trying to lead reforms in college sports.

In the Spiel, the strange evolution of Rod Rosenstein.
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The Colony and the Nation  

Richard Nixon once warned of an America cut in two, a colony of poor, disenfranchised people within a nation of wealth. His law-and-order policies went a long way to making that a reality. In his new book, A Colony in a Nation, Chris Hayes looks at how fear has led to some destructive policies in America’s cities.    Join Slate Plus! Members get bonus segments, exclusive member-only podcasts, and more. Sign up for a free trial today at

Ben Wittes Digs Out  

Ben Wittes has a term for the nonsense justifications he observes coming from the Trump administration. He calls it ENSH: errant national security horseshit. On Thursday’s show, Wittes shovels up some of the larger ENSH dumps of the past two weeks. Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare
In the Spiel, naming a long overdue Lobstar.

Everyone Looks Presidential on Air Force One  

Donald Trump looks a lot more comfortable traveling abroad than he ever has in the White House. Josh King says there’s a good explanation for this. “Two Air Force Ones, a beast limousine, all the trappings of the United States government … it’s hard to screw that up,” says King, an expert in presidential stagecraft. He previously worked as an advance man in the Clinton White House. 
In the Spiel, the incredibly undeserved comeback of Billy Bush. 

Tom Ricks: “It’s Shakespearean”  

For Tom Ricks, the whiplash-inducing news of the past two weeks has been especially surreal. Ricks explains why he was stunned to see the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defend President Trump. Ricks is out with a new book about two of his heroes, Churchill and Orwell. Ricks writes the Best Defense blog for Foreign Policy magazine. 

In the Spiel, Mike breaks down former CIA Director John Brennan’s exchange with Rep. Trey Gowdy. 

Jon Glaser Is Conflicted  

Jon Glaser makes his triumphant return to The Gist to talk about season two of the Adult Swim series Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter. Glaser has been a part of some of the most acclaimed shows on TV. He’s written for Inside Amy Schumer and Late Night With Conan O’Brien. He played Laird in Girls and Councilman Jamm in Parks and Recreation. But he’s feeling torn about making jokes for a living now, with the country seeming more screwed up than usual. 
In the Spiel, will the U.S.–Saudi Arabia weapons deal mean hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans? 

Roger Ailes Created This Mess  

Thursday morning, Roger Ailes died. The Fox News impresario changed the conversation in America and created a base of support for the current pPresident, Donald Trump.  Isaac Chotiner has reported extensively on Fox News for Slate. His new interview podcast is called I Have to Ask.

Plus, Mike hits the bar with Peter Fornatale to drink discuss the crown jewel of cocktails. Fornatale is author of Brooklyn Spirits and host of the DRF Players’ Podcast.

In the Spiel, Mike reflects on how to win listeners and influence presidents.  Join Slate Plus! Members get bonus segments, exclusive member-only podcasts, and more. Sign up for a free trial today at

Why Things Went South in Alabama  

What’s the matter with Alabama? (You could ask the same thing of tens of other states with sleazy political histories, but we’re going in alphabetical order.) Today, Alabama reporter John Archibald delves into the concentric scandals rocking the Montgomery establishment. Archibald writes for the Alabama Media Group.  In the Spiel, why you shouldn’t root for impeachment.  Join Slate Plus! Members get bonus segments, exclusive member-only podcasts, and more. Sign up for a free trial today at

Encounters With the Very, Very Famous  

One piece of interview advice from Chuck Klosterman: You can’t make a celebrity interview feel like a real conversation. “They know it’s not real. They wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be asking these questions, if it wasn’t for the tape recorder,” says Klosterman. His new book, X, includes profiles and essays on some of the biggest names in pop culture from Klosterman’s storied career, including Kobe Bryant and Taylor Swift.

In the Spiel, breaking down the disparate, strange, nonsensical explanations for Donald Trump’s Russia leaks.
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Chasing the Bauble With Brooke Gladstone  

Lists of inaccurate statements by Donald Trump are good and satisfying and a little funny. But they aren’t what we need. We need reporting on the issues behind the lies, says Brooke Gladstone. She’s co-host of On The Media and author of a new book, The Trouble with Reality, which looks at the malfunctioning of American democracy.

In the Spiel, why voter ID laws are such a unique American con.

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Are Bilinguals Really Smarter?  

A century ago, bilingual children were seen as disadvantaged—a kid speaking English and Spanish was liable to become confused and might not learn properly. Now? Bilinguals are seen as better than the rest of us. They get dementia later. They have bigger brains and are better at focusing on tasks. So what’s the truth? Our resident social science sleuth Maria Konnikova investigates. She’s a New Yorker contributor and author of The Confidence Game. Her new podcast is The Grift
In the Spiel, the news buried this week by the firing of James Comey.   

Clint Watts, Testifier Extraordinaire  

We’re zooming out on Russia’s influencing machine with the help of Clint Watts, the national security expert who had a star turn in March with his soundbite-ready testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Watts explains why the partisan skew on fake news is “kind of garbage.” Plus, he has tips for testifying—just in case you get a call from Congress. Watts is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

In the Spiel, hanging on every phrase President Trump invented this week. 

The Man Who Wrote the Comey Memo  

Former FBI Director James Comey has been called “rapturous of his own righteousness,” but by most accounts the man who assisted in Comey’s ouster could be described the same way. Rod Rosenstein, No. 2 at the Department of Justice, wrote the memo justifying Comey’s firing, but he’s had a sterling reputation until now as a fastidiously apolitical prosecutor. Leon Neyfakh, justice reporter for Slate, explains the lingering questions surrounding Comey’s dismissal and Rosenstein’s role in what happens next. 

In the Spiel, остановить! This has nothing to do with Russia. 

Are We Smart Enough to Be a Direct Democracy?  

Soon, every person on Earth will be connected, via social media, to every other person. So why do we approach policy like it’s the ’70s? In his book The Great Questions of Tomorrow, David Rothkopf asks how we can change our policy outlook to reflect how people actually interact. Rothkopf is CEO and editor of the FP Group and host of The Editor’s Roundtable podcast. 
In the Spiel: Is air travel getting worse or are we just more demanding?  

The Formation of Stephen Miller  

Trump adviser Stephen Miller seemed to burst onto the national scene this past February, with his memorable defense of the White House’s travel ban and claims of voter fraud. But New York magazine’s Reeves Wiedeman says Miller’s education in punditry came years earlier, as a Duke University student commenting on the Duke lacrosse scandal for cable news. Back then, Miller was recognizably pugnacious and self-assured—but he was also right. 

In the Spiel, we live in times of confusion and flashing-neon warning signs. How does all that add up to utter indifference?

What’s in the Bill? With Sarah Kliff  

Vox health care writer Sarah Kliff returns to discuss the return of the health care reform bill that just won’t die. In Kliff’s estimation, the new bill, if passed in the Senate, would be great for the rich and terrible for the sick. Kliff is a columnist and co-host of The Weeds podcast.  In the Spiel, why we were surprised by zombie health reform.   Join Slate Plus! Members get bonus segments, exclusive member-only podcasts, and more. Sign up for a free trial today at

Observing Obscura Day  

A hallowed day is nearly upon us: Obscura Day on Saturday, May 6. Think of it like a worldwide quest to discover all things odd and remarkable. The whole thing was dreamed up by the surveyors and spelunkers at Atlas Obscura. Today, Mike steps in as your Obscura Day scout, venturing into the Lite Brite Neon Studio in Brooklyn. Saturday’s expeditions include a kayaking trip to a ship graveyard in Maryland, an Absinthe demonstration in London, and a tour of the world’s first nuclear power plant in Idaho. Check out Atlas Obscura’s website to find an Obscura Day event near you. In the Spiel, health care is supposed to be the one intimate area where a politician’s lie won’t work. So… what’s going on?  Join Slate Plus! Members get bonus segments, exclusive member-only podcasts, and more. Sign up for a free trial today at

Sarah Manguso’s Words to Live By  

Only a fire can prove what survives a fire. Well, no, says Sarah Manguso. It only proves what would survive that fire. Manguso, an essayist and poet, offers modern wisdom and witticisms in her new book 300 Arguments.  Plus, Donald Trump gets the Ken Burns treatment.   

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Red Feed, Blue Feed With Cass Sunstein  

Harvard professor Cass Sunstein returns to discuss his new book #Republic, which looks at polarization in the digital age. While America isn’t more polarized than ever, Sunstein says it’s important to focus on how today’s problems are different and new. “You find yourself in a cocoon, even if you didn’t choose it,” says Sunstein. But he sees hope in sites that are actively trying to sell their readers on content from outside their normal media diet. “In the fullness of time, the non–echo chamber model is going to be producing a lot of revenue.” 

No Spiel today, due to technical difficulties. Mike explains in the top of the show.

Facing Your Genetic Destiny  

The Baxley family was cursed with a horrible disease—something like mad cow, but for human beings. The younger members of the family might have the disease, and there’s a test that would tell them definitively. But knowing for sure could screw up their whole family relationship. In her book Mercies in Disguise, author Gina Kolata explores the family’s incredibly painful decision. Kolata is a science reporter for the New York Times.

Plus, we cover the downfall of Sebastian Gorka and ask why Trump supporters are willing to let some pretty dubious policies slide.
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The Incredible Lucas Brothers  

Weeks before the end of their third-year final exams, twins Keith and Kenny Lucas became law school dropouts to pursue careers in comedy. But their whole lives had been about going the other way: Growing up in drug war–ravaged Newark, New Jersey, they were self-professed nerds trying to figure out why their dad was in prison. The Lucas Bros: On DrugsNetflix special shows off Keith and Kenny’s perfect timing as a comedy tag team (though they might also be just a little bit high). Their set pokes fun at dead presidents, and their jokes range from annoying drug dealers to Steph Curry, but the act feels like classic vaudeville. 
In the Spiel, it’s time to talk about Kim Jong-un’s rational dickishness. 

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