15 Best Political Podcasts for Understanding the News – Time Out

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Itching for an argument? Sorry, we mean 'healthy discussion'. These are the best political podcasts to listen to right now
American politics inevitably dominate English language political podcasting. Why? Well, the Americans make lots of political podcasts and the world is fascinated with American politics, especially in the Trump and post-Trump era, which for better or for worse has proved to be a golden age for podcasting. While we’ve tried to take as global and universal a focus as possible, this list of the best political podcasts inevitably – albeit not exclusively – leans towards the US, but with a firm emphasis on accessibility and deciphering the machinations of the superpower. Whether you’re a hardcore policy wonk or somebody looking to take a tentative first step into political podcasting, there should be something for you here: they’re all a damn good listen.
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Most major news publications make their own podcasts. But with its bottomless pockets, the New York Times inevitably stands at the summit, and ‘The Daily’ is its flagship podcast. As befits the Times’s reputation, it’s actually one of the more internationally-focused entries in this list: each weekday, host Michael Barbaro and a rotating cast of NYT journos spend 20 minutes examining a single current issue, which could be anything from mainstream US politics to obscure but interesting stories from around the globe. 

As with his career-defining stint as host of ‘The Daily Show’, US satirist Jon Stewart’s podcast deftly walks the line between politics and comedy. But with a remit based around discussing issues that are too complicated, serious or upsetting for TV, ‘The Problem…’ is a pretty serious affair in many ways, albeit one that will frequently make you howl with laughter.

This enormously popular biweekly podcast comes from former Barack Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Daniel Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor, and features them casting a ‘no bullsh*t’ (but often wryly amusing) eye over US current affairs, often with the age of enormous name political guests such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and indeed, Obama himself. Sure, it’s very much slanted to the liberal side of US politics, but that’s what makes it more digestible to the rest of the planet. A spin-off, ‘Pod Save the World’, has a global focus.

Co-hosted by British politician (and former leader of the Labour Party) Ed Milliband alongside radio presenter Geoff Lloyd, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ consciously tries to be optimistic about our world. That’s not to say its affable hosts are deluded or disingenuous, but that they rightly recognise the value of hope over fatalism. It’s Brit-centric in terms of guests, but the issues lean towards the universal, with climate change the most frequent topic.

This long-running US podcast is a useful corrective to our melodramatic tendency to assume that we are living through the single most important-slash-unprecedented period in global history. In it, host Bruce Carlson takes issues of now and explores their historical roots or precedents. Although he aspires to political neutrality, his take on events can be on the controversial side, but is, nonetheless, unfailingly interesting.

A humorous liberal podcast about the Mueller investigation into Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia? That’s run for almost four hundred episodes? The fantastically named, all-female fronted ‘Mueller, She Wrote’ is perhaps symptomatic of the boom in ‘resistance’-orientated US liberal media under Trump. But it’s good fun, incredibly detailed, and with the ex-president still very much at large and with a myriad of complicated investigations into his affairs, the show remains relevant.

Centrist UK comic and presenter Matt Forde’s long-running weekly podcast combines topical gags with irreverent interviews with significant political figures. It’s very British in its focus (as in international audiences might not have a clue who most of the interviewees are) but, at the same time, it’s hard to imagine you could carry this sort of thing off in the more partisan/crazy world of US politics. Forde’s interviews are masterclasses in getting the funnies out of politicians, while the weekly nature of the show means that it’s inevitably topical in its focus.

Before John Oliver conquered American satire, he was in a comedy partnership with fellow Brit political stand-up Andy Zaltzman, and ‘The Bugle’ was their weekly podcast, which launched back in 2007 just as Oliver’s US career was taking off. The logistical difficulty in continuing the show as a duo led to delays between seasons and eventually Oliver departing (though he’s an occasional guest). But even now that it’s Zaltzman plus rotating co-hosts, the show maintains the determinedly international focus that it was conceived with at launch.

Another podcast that’s very much born of the Trump era but still going strong, this one from the Washington Post was launched in response to the forty-fifth president of the US’s continual stomping over presidential norms. But fear not; the show – fronted by Allison Michaels – has deftly made the move to the Biden era. The title question is now less about outrageous actions and more about the scale of the task in hand if Biden is to achieve the ambitions of his presidency. There’s no better podcast about presidential power in the current era.

This BBC podcast fronted by heavyweight Brit journos Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel was set up to provide analysis of the 2020 US elections to a British and worldwide audience, and it’s fair to say it delivered that in spades, winning global recognition and a sizeable audience for its coverage of the Capitol Riots in particular. It remains in place, offering in-depth journalistic analysis of the many challenges facing the US in the Biden era – an understandable source of anxiety for many around the world.

Each episode of this podcast from Britain’s Channel 4 – fronted by news presenter โ€‹โ€‹Krishnan Guru-Murphy – focuses on a single idea and the ways it might indeed change the world. In effect, each episode revolves around a big-name guest talking about important things. Subjects veer from the origins of racism to being Bruce Springsteen’s righthand man, and the chats are considerably more freewheeling than you might expect from the remit, but Guru-Murphy is excellent at getting major names to actually offer opinions on things. It’s British, but it aims for universal themes, and Channel 4’s clout means guests from across the world.

Investigative journalism but as a podcast is the remit in this popular offering from the award-winning not-for-profit US news organisation The Intercept. Like its parent company, Intercepted is somewhat rooted in the anti-establishment left, with Naomi Klein a regular guest on the show, but there is something for everyone in the dizzyingly diverse array of topics covered, from a look at life for former Guantanamo prisoners to the significance of the movie ‘Don’t Look Up’.

It’s difficult to talk honestly about America and American politics without talking about race, which is why this podcast from Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela – plus weekly guest journalists of colour – is such vital stuff, praised and trusted for its honest and intimate focus on this most perennial of hot button topics. Dissecting major news events in terms of their racial dimension – which is sometimes explicit, sometimes not – it’s largely US-centric, but then there’s an awful lot to be getting on with.

If you prefer your political podcasts a bit more historical in their focus, check out the acclaimed ‘Slow Burn’ from Slate Plus. Each season drills down into a meaty, major episode from the recent past, with the excellent season one tackling the mother of all political scandals: Watergate, with significant contributions from the legendary journalist Bob Woodward. Subsequent seasons have tackled the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Biggie and Tupac feud, the rise and fall of David Duke, and the road to the Iraq War: big, serious topics, treated with the depth they deserve.

The extreme partisanship of American politics can be baffling for foreigners both in terms of the fact that rights long-accepted in the rest of the world can be hugely contentious in the US, but also the sheer intemperate nature of the political debate. That’s why the plainly-titled public radio podcast ‘Left, Right & Center’ is a genuine tonic: the vibe is ‘civilized yet provocative’, and that’s pretty much what it offers, the American political issues of the day dissected from three perspectives that you may not agree with, but at least there’s no (or not much) shouting.
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