Not My Job: We Quiz 'Inside Politics' Host Abby Phillip On Outside Politics
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask talented people to use absolutely none of their talents. It's called Not My Job. Abby Phillip is a veteran of Politico and The Washington Post. She has been covering the White House for CNN since 2017. She was just named the new host of "Inside Politics" on Sunday morning, although we do not know yet if she has gotten magic wall privileges.
Abby Phillip, welcome to WAIT WAIT.
ABBY PHILLIP: Hi. Thanks for having me.
SAGAL: So you are a rising star in the world of political reporters. Were you one of those kids who was, like, a political nerd who was, like, always interested in politics when you were growing up?
PHILLIP: Yeah, I kind of was, although maybe I didn't realize it at the time. I thought it was just normal that people would watch the news all the time and know things and listen to NPR pretty much exclusively in the car with their parents. But apparently, that is not a thing that most normal kids do.
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Were your parents the kind of parents who sort of forced you to listen to NPR 'cause you were strapped in your car seat, and you couldn't have any say in the matter?
PHILLIP: Yeah, and not just in my car seat - like, all the way up until I was allowed to drive myself. Like, we only listened to NPR in the car (laughter).
SAGAL: Was there a particular incident - like, there's a whole generation of reporters who were, like, turned onto politics by the Watergate hearings. Was there something like that for you that made you say, I'm going to pursue this for my career?
PHILLIP: You know, it wasn't until I got to college. I decided when I was in college that I couldn't swing it as a doctor. It just was not for me. And so I was like, well, I'd better go get some skills. And I started working on the newspaper in college, and I fell in love with it.
I - actually, one of the first people I interviewed was David Gergen, who is a political analyst that - who I actually now work with at CNN. But I was so starstruck talking to him as a freshman college student, you know, who'd - this guy who had worked in the White House for all these years, and I'd never talked to anybody like that before. And so that was the first time I ever felt like, wow, I love talking to people who used to have power at some point.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: People who used to have power.
PHILLIP: Well, he has power now. It's a different kind of power (laughter).
SAGAL: And do you find it's more enjoyable to speak to people who actually have power, which you've been doing for quite some time?
PHILLIP: Actually, no, I don't. I think...
SAGAL: No, it's not.
PHILLIP: ...Talking to people who actually have power is a little bit less interesting because they're - you know, they're trying to hold onto it, so they're a little cagey. But people who have been there and have seen it all - they have all the secrets, and they know what it's really like. And they're also willing to tell you. And I find that way more interesting.
SAGAL: You had been a reporter for Politico and The Washington Post. Now you're at CNN, and now you're on CNN a lot on this sort of panel. You're constantly commenting - very well. Is it hard to come up with something new to say?
PHILLIP: Oh, it's definitely hard sometimes. Sometimes you're like, what more am I supposed to say about this thing? But the thing is, you know, maybe - I think the thing that you don't realize about cable TV is that half of the battle is just repeating what the person before you said but just saying it in a different way and making it sound new. And then you'll be fine.
SAGAL: So in other words, you're kind of recycling the information that has just already been offered to the viewer. But perhaps you're doing it in a slightly new way so as to make it seem different. Is that what you're saying?
PHILLIP: You're exactly right about that.
SAGAL: Wow. It's hard to say - I mean, you've done a lot of very valuable work. But maybe the moment that really brought you to the attention was - of the public was a confrontation you had - an almost ugly one. It was with - I'm referring, of course, to the time you were attacked by a gecko.
PHILLIP: One of the scariest moments of my life.
SAGAL: This was when you were down in Florida covering the president. Is that right?
PHILLIP: Yeah. Yeah.
SAGAL: And what happened?
PHILLIP: Well, I was on TV, on a panel. And it was the middle of some kind of crazy Florida windstorm. And then suddenly, I feel something land on my leg. And I don't want to look down 'cause I'm on TV, but I'm like, I have to look down. I look down, and there's a gecko staring up at me (laughter). And so I screamed and tried to knock the thing off my leg. And everyone thought I was being attacked by, you know - I mean, I was in West Palm Beach, so it could have been anything.
POUNDSTONE: Of all the stuff that could attack you in Florida, a gecko is so nothing.
PHILLIP: I think maybe the reason I was also a little jumpy was because where we do our live shots was - is in front of this lake thing that has an alligator in it. There is an actual alligator in the lake behind me.
POUNDSTONE: Oh. Oh, OK.
PHILLIP: And there's a giant tree that has geckos but also other kinds of...
PHILLIP: ...Animals. And it's just a hazardous environment.
SAGAL: There's another thing I wanted to ask you about, and you can tell me if I'm wrong. We heard that you have a big enthusiasm, when you need to relax, for reality TV. Is that the case?
PHILLIP: Oh, yes, I do.
SAGAL: What's your favorite show?
PHILLIP: Oh, I'm a - I'm, like, a "Real Housewives"...
BILL KURTIS: Oh.
SAGAL: What is the appeal of real - I've never felt the appeal. What is the appeal?
PHILLIP: And maybe it's because it's, like, people that you know. So it's basically the same crew every season, and you get to know them really well, and you watch over time. And I'm bad with names, so it's easier for me to keep track of who's who.
SAGAL: I guess the reason I'm puzzled is because, isn't your job as a political reporter and analyst covering enormous amounts of drama? And the fact that you want to, like, relax by watching more of that, I guess, is just puzzling.
PHILLIP: It's just - as long as it's not about the future of American democracy, I think it's...
PHILLIP: ...Quite a contrast.
SAGAL: So you can relax.
PHILLIP: Incredibly relaxing.
SAGAL: I have to ask you this. I joked about it. You did take over "Inside Politics" Sunday morning from the legendary John King. Will you get to use the magic wall?
PHILLIP: I think so. We've been...
SAGAL: You think so.
PHILLIP: ...Talking about it, but I have not been allowed on the magic wall just yet.
PHILLIP: I have to get a little bit of training.
PHILLIP: It's a big responsibility. And so - but we're working on it.
SAGAL: If you move your hand wrong, like, Pennsylvania goes into the sea. You can't...
PHILLIP: Yeah, no.
SAGAL: You can't mess with that.
PHILLIP: It's a total - I mean, look. Nobody is going to be as good at the magic wall as John King, so you shouldn't even try.
PHILLIP: But just - I just don't want to break anything or make anything disappear or anything like that.
SAGAL: Wow. Yeah, of course.
PHILLIP: So that's the goal.
POUNDSTONE: You're going to do the magic wall in your own special way, Abby.
PHILLIP: That's what I'm hoping.
SAGAL: I have one last question. You and everybody else in political journalism - NPR, CNN, everywhere - has been spending a lot of late nights of late, starting with the election, going through the next impeachment. Do you have a secret for staying awake?
PHILLIP: I eat a lot of candy.
PHILLIP: (Laughter) Yeah.
SAGAL: That's the secret.
PHILLIP: I mean, that's what I do. I don't know if it's a secret, but that's what I do. I eat a lot of, like, sugary things...
PHILLIP: ...As the night goes on.
SAGAL: Do you have a favorite candy?
PHILLIP: Fruit snacks.
SAGAL: Fruit snacks are not candy.
POUNDSTONE: Fruit snacks.
PHILLIP: Yeah, I know. They're a hundred percent juice. That's what I tell myself. But it's mostly sugar.
TOM BODETT: Do you ever eat anything that turns your tongue a funny color, and then you've got a problem when you go on camera?
PHILLIP: (Laughter) That has not happened yet, but it's only a matter of time.
BODETT: (Laughter) Stay away from Atomic Fireballs. They last for hours.
PHILLIP: Right. Now that you've said that...
SAGAL: Abby Phillip, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We have invited you here this time, though, to play a game we're calling...
KURTIS: Outside Politics.
SAGAL: You host "Inside Politics." Now we thought we'd ask you about outside politics - that is, politics in the animal kingdom. Answer two questions out of three correctly - you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of their choice on their answering machine. Bill, who is Abby Phillip playing for?
KURTIS: Una Pett of Toulouse, France.
SAGAL: Here's your first question. Beehives are very organized. We all know that. You have your queens, your drones, your workers, your warriors. But beehives also have what? A, bar bouncers; B, spiritual guides; or C, chauffeurs.
PHILLIP: I'm going to go with A, bar bouncers.
SAGAL: You are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Bees have bar bouncers.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
SAGAL: It turns out - I didn't know this - bees are notorious for getting drunk on fermented nectar. And so in hives, there will be certain bees whose job it is to stand at the entrance and keep the drunk bees from going inside.
SAGAL: All right. Next question - chickens have a pecking order, obviously. Now, sometimes a rooster will challenge the human for dominance over the chicken coop. So what does modernfarmer.com suggest the human do to show the rooster that he or she is boss? A, crow like a rooster through an amplifier because volume always wins; B, just put on a rooster suit, get down in the dirt and get ready to rumble; or C, just eat it.
PHILLIP: I know what I want to answer, but I'm going to go with A.
SAGAL: No, it was actually just eat it.
PHILLIP: Oh, OK. That's...
PHILLIP: I was going to say that.
SAGAL: Apparently, sometimes if you grab the rooster and hold it down on the ground, that can establish dominance. But when that doesn't work, to quote modernfarmer.com, plan B - the stewpot.
PHILLIP: That is absolutely the correct answer.
BODETT: There you go.
SAGAL: All right, last question. If you get this right, you win. A lot of animals, it turns out, have a form of democracy. How do African wild dogs vote on what the pack will do? A, they sneeze; B, they roll their eyes; or C, by electronic device.
PHILLIP: I'm going to go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A, they sneeze. You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That's what they do.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
PHILLIP: That's what my dog does.
SAGAL: When your dog - my dogs sneeze, too. But when they sneeze, are they registering a preference?
PHILLIP: When he sneezes, he's demanding something, usually.
SAGAL: He apparently has something in common with the African wild dog.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Abby Phillip do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, she won with 2 out of 3, Abby. Good luck on the new show.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
PHILLIP: Thank you. I'm no good at games, so this was a real victory for me.
SAGAL: Abby Phillip is a senior political correspondent for CNN. She's the new host of "Inside Politics Sunday."
Abby Phillip, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. Congratulations on everything, and good luck with the new gig.
PHILLIP: Thank you so much for having me. It was really fun.
SAGAL: Thank you, Abby.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT")
BAHA MEN: (Singing) Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who, who? Who let the dogs out?
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill could go all the way in our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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