On the Media From WNYC
On the Media

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Epidemics Show Societies Who They Really Are

Communicable disease has haunted humanity for all of history. As such, the responses to coronavirus in our midst have a grimly timeless quality. In fact, to one scholar, epidemics are a great lens for peering into the values, temperament, infrastructures and moral structures of the societies they attack. Frank M. Snowden is a professor emeritus of the history of medicine at Yale and author of Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present. An epidemic, he writes, "holds a mirror" to the civilization in which it occurs. In this podcast extra, he speaks to Bob about what we can learn about ourselves from the infectious diseases we've faced, from the bubonic plague in the 14th century to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to COVID-19 today. This interview originally aired as a segment in our March 6, 2020 program, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

EXTENDED VERSION The Ancient Heresy That Helps Us Understand QAnon

EXTENDED VERSION (includes content we had to leave on the cutting room floor to make the interview fit into the broadcast) It's been two weeks since Trump lost the election to Biden. But he and his followers are still claiming victory. Jeff Sharlet, who has been covering the election for Vanity Fair, credits two Christian-adjacent ideas for these claims. The first is the so-called "prosperity gospel": the notion that, among other things, positive thinking can manifest positive consequences. Even electoral victory in the face of electoral loss. But the problem with prosperity gospel, like day-and-date rapture prophecies, is that when its bets don't pay off, it's glaringly obvious. As prosperity thinking loses its edge for Trump, another strain of fringe Christianity — dating back nearly two millennia — is flourishing. Jeff Sharlet says an ancient heresy, Gnosticism, can help us understand the unifying force of pseudo-intellectualism on the right. Sharlet explains how a gnostic emphasis on "hidden" truths has animated QAnon conspiracies and Trump's base. This is the extended version of a segment from our November 20th, 2020 program, Believe It Or Not.

Believe It Or Not

As the pandemic spreads, officials are imposing new public health policies. On this week's On the Media, why so many of the new rules contradict what science tells us about the virus. Plus, what a fringe early Christian movement can tell us about QAnon. And, a former White House photographer reflects on covering presidents in the pre-Trump era. 1. Roxanne Khamsi [@rkhamsi], science journalist, on how political leaders have failed to consistently explain the science behind their policies. Listen. 2. Jeff Sharlet [@jeffsharlet], professor of English at Dartmouth College and author of This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers, explains how an ancient heresy serves as a blueprint for right wing conspiracies. Listen. 3. Pete Souza [@petesouza] examines the role of the chief White House photographer. Listen.

Rewatching "Contagion" in a Pandemic

Back in February we spoke to Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer Laurie Garrett, author of The Coming Plague, in an episode we called "Black Swans". The coronavirus had yet to make landfall in the US but the anxiety was building. After the segment aired, New York Times critic Wesley Morris told us that after he heard the part where Garrett described her role as a consultant on the movie, "Contagion" he felt compelled to rewatch the 2011 thriller. In the film, competency — specifically, within federal government agencies — is the solution to a destructive crisis. This is comforting to watch, like a sort of public health "West Wing." It is also unnerving, and heavy, to watch the thrilling procedural un-spool as people, on- and off-screen, die. Brooke spoke to Morris in March about how for him, it was the pandemic film that most perfectly fit with the current moment — down to Kate Winslet, playing a dogged pathogenic detective, reminding her colleague to stop touching his face.

Another World Entirely

With President Trump refusing to accept the results of the election, analysts are asking if he's trying to wage a coup. On this week's On the Media, why so many Republicans support the president's claims, despite the evidence. Don't miss On the Media, from WNYC Studios. 1. Bob on the latest Trumpian Big Lie, concerning the very foundation of democracy. Listen. 2. Casey Newton [@CaseyNewton], author of the Platformer newsletter, on the surging post-election popularity of the social media platforms Parler and MeWe. Listen. 3. Matthew Sheffield [@mattsheffield], former conservative journalist and host of the Theory Of Change podcast, on why he hopes to "free people" from the very media ecosystem he helped build. Listen. 4. Samanth Subramanian [@Samanth_S], journalist, on the Trump administration's assault on public data. Listen. Music: Hidden Agenda - Kevin MacLeodSlow Pulse Conga - William PasleyAccentuate the Positive - Syd Dale Double Dozen and Alec GouldBlues: La dolce vita dei Nobili - Nino Rota

The Pfizer Vaccine Isn't a Home Run Yet

Pfizer announced Monday that its coronavirus vaccine demonstrated more than 90% effectiveness and no serious bad reactions in trial results — an outcome that should enable the company to obtain an emergency authorization soon. Between the vaccine and the unveiling, also on Monday, of a Biden-led coronavirus task force, it seemed like the rare pandemic-era day in which the good news could compete with the tragic. But Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer Laurie Garrett wrote this week in Foreign Policy that even if this vaccine works as advertised, there are still plenty of reasons to worry about much good it can do. In this podcast extra, Garrett tells Brooke about what she views as caveats to the potential breakthrough.

This Is Us

With Joe Biden approaching victory, Donald Trump and his political allies flooded the internet with conspiracy theories. This week, On the Media examines the misinformation fueling right-wing demonstrations across the country. Plus, why pollsters seemed to get the election wrong — again. And, how the history of the American right presaged the Republican Party's anti-majoritarian turn. 1. John Mark Hansen, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, explains what exactly it would take to steal a presidential election. Listen. 2. Zeynep Tufecki [@zeynep], associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, argues in favor of doing away with election forecasting models. Listen. 3. Rick Perlstein [@rickperlstein], author of Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980, on the history of anti-majoritarian politics on the American right. Listen. Music from this week's show: White Man Sleeps — Kronos QuartetL'Illusionista — Nino RotaGerman Lullaby — The KiboomersFrail as a Breeze, Part 2 — Erik FriedlanderWouldn't It Be Loverly — Fred Hersh

Imprecision 2020

For election night 2020, while cable news had white boards and talking heads, the OTM crew hosted comedians, singers and friends for some great conversation with occasional updates on what was happening in the presidential race. In this podcast extra we highlight one of those conversations. Mychal Denzel Smith is a writer and fellow at Type Media Center. Brooke spoke to him about his most recent book titled Stakes Is High: After The American Dream which focuses on the perils, for the individual, and the nation of embracing the American myth, better known as the American Dream, the idea that everything is possible for those who work hard. And she asked him what kind of changes the outcome of this election might herald. To round out the broadcast, Bob and Brooke answered some audience questions...and revisited some of the issues in the conversation they had the day after the 2016 election, Now What?

Chaos Reigns

The past few decades have been a time of deep partisan animosity. On this week's On The Media, how we might move beyond the current polarization. Plus, how one man's obsession with organizing the natural world led him down a dark path. 1. Lilliana Mason [@lilymasonphd], political psychologist at the University of Maryland, on why our political landscape became so polarized, and where we might go from here. Listen. 2. Lulu Miller [@lmillernpr], author of Why Fish Don't Exist and co-host of WNYC's Radiolab, charts the quest of taxonomist David Starr Jordan to categorize the world. Listen. Music: Songs of War - US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps John's Book of Alleged Dances - Kronos Quartet Nocturne for Piano in B flat minor - Chopin Il Casanova di Federico Fellini Death Have Mercy/Breakaway - Regina Carter

The Amazing Randi (just don't call him a magician)

Famed conjurer, illusionist — and even more famously exposer of supernatural fraud — James Randi died last week at his Florida home at the age of 92. Co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry the Amazing Randi tirelessly exposed the deceit behind (as his New York Times obituary summarized): "spoon bending, mind reading, fortunetelling, ghost whispering, water dowsing, faith healing, U.F.O.-spotting and sundry varieties of bamboozlement, bunco, chicanery, flimflam, flummery, humbuggery, mountebankery, pettifoggery and out-and-out quacksalvery." He's lauded as a great "debunker," but he didn't like that descriptor, preferring "investigator." And if you didn't wish to be corrected, it was also wise not to call him a magician. Because "magic" isn't really magic, is it? For The Genius Dialogues (Bob's Audible.com podcast series of interviews with MacArthur Genius Grant laureates) Bob visited the then 87-year-old Randi in Plantation, Florida. Here is that conversation.

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