The other morning, when Chris Mason, political correspondent and host of Newscast (née Brexitcast) was on Today trailing Any Questions, he admitted he was in his living room enduring a day of solo childcare as his toddler clambered all over him, scratching the microphone with insistent fingers. Nobody back at Today HQ turned a hair. I figured that they might have done a year ago. But the spontaneous spirit of podcasts has (for the most part) joyously rubbed off on the rest of broadcasting.
Emily Maitlis, co-presenter of the new podcast Americast, seemingly does most of her recording from a treehouse in the UK, flanked by her (as yet silent) whippet. Maitlis was in Iowa with co-host Jon “Sopes” Sopel for the inaugural episode – promising to “hurtle around America following the unwinding of the 2020 presidential campaign” – but thus far it seems Sopes will be doing most of the heavy lifting. “WOW,” he breathed at the mention of the treehouse, sounding envious – and no wonder, since he was in some unlovely New Hampshire motel at the time. Although you suspect that Sopel actually loves unlovely motels, and all things America: he even suggests, with misty eyes, that the mournful klaxon of New Jersey Transit trains should provide the show’s theme tune.
Three episodes down, and Americast is completely addictive for its on-the-ground details of the campaign trail. The faces, the farms, the rooms, the unapplauded speeches given in lonely school gymnasiums. The sheer strangeness of the Iowa caucus, and its prevaricating, pitiless, peanut-crunching crowds. Pete Buttigieg’s supporters carrying placards declaring “BOOT-EDGE-EDGE” so others know how phonetically to shout his name. Sopel does a nice impression of Bernie Sanders yelling, and Maitlis chuckles quite a lot, very evidently enjoying herself, and now and again hitting us with a gorgeous turn of phrase. Her description of Nancy Pelosi ripping up Donald Trump’s State of the Union address: “like watching someone perform the most perfect inverse origami”. She’s no-nonsense, calling a cock-up a “cock-up”, or “a bit of a shitshow”. You wouldn’t hear that on the revered New York Times podcast The Daily. So prim!
This article appears in the 19 Feb 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The age of pandemics