Podcast Review: “Slate’s Whistlestop,” A New Take on Old Politics
Caitlin LambMonday,11 January 2016
For those of you who are already sick of the political campaign commercials and news coverage of each candidate’s latest slip up, you may find a surprising ally for your escape in one John Dickerson. Host of Face the Nation on CBS News, political director of CBS News and a political correspondent for Slate magazine, Dickerson is also the host of Slate’s “Whistlestop,” a political podcast that looks to the past for its content rather than the latest news. In each episode, he takes listeners back to a different time in United States politics, from George Bush’s 1988 campaign against him being labeled a “wimp,” to the 1884 election when a secret lovechild almost cost Grover Cleveland his presidency. Exploring the events surrounding one particular scandal after the next, Dickerson takes an interesting perspective on some of the best-known blunders in the United States’ political history. His podcast is a much-needed reminder than the politics of yesterday were at times just as unbelievable as they are today.
While the podcast is a brief break from the repeated news of the 2016 election, its stories are mainly retellings of well-known highlights from earlier elections. In one episode, Dickerson revisits Ronald Reagan’s legendary performance at the 1980 Republican debate. In another, he addresses Harry Truman’s upset of the assumed presidential winner in 1948, Thomas Dewey. Dickerson does mix in interesting tidbits of knowledge that you may or may not already know; for instance, did you know that the term “Okay” was originally slang for “Oh correct?” But if political history is already a passion of yours, or if you listened at all during your high school history lessons, much of what he is saying is likely to be old news with a slightly different spin.
The quality of the podcast itself is excellent though several of the thirty to forty minute podcasts feature only Dickerson’s voice, or short audio clips from radio and television broadcasts, which can easily start sounding very monotone. His voice is clear and he reads at an easy to follow pace, but if you aren’t entranced in his current topic, you may find your mind wandering.
“Whistlestop” is definitely unique in its content. A far cry from Slate’s better known “Political Gabfest,” it is a gentler take on politics that makes for good casual listening. Dickerson isn’t going to ask you to take a side, or demand that you trust one candidate over another for this reason or that. And while history podcasts are a dime a dozen, his unique take and breadth of knowledge on the subject make this one a standout in any crowd, despite its flaws. If you’re looking for something to pass the time, and if you aren’t already an expert on the subject, give this a try. At the very least, you’re likely to pick up a couple interesting facts to impress your friends with, and even if you don’t, at least it’s a break from the onslaught of political commercials headed your way.
Criteria Scores: Entertainment Factor: 6/10. Sound Quality: 9/10. Appropriately concise: 5/10. Engrossing: 4/10. “Je ne sais quoi” factor: 8/10. Overall score: 6.8/10.