Matt Yglesias returns to podcasting today with “Bad Takes,” a new show that aims to challenge the political pieties taking hold online.
Yglesias will co-host the show with his longtime editor, Laura McGann, who runs the newsroom at startup site Grid.
In an interview, Yglesias said the aim of the podcast was to bring political discourse “back to reality.”
“I think there’s a ton of very extreme ideas floating around left and right on the internet,” he said. “In some ways, the easiest way to go viral and get engagement is to take some very wild takes. Part of the structure here is pushing back and bringing people back to common sense.
Yglesias left Vox in 2020 to launch Slow Boring, his subscription newsletter on Substack. He also quit popular Vox show “The Weeds” last year and hasn’t had a podcast since. McGann was a political editor at Politico and Vox before launching Grid.
In the new show, they’ll tackle one “bad catch” a week. The show will take the form of conversations between a writer and an editor, with McGann pushing Yglesias to bolster his argument.
She said the show grew out of their own conversations, in which they talked about a bad tweet or argument they saw online. The show’s producer, Olivia Reingold, pushed them to bring their offline dynamic to the show.
“He starts from a fairly clear point of view. I think I’m playing a part in forcing him to pause and think about his argument,” McGann said. “I really find myself talking to Matt like I would talk to him as a writer. I think that forces Matt to step up his game and convince his editor of something.
Yglesias said one of the challenges is to approach topics in a measured and non-ideological way, while remaining interesting.
“You want to find ways to approach issues that aren’t silly but are friendly and approachable,” he said. “A good chat podcast is like hanging out with your friends. You want a show that has good vibes.
The first episodes, which are released today, will tackle topics such as the climate justice movement and its opposition to aspects of the Cut Inflation Act; the decision of pro-choice activists to take a stand on issues far removed from abortion, such as defunding the police; and obesity, seen through conflicting ideas about fitness and health and body positivity.
“What we’ve found over the years is that we often agree that a take is bad, but we disagree on why it’s bad or how bad it is,” said McGann said. “I find myself less cynical than Matt on certain things. His approach to philosophy leads to a very clear conclusion. My philosophy is that sometimes more than one thing can be true at the same time. It takes us to different places in terms of the badness of a take.
Unlike “Slow Boring,” the show will be ad-supported and subscription-free. Yglesias said that when he was doing “The Weeds” he was able to develop a personal relationship with the audience, and he can’t wait to get back to it.
“I love my followers on my substack and love doing it, but you always want as many people as possible to hear what you have to say,” he said.
This is the first podcast from Grid, which launched in January as a reporting hub bringing multidisciplinary expertise to politics. The podcast is the site’s first foray into comments, although McGann said she thinks it will serve to expand the Grid brand.
Yglesias said his goal is to have a place for conversation that leaves aside the dogmas surrounding any given issue.
“We have a mix of polarization and conformism which are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “People split into teams. They want to play for their team. They want to hit the enemy. They want to be friends with their friends. I get the impulse… We want to have conversations that get to the edges of these things and get to the complexity of what people are talking about.
McGann said she hopes to provide the audience with a permission structure to re-examine their own tribe’s views.
“Most people don’t live on the ends of the spectrum,” she said. “Maybe they would like a podcast too.”
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