Lawyer Rabia Chaudry got you hooked on Serial when she took the murder case at the heart of the breakout podcast to producers. In doing so she became one of new media’s most indispensable and trusted advocates for social justice.
These days Chaudry, lawyer and blogger Susan Simpson, and conflict analyst Sarah Basha work on The 45th, a new weekly podcast that cross-examines President Trump. The podcast’s website makes a compelling promise: “The 24-hour news cycle may have already moved on, but The 45th podcast is examining developments from the White House that deserve a second look.” Unfortunately the podcast only half-delivers on this premise. It frequently feels as if the co-hosts are trying to keep pace with the frantic speed of the news cycle rather than using their talents to dive deeper into the intriguing narratives buried in a given week’s onslaught of headlines.
In one episode Simpson details the mysterious Felix Sater, and wonders why a man with such a vast criminal history has such close ties to Trump. In another Chaudry draws our attention to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that he will end the committee on forensic science—and the grave implications for wrongful conviction cases. The stories unearthed by the team are indeed fascinating, but they get little time or investigation and listeners are left with more questions than insights.
Certainly the first months of Trump’s presidency have provided no shortage of headlines. From foreign policy shifts to FBI investigations and early morning tweetstorms, the news in a single day can be enough to make even the most discerning news reader’s head spin.
When the podcast isn’t running through an inventory of news items, much of the discussion is devoted to reflections on whether any of the White House’s decisions make sense. (Spoiler alert: The hosts frequently agree that most do not.) While Chaudry and Simpson share liberal views and largely concur, Basha adds a vital conservative perspective.
When they disagree it’s refreshing to hear the co-hosts offer their differing opinions openly, but there is rarely any heated debate. This feels like a missed opportunity: There is value in the intense discourse that the podcast fosters, and the dialogue often feels muted. Basha often defers to her stance that she “trust[s] the military on this one,” while Simpson and Chaudry too often land on“I’m not sure” and “I don’t know.” Uncertain times or not, aren’t we hear for them to explain Trump in greater detail?
But in a recent episode, Simpson and Chaudry interviewed former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-Mass.), who ran for president in 1988. The episode, “History Repeats Itself,” deviated from the podcast’s typical headline-heavy format and covered an impressive amount of ground while still making room for thoughtful discussion. The series is hitting its stride—you’ll want to start there.
The 45th isn’t about narrative so much as it is facts. Keen observers with an eye for detail, Chaudry, Simpson, and Basha offer an informative news roundup. Now they just need to fully deliver on the promise to tackle the stories our whirlwind news cycle leaves behind.
The 45th releases new episodes every Tuesday. Episodes are available via Audioboom and iTunes.