From one impeachment drama to another: popular podcast looks at Bill Clinton

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In new season, Slate’s ‘Slow Burn’ moves from Nixon’s Watergate to Clinton’s indiscretions

Leon Neyfakh’s mom was not pleased.

After her son explored Watergate in the popular first season of his Slate podcast, "Slow Burn," he was turning to Bill Clinton and the scandals that led to his impeachment.

“You’re going to revisit that horrible story?” asked his mom, who became a Clinton fan after the family moved from Russia to Chicago in 1991. “You’re just going to criticize him. What are you going to that for?”

That gets to the core of Neyfakh’s podcast, which began its second season Wednesday. Neyfakh assured her he wasn’t doing a hit job; he wasn’t burnishing Clinton's reputation, either. 

"Our objective is to anticipate what’s going to feel novel to our audience," Neyfakh says by phone on Wednesday. "With ‘Slow Burn,’ we’re trying to find things that will delight people who know a lot, and people who know a little.”

Leon Neyfakh
Leon Neyfakh (Photo/Slate)

Who is Vince Foster? Why did Donald Trump put all those women in the front row of his debate in October 2016 with Hillary Clinton? What role did Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh play in the Clinton prosecution? Neyfakh and his team will answer some of those questions, and introduce oddball characters on the fringes of history, such as he did with Watergate's Martha Mitchell or a 1970s conspiracy-theorist radio show host.

Neyfakh says "Slow Burn" isn't just about impeachments — the team has considered in-depth work on the Iran-Contra hearings of the 1980s, for example. But this second season comes as impeachment is in the air, particularly if the Democrats take control of Congress in November.

One thing Neyfakh has learned: The prosecution of Clinton was fueled by minor scandals dating back before his presidency — and scandals such as Travelgate that seem quaint compared with the bombshells in the corruption-plagued Trump administration. December marks the 20th anniversary of the impeachment.

On the oddball character front, Neyfakh is not letting too much slip. “I was not expecting Miranda Lambert’s parents to play a role in this story, but there they are. Or the Grateful Dead.”

OK, color us intrigued. 

Quick hits

TROUBLE TEACHING: As journalists face constant attacks from the White House, teaching news literacy gets harder. “You frame the course as a course about …  how to think about the news, how to empower yourself,” says Howard Schneider, founding dean of the school of journalism at Stony Brook University, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

JOBS: ProPublica is hiring seven more reporters to hold state governments accountable. They’ll work with partner news sites.

COMING ON HBO: A limited-run series with Axios on the mid-term elections, the WSJ’s Ben Mullin reports. “Working with HBO gives us the chance to see if our obsession with the big trends reordering America and our shorter, smarter style translates to the big screen,” Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei says.

NOT A JOKE: Iran, which harasses and jails journalists, celebrated “Journalists Day” on Wednesday. Said the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, himself held prisoner by Tehran for 544 days: “This long-running display of cognitive dissonance is a reminder that Iran’s Islamic republic aspires to present itself as something it is certainly not: representative, transparent and tolerant.”

CITIZEN JOURNALISM: Lynn David was snubbed for a regional Utah tourism contract. David wanted to find out why. Using public records, he discovered massive self-dealing: Nearly half of the region's tourism money went to six firms tied to three members of the state's five-member tourism board. Now there's a proposal to enlarge the board to 10 to discourage such self-dealing. “At its best, (citizen journalism) is exactly what this gentleman did,” said Matthew LaPlante, who teaches journalism at Utah State University. “It’s recognizing that nobody else is going to ask those questions. Nobody else is going to ask for those records. Nobody else is going to hold elected officials and public servants accountable, so you have to do it.''

LEGAL HELP: With demonstrations and counter-demos planned this weekend in Charlottesville on the anniversary of a deadly white supremacist rally, journalists may find themselves needing legal advice. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will have a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-336-4243 or hotline@rcfp.org if you are arrested, police demand to search or seize your equipment, you need help finding a lawyer or have any other question about legal rights during a protest.

HELPING OR HURTING?: CNN's Jim Acosta is speaking truth to power but he is also amplifying the president's anti-press message, writes The Atlantic's Todd Purdum.

HIRED PART I: Liz D. Day, a senior news producer for “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” is headed to The New York Times as a senior story editor with the NYT’s new “The Weekly” show. Day previously was director of research for ProPublica. The new Sunday night documentary series for FX (and streaming later on Hulu) will focus on stories appearing in The Times. (h/t Margot Williams)

HIRED PART II: Shan Wang is leaving Nieman Lab to become editor of the expanding newsletter offerings at The Atlantic. In a note announcing her hire, The Atlantic's editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, and the editor of TheAtlantic.com, Adrienne LaFrance, wrote of Wang: "She has many fascinating and creative ideas about how nuances in format, distribution, timing, and news strategy can make the difference between a solid newsletter and a world-beating hit.”

HIRED PART III: "CBS This Morning" veteran producer Nancy Han is joining NowThis as executive producer of "Now This Morning," the outlet's upcoming daily news show on Facebook Watch. It's set to launch in September.

What we’re reading

UNELECTED: How three private citizens who pay Trump for Mar-a-Lago membership have secretly exerted outsized influence over the vast Department of Veterans Affairs. The ProPublica investigation includes hundreds of FOIA’d documents with VA leaders responding to queries from the three like they're orders — and senior VA officials traveling to South Florida on taxpayers to “kiss the ring,” as a former administration official puts it.

ANTI-VAXXERS WIN: Scientists and health officials are concerned over the vote of Italy's upper house to suspend mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren. Italy's Moscow-backed coalition opposes mandatory vaccinations. 

NOT ENEMIES: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo embraced a loosening of a long-censored news environment in Myanmar. Then the two Reuters journalists uncovered a massacre of members of the Rohingya minority, a story that led to awards but has also led to their imprisonment and excoriation by the state as enemies. A special report by Reuters.

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