Listening to America, nightly: Jonathan Capehart begins public radio show keyed to midterms

September 10, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Midterms show begins; Moonves out in latest 'Me Too' episode; sleazy sheriffs; new BBC style on climate change

Jonathan Capehart began sitting in as a WNYC host a dozen years ago, as a tuned-in New York Daily News journalist, publicist and later official in Michael Bloomberg's first mayoral campaign.

At 8 p.m. eastern tonight, The Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor returns to the same studio to host a new weeknight program for 143 public radio affiliates nationwide, keyed to November's vote and the extraordinarily unpredictable (of late) news of the day. The show, titled "America on the Line," also will stream live on

Frequent panelists will include Maria Hinojosa from NPR's Latino USA, Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone and Joan Walsh of The Nation. Also on board: conservatives Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist (and son in law of John McCain) and longtime talk radio host Charlie Sykes.

"We'll be coming right from the heart of blue America, in a blue state … and people know where I come from," said Capehart, who generally opines from a liberal point of view, in a weekend interview. "But when it comes to this show, I want to bring people on from the Republican side of the aisle to talk about their perspective in a way that people from the blue states could understand it, if not necessarily agree with it.”

Each night he hopes to interview a newsmaker: Tonight, he said, Florida's Democratic contender for governor, Andrew Gillum, will join him. (Gillum, a come-from-behind victor, raised $4 million in the first week of his general election campaign, some of it from 39,000 mostly small donors.)

A highlight of each program, Capehart hopes, will be checking in from callers throughout America. He'll be spending much of his time as host trying to anticipate listeners' reactions.

Jonathan Capehart
Jonathan Capehart (Photo: WNYC)

"One of the things that I am told I am good at and that people appreciate is that I’m not only doing the interview, but I’m listening," he said. "“When I listen, I’m more the person sitting at home listening on the radio than the person in the chair. When that happens, you’re infinitely open to where the listener wants to go.”

WNYC and Capehart began discussing the show only a month ago; things moved rapidly, and Capehart got the support of Post Editorial Editor Fred Hiatt to take off from Washington after Monday morning's editorial board meeting for four days a week in New York. (The hourly show will run Monday through Thursday).

The "conversations with America" theme attracted Capehart, he said. It's a chance to break out of the bubble of the Northeast Corridor.

"Beyond ratings," Capehart said, "success for me would be getting comments from the audience saying thank you for bringing my attention to this topic, this idea, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known."

"America on the Line" is one of several pre-election WNYC efforts, keyed to local and national listeners and readers. One standout: the second season of "Trump, Inc.," a collaboration with ProPublica that emerged as hit podcast. It returns Sept. 26, promising "to profile the people in President Trump’s universe who are profiting from the administration."

Quick hits

MOONVES OUT: The departure of CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves, after a 15-year run, came three hours after The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow posted his latest, with six more women accusing him of sexual harassment, exposing himself to them without their consent and/or forcing them to perform oral sex on him. The company said that Moonves likely will no longer receive exit compensation, once estimated in nine figures. According to The New Yorker, "a portion of the amount he would have received will be donated to organizations focused on sexual harassment and assault."

NEW BBC GUIDELINES: After widespread criticism and a petition drive, the BBC released new guidelines to its journalists about covering climate change, including this note on false balance: “To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken.” That said, the BBC urged caution on phrasing, preferring the scientifically supported “Climate change makes this kind of event both more frequent and more severe,” to the bald and perhaps unproven assertion “Climate change caused this event.” (h/t Somini Sengupta)

WHAT MAKES WOODWARD RUN?: Bob Woodward's unquenched desire for the truth was evident at age 12, when he learned two things — that his parents' marriage was falling apart and his dad was remarrying — from snooping in the mail and through his dad's pockets. That’s from Alicia Shepard, who wrote the 2007 book, "Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate.” In a 1974 interview with Alan Pakula, who directed “All The President’s Men,” Woodward said:  “I was raised in a small town in the Midwest, and one of the things I learned very early was that everybody in the town had a secret. … And most of the time nobody ever found out about those secret things.” (h/t Jill Lawrence)

MY BROTHER: “He was shot because he was a journalist, and for no other reason. You can go online and find more than a few yammering fascists who think that’s perfectly OK … The guy who threatened to shoot up the Boston Globe plainly held that view,” wrote Carl Hiassen in a must-read column devoted to his slain brother, Rob, one of five people slain in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette.

SO-CALLED LAW ENFORCEMENT: Why did these sheriffs, some under criminal investigation, applaud when President Trump criticized the free press? At least 10 of them had been found out by the news media for sleazy dealings in their departments, The Guardian's Jon Swaine discovers.

SAFE AI FOR NEWS: How can we ensure artificial intelligence for news will be developed ethically and in the public interest? The Knight Foundation has a $750,000 grant it is looking to distribute to people who help answer that question. An open call for ideas begins on Wednesday.

TEACHING US: The Guardian US has put teachers in charge of editing a series of education stories for the past few days. See how they’re doing.

PAYING IT BACK: A new investigative journalism center will be established at Indiana University, thanks to a $6 million gift from a one-time reporter who became a business tycoon. That follows the recently announced establishment of two investigative journalism centers at Arizona State and the University of Maryland. I'll be featuring an interview with the benefactor, Michael Arnolt, later this week.


  • “Having more diversity,” says incoming NLGJA president, Sharif Durhams, “is a priority.” A Q&A with Doris Truong.

  • Tom Rosenstiel: Why there’s never been a better time to get into journalism. By Barbara Allen.

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Have a great Monday.