The team behind popular politics podcast Keeping It 1600 is doubling down in 2017. With less than two weeks to go before Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor are launching a new media company with an eye on progressive advocacy that touts a tongue-in-cheek name: Crooked Media.
“If Hillary [Clinton] had won, I think we would have kept doing the podcast as a part-time job,” says Favreau, a former speechwriter for President Obama who has been running a Los Angeles-based consulting firm with Vietor. “When Trump won, we felt the other jobs we had were no longer sufficient. We needed to get back in the game. There’s a lot at stake right now and, certainly with Trump in office, there’s a lot in danger.”
Their big play, however, means the demise of Keeping It 1600. The podcast, which debuted on Bill Simmons’ Ringer network last May and quickly climbed the iTunes charts, released its final episode at the end of the year. Filling its place will be Pod Save America, a nearly identical program that premieres today and will air new episodes twice weekly under the Crooked Media banner. “We talked to Bill about this and he’s been supportive the whole time, but I think the idea of having an activism-focused organization under the rubric of a media company that does sports and entertainment coverage doesn’t work,” Favreau adds. “It seems to us that the best way to grow this is to do it on our own.”
They are essentially on their own, initially relying only on ad revenue for the new podcast. Crooked Media — the name is a play on Trump’s derogatory nickname for Clinton and, at times, the news media itself — ultimately plans to be a hub for video, editorial content and information about liberal forces working against Trump’s conservative platform. Favreau says all that will come later, as the immediate focus is on rebuilding its strong subscriber base on the new podcast. Favreau, Lovett and Vietor will continue to host the Monday episode of Pod Save America, as they did on 1600, while Thursday episodes will again find Favreau joined by Dan Pfeiffer. (Pfeiffer, who served as a CNN contributor during the election, will not be part of Crooked Media, instead keeping his post as communications and policy vp at GoFundMe.)
Keeping It 1600 became an incredibly popular outlet for commentary during the presidential election. The four hosts, former advisers to Obama and staffers for much of his presidency, come with an admittedly liberal point of view — but frequently welcomed guests from both side of the aisle. The plan is to keep that up in this new iteration, while also drawing on voices from the world of entertainment in the effort to keep things light.
Favreau and Lovett, both of whom now live in Los Angeles (Lovett, 34, created the short-lived NBC comedy 1600 Penn), say they want Pod Save America and future Crooked Media content to blend the accessible political humor of TV hosts like John Oliver and Samantha Bee with their own firsthand familiarity with politics after years spent working in the beltway.
“There’s an entire generation that traditional political media is not reaching,” says Favreau. “A lot of what you hear on television is in a dead language. It’s similar a problem to the communication we get from politicians a lot.”
Lovett, as many 1600 listeners might guess, is more blunt about the old guard: “Basically, cable news right now is great journalists being forced to interview campaign rejects and a bunch of deviant goons to fill the space between advertisements for various kinds of medication.”
Amid all the jokes, they seem gravely aware of how high the stakes are. “We want to give people an outlet and a vessel to figure out what to do,” says Favreau. “The biggest question we get is ‘What do I do now?’ and we didn’t have an answer in those early weeks. We want to find an answer.”