Bob Garfield is an American journalist and commentator. He is a co-host of On the Media from WNYC, alongside Brooke Gladstone. He is also the host of The Genius Dialogues from Audible.
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Hi Reddit, I'm Bob Garfield. You might know me from WNYC's Peabody Award winning 'On The Media' which I've hosted with Brooke Gladstone for nearly 17 years. I've interviewed figures as varied as Ben Bradlee and Glenn Beck, Judith Miller and Alec Baldwin, Ted Kennedy and Julian Assange. Some of them were happier when they walked in than when they left.
Over 40 years in journalism, I've done something in the ballpark of 2500 columns, scores of magazine articles and newspaper op-eds, hundreds of feature pieces and commentaries for All Things Considered and five NYT Worst-Selling books. Also lots of TV gigs, and hundreds of lectures in 43 countries on six continents. I'm also the author and founder of the Media Future Summit at Wharton. I throw right, bat right.
But here's the thing: For the past year, I've been interviewing and exploring the lives of more than a dozen MacArthur "Genius" fellows, those people you read about who get a windfall out of the blue as reward for their good work in science, education, the arts, the environment, and so on. Earlier this month, with the help of Audible, I released 12 of these conversations in the form of a show called The Genius Dialogues, which can be found here. Guests include David Simon, Jad Abumrad, Elizabeth Streb, Sarah Stillman, and Carl Haber, among others.
The general idea I've been able to pull from these conversations is that these people mainly got to where they are thanks to random events, failures, hard work, self sacrifice and generalized dedication to the common good. Nothing was pre-ordained -- unless you go back to their childhoods and seek evidence of foreshadowing, whereupon everything seems preordained. It's kind of uncanny.
It's a genius idea. Be there or be square.
Hey, Redditers. Thanks for your attention. If you have more questions, send them along and I'll periodically check out the inbox over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, check out The Genius Dialogues. Just bear in mind: it only takes one party in the dialogue to be a genius for that title not to be false advertising.
The OTM episode after the election of Trump was haunting in its vulnerability and emotion. Did you and Brooke have a debriefing after that heated conversation? How did you decide to air the conversation despite the tension? Thank you 💗
The whole thing toom me by surprise. Katya Rogers, our executive producer, called me with the idea. I was in a state of near catatonia and not especially into the idea. But, yes, it was pretty raw and very useful..and not just for us. Because it spoke to the doubts and anxieties of a lot of people who were as shaken by the election results as we were.
Which interview did you find most enjoyable? Which do you think your average listener will find most controversial?
I love all my children the same. As for controversial, I dunno, but some of the questions for choreographer Elizabeth Streb, debunker James Randi, Radiolab's Jad Abumrad, chemist Phil Baran, artist Jorge Pardo and The Wire's David Simon cut pretty close to the bone. My favorite single moment was in the Pardo conversation.
Hey, Bob. I am an On the Media superfan. I was an especially big fan of "Bob's Grill" from last summer. I really hope you do it again this summer.
My question is a hypothetical one. If you were offered to moderate a presidential debate in 2020, and were given 100% complete freedom, what would it look like? What kinds of questions would you ask and how would you structure it?
If I were to win Powerball. Look, all moderators must work within the rules negotiated with the candidates by the debate sponsors. But as long as we're just fantasizing, if one of my questions were to be evaded I'd ask it again. If a further evasion occurred, I'd interrupt, say so, and move to my next question.
On OTM Brooke has occasionally mentioned or alluded to fictional media that she enjoys, like Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica. Are there any fictional TV shows, book series, authors, or creators in other mediums that you're a fan of?
I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction. On TV, the Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Veep, The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, Patriot and lots more. Big film buff, including lots of docs. My outlier favorites are Romanians films (The Death of Mr. Lazerescu) and the 60s POW drama King Rat.
Why'd you leave Lexicon Valley?
Mike Vuolo and I both had other projects. Mine was The Genius Dialogues. I miss LV. The funnest broadcasting(ish) thing I ever did.
Which genius surprised you the most?
They all surprised me again and again. But none more than Jorge Pardo, the artist. I won't spoil the moment, but one of his answers all but knocked me off my chair.
Hey Bob, I'm a regular listener of On the Media. My favorite episodes are the one's where you dive into specific topics, like Healthcare, and inform your viewers how to critically analyze media coverage. Do you find that you want to do more episodes like this, but are overwhelmed by the public demand for political coverage?
Also, I have a question about your interview with Glenn Beck. In my view, he was clearly attempting to use your program as a tool to rebrand his career. You were unrelenting in your attempt to hold him accountable for the many outlandish things he has said. As a listener, it was both refreshing and uncomfortable. Do you regret anything about your approach in the interview?
The only thing I regret about the Glenn Beck interview is that he walked out before I could ask him to identify the "principles" he said he had not left behind.
You interview some folks with whom you have obvious, huge, fundamental disagreements; and you don't conceal it. Some of your interviews don't seem to get very far beyond acrimony. I love those interviews but part of me is like "why even do it?" Are there people you would never interview on principle?
Journalists tend to conceal their misgivings so as not to seem unfair. I think that is itself unfair, not to mention disingenuous and deceptive to all involved. The fairness is found in the willingness to listen to answers and not to be a sleazy prosecutor cherrypicking only incriminating facts and skipping potentially exculpatory ones.
It was funny, but John McWhorter (sp?) is doing a fantastic job with it since you two moved on.
Hey, Bob! What do you think outlets need to do differently if they are to better inform the country? How can we be a part of combatting misinformation without giving that misinformation more air time?
I'd start by resisting the impulse to offer an opposing point of view that lacks scientific, historical or factual merit. Giving voice to anti-vaxxers, climate deniers, 9/11 Truthers, creationists etc is not just lazy, it's malpractice.
What was the first substantive thought that popped in your head when you realized that Donald Trump won, or would win, the Electoral College vote?
What will I tell my kids?
When you have a journalist or writer on to talk about a subject because they wrote about it for some other outlet, do they get paid by WNYC for that? In journalism, we don't pay our sources, but sometimes (especially in broadcast) it seems like interviewees did the reporting and now are being asked to rehash it; that makes me curious about everything from recurring panelists on Friday's All Things Considered to guests on OTM.
We do not pay our guests. If they appear in the studio, we offer them water. Sometimes we have them on to rehash their reporting. Sometimes we have them on to make hash of their reporting.
A question like u/CowJam's: what surprised you? (not including the artist's moment that you don't want to spoil)
What surprised me is that so many of the "Geniuses" showed signs at the tenderest ages of becoming the people they were to become.
The Trump administration is said by some to be causing a renaissance in journalism. But it's national, Washington-centric journalism. Does anyone have good ideas for translating the enthusiasm for Trump foibles into enthusiasm for local news?
No. The Trump Bump is nice, but the ongoing collapse of the business model that underwrote journalism for 300 years is catastrophic. And there is no solution in sight.
I have a strong cringe reaction to the contentious interviews you do on OTM with hostile guests and as a result I find them very difficult to listen to. Can you speak to the thought behind seeking out such guests and/or your mentality going in to these interviews? Have there been circumstances where OTM decided the potential harm of giving a platform to a guest who is going to lie or promote something atrocious outweighs the benefit of challenging them on-air?
Also, I miss the "Present and Future Business Models for Monetizing the Newspaper Industry" jingle.
I spoke to some creep named Hunter Moore, who was in the "revenge porn" business. People who broke up with their girlfriends would give him nude pictures and Moore would post them along with also sorts of personal info on the targeted ex, scraped from social media. Just repulsive. The conversation is jawdropping, but to this day I'm not sure we should have given him access to a microphone. A week after the election, I talked to a white separatist leader. Also disgusting. In that case, though, it seemed that the racist alt-right was going to have a seat at the grownup table, and it was a conversation that need to take place.
Hi Bob, huge fan of OTM!
You obviously spend a lot of time on the show talking about what the media can do different, but I am wondering what consumers can do differently to truly get a "fair and balanced" perspective on what is happening in the news? How do you get your news and information?
1) Know the source of what you are reading. First the media source (the answer is NEVER Facebook) and the sources cited by the reporter.
2) Get out of your bubble. Look for content that doesn't necessarily reinforce your worldview.
3) Read for information and context, not to affirm your existing understanding.
Off topic but what is your favorite music genre?
Classical music, from the Romantic period onward.
I don't understand how you manage to do some of these interviews, but I'm so glad that someone can. I tend to be fairly conflict-averse, and I sometimes come away with a feeling of fremdschamen, almost, because of how uncomfortable I would have been in your shoes.
Thank you for the public service you provide!
We are here to serve. To protect and serve.
Hi Bob. On the Media might be my favorite weekly podcast - the work that you and Brooke do is indispensable.
What I was wondering is - can we anticipate any epic grill sessions in the coming months? It's BBQ season starting next week after all.
Thing is, we don't sit in our meeting coming up with names of people to skewer. But when someone in public life (including journalism) does something that demands accountability, we aren't shy -- whether it is Judy Miller of the NYT, Glenn Beck, a revenge pornographer or the Pentagon.
I do fantasize about a spinoff show titled "What the Fuck is the Matter wih You with Bob Garfield," but it would be really hard booking guests.
Hi Bob! What narratives on the right do you think the mainstream media should cover better, NOT out of bipartisan conciliation necessarily but in an effort to reach people who think (rightly or wrongly) that "you" are out of touch with "them?"
States houses. Local government. Poverty. Labor. Environment. And, as a genre, stories that explain the impact of government policy down through the economy and the society as a whole. If we've asked more questions about globalism, and made fewer assumptions, and looked beyond conventional wisdom or even just potential dystopic effects, might not have had such an ugly surprise in November.
What interview sticks out in your memory as being the most frustrating or exasperating and what made it so?
Nobody ever hear it. It was with a guy who organized a bunch of astroturf "interest groups" that sounded do-gooder in nature but really represented the interests of do-badders. I was so angry and disgusted I couldn't keep my equilibrium. It was me blindly swinging an axe, and him (correctly) screaming about a hit piece. We didn't run it.
In your view, what is the most significant development in modern journalism?
Notebooks that slip right into your inside jacket pocket.
Either that or the internet.
Who was the most inspiring MacFellow that you interviewed for Audible and why?
Every one of them made me feel like a useless sack of shit. I mean, these people are just so damn noble...which is why MacArthur recognizes them. Most inspiring? Maybe Phil Baran, the organic chemist, because he had a lot stacked against him. So many of the folks, if you encountered them in childhood, you could easily extrapolate achievement, maybe even in their ultimate fields. If you knew Phil as a kid, you'd probably predict: regional manager, Friendly's of Central Florida. He instead went on to revolutionize the synthesis of many molecules, including important drugs.
Bob, your insight and candor, along with Ms. Gladstone's, are the highlight of my podcast regimen. Thank you for taking the time to join us on Reddit.
My question. Low-information voters consistently vote against their own self-interest in America. How can we counter the messages of fear and hate to bring these people into the fold and prevent more Trumps? It's hard to elevate a discussion to something cerebral when half the participants are thinking with their brainstems, i.e. fear, hate, tribalism, etc.
You can lead a voter to information, but you can't make him drink.
Didn't realize he walked out of that one. On a personal level, do you think he's more true believer or charlatan?
He extrudes histrionics like a Fun Factor extrudes Pla-Doh.