When in doubt, let a Pulitzer Prize and Polk Award winner explain it all to you.
Proving once again that the most intelligent and exhilarating interviews are not being conducted on National Public Radio or the New York Times’ “Daily” podcast, this week’s Brooklyn Paper Radio featured a spirited 50-minute discussion with award-dominating national reporter Alec MacGillis of ProPublica — and it was one that the former Brooklyn Paper reporter won’t soon forget.
“You guys are really good at interviewing,” MacGillis told co-hosts Gersh Kuntzman of the Daily News and Vince DiMiceli of Brooklyn Paper afterwards. “Seriously, this was one of the most enjoyable and dynamic interviews I’ve ever done.”
Eat your heart out, Frontline.
MacGillis’s praise came after Kuntzman and DiMiceli broke with Brooklyn Paper Radio convention to grill MacGillis on national topics such as Donald Trump, the decay of our cities, the decline of regional media and, of course, Kuntzman and DiMiceli’s work as professional standard-bearers.
In the broad-ranging interview, MacGillis:
• Lamented how President Trump’s increasingly dark Twitter feed has altered the media landscape forever.
“Trump is massively consequential and unlike anything we’ve ever had before in this incredibly powerful position,” said MacGillis, who started his career at a tiny weekly in rural Connecticut before joining The Brooklyn Paper and, after a year of mentoring, going onto the Baltimore Sun, a Pulitzer-winning stint at the Washington Post, The New Republic, and, now, ProPublica.
“But I worry that we’re just missing a lot by covering him so exclusively. I worry that a lot of stuff is going uncovered. Yes, I believe that tweets like his recent ones about President Obama tapping the phones at Trump Tower need to be covered and debunked. They go out to his millions of followers, so you can’t ignore them.”
• Disagreed with Kuntzman’s seminal Daily News column pointing out Trump’s larger pernicious media strategy
“I’m not sure there’s a grand strategy,” MacGillis said, “but rather a compulsion on his part.”
• Dubbed “a great question” Kuntzman’s query about why residents of the “heartland” — about whom MacGillis has written extensively — allows itself to be fooled into thinking basic American values of fairness, the contributions of immigrants and the importance of environmental protection are negotiable.
“It goes to the decline of media around the country,” he said. “In a lot of these places there is no local paper and people rely on their Facebook feed or a conservative bubble. I met people who, even as they were telling me why they were voting for Trump, kept apologizing for being uninformed on the issues.”
• Revealed why so many areas that voted for Barack Obama twice swung to Trump in 2016 — sometimes by as much as 20 percent.
“It’s terrible out there,” he said. “The great overlooked story of our time was regional inequality. It’s not just about places that have been poor for generations, but cities that used to be well-to-do, but are slipping down the scale, like Dayton, Ohio, where I spent a lot of time.”
• Blamed capitalism, basically.
“The effect of NAFTA has been overstated, but letting China into the WTO in 2000, as Bill Clinton did, had a really big impact on manufacturing,” he said. “We haven’t done enough to deal with the fallout, even if you think this is something that should be happening because of free markets and cheaper consumer goods. Industries used to be spread all over the country. Think about retail. You had big chains, small chains, mom and pop chains, and now you have one company — Amazon — based in Seattle, where all the wealth flows. That company has more money than god. Their headquarters has a biosphere in it! Same thing with media. Media money used to be spread all over the country, but all digital ad revenue is all gobbled up by Facebook and Google.”
• Credited Kuntzman and DiMiceli — more accurately, DiMiceli — for doing the most important work on the planet.
“If you don’t have local media, with local reporters you see at the courthouse, at City Hall, at the school board, the face of the media becomes Wolf [Blitzer] and Bill O’Reilly instead of the handsome and talented Vince DiMiceli you see at Community Board 2.”
For the record, DiMiceli mostly covered Community Board 10, but hasn’t done so personally in more than a decade.
Still, Kuntzman said, shouldn’t we feel bad that we’re not covering Trump and winning Pulitzers?
“Not at all,” MacGillis said. “My goodness! Evertything I’ve been saying is about how much your work matters, for the profession, but also the civic fabric of this country. It is so so important. I am terrified if that disappears.”
Towards the end of the spirited interview, DiMiceli did what he always does and harkened back to his glory days, specifically a fabled softball game against MacGillis in which DiMiceli went 5-for-5 with two homers, including one that MacGillis had to retrieve from some distant woods.
“I remember that well, Vince,” he said.
How can he forget? And you won’t forget this unforgetable episode of Brooklyn’s most-beloved podcast.
Brooklyn Paper radio is recorded and podcast live every Tuesday at 10 am — for your convenience — from our studio in America’s Downtown and can be found, as always, right here on Brook