To appreciate The New York Times’ latest podcast, “Sway,” listeners must be diligent and research its host, Kara Swisher. A pioneer of technology journalism, Swisher built her career covering Silicon Valley where, beginning in the 1990s, she earned a reputation as a cutthroat, exhaustive interviewer. As she once told Rolling Stone, her style of questioning makes the most powerful turn fragile, and by the end of an interview, many “wilt.” Her abrasive nature and willingness to conduct highly personal interviews perfectly complement the mission of “Sway”: examining authority and detailing how it impacts the average cog in our social machine.
Swisher is also known to be friendly yet opinionated, driven by her progressive politics and personal life. Listeners will frequently hear Swisher laughing with her guests, discussing life stories and arguing with those who disagree with her liberal ethic. “Sway” is rightly classified as a work of The New York Times’ Opinion section, though the podcast’s partiality should not dissuade potential listeners. Swisher’s steadfast demand of answers is exactly the sort of interviewing that holds industrial and political titans accountable.
Fittingly, this podcast on power features Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as its first guest. In a wide-ranging interview, Swisher and Pelosi discuss the business of the House, technology monopolies, President Donald Trump, Qanon and much more. The evident friendship between Swisher and Pelosi does not impede hard questioning. At one point, Swisher even asks 80-year-old Pelosi if she is effective enough to lead the ever-diverging Democratic Party. The highlight of the interview comes when Pelosi calls Facebook “totally disreputable” and charges its executives with endangering democracy and failing to control misinformation. At a time when Congress is looking to strictly regulate Silicon Valley, these words from the nation’s top Democrat seemingly foreshadow future battles between lawmakers and technology giants.
Swisher’s second guest is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who many expect to be a future presidential candidate. Throughout his career, Newsom has frequently defied political superiors, perhaps most notably in 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he directed the city to issue same-sex marriage licenses, then a violation of state law. Swisher asks Newsom about his maverick style of governing, comparing the 2004 incident to his recent executive order that bans the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035. While Newsom denies a history of legal disobedience, he does acknowledge the importance of elected officials taking bold but necessary steps that may disrupt the status quo.
No interview is as provocative as that with Elon Musk, who begins by condescendingly asking “what’s the point of this podcast?” A lively conversation of Musk’s technological ventures ensues, though the heat of the interview revolves around politics and policy. Swisher is audibly disturbed when Musk says he may vote to reelect Trump. However, this comes as no surprise when one considers that Musk, a staunch capitalist, has a history of surprising (some may say reckless) decisions that benefit his business interests. This interview best displays Swisher’s talent as an interviewer and benefits from her vast knowledge of the technology industry and its power players.
Other episodes of “Sway” include interviews with Alexander Vindman, the star witness of the Trump impeachment, Moncef Slaoui, the scientist leading Operation Warp Speed, and rapper and activist Killer Mike. Left-leaning political junkies will appreciate “Sway” for its lengthy, hard-nosed conversations with Democratic leaders and key governmental figures. Even so, anyone interested in power and wealth will benefit from Swisher’s ability to ask difficult questions and receive answers the public has not yet heard. “Sway,” with its concept of pressing figures of authority, is the sort of project that every journalist dreams of. Luckily for listeners, Swisher is exactly the journalist that makes the vision of “Sway” a reality.
“Sway” is available on sites like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as well as on The New York Times’ website.