Dine and Dish: Masters in Politics

by Virginia Coyne

Betsy Fischer Martin and Tammy Haddad talk podcasts and politics.

Betsy Fischer Martin and Tammy Haddad at Off the Record at the Hay-Adams Hotel.

Betsy Fischer Martin and Tammy Haddad at Off the Record at the Hay-Adams Hotel.

The players: Veteran political journalists Tammy Haddad and Betsy Fischer Martin talk to Executive Editor Virginia Coyne about their Bloomberg podcast, “Masters in Politics” and the 2016 presidential campaign. The setting: Off the Record at the Hay-Adams HotelOn the menu: Grilled Atlantic salmon with Swiss chard and ice waters all around, set on coasters featuring caricatures of the presidential candidates.

WASHINGTON LIFE: Why did you start podcasting?
Tammy Haddad: Three years ago, I was out in L.A. and everybody was talking about podcasts, so I came back an evangelist. Betsy and I said, ‘let’s do one’ and last summer, as the presidential campaign was heating up, we started “Trail Talk.” We’ve written questions for every single person we’re interviewing. For the first time we get to actually ask the questions.

WL: How did the partnership with Bloomberg come about?
Betsy Fischer Martin: We had done probably about six episodes with candidates like Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush when they reached out to us because they’d heard the Ted Cruz interview and thought it was really good. We decided to come up with a new name so that we could do this beyond 2016. Bloomberg had a successful podcast on their business side called “Masters in Business,” so we thought we’ll call ours “Masters in Politics” to both keep the brand and not limit ourselves to the campaign trail.

Three former NBC television producers: Betsy Fischer Martin, Virginia Coyne and Tammy Haddad.

Three former television news producers share a laugh: Betsy Fischer Martin, Virginia Coyne and Tammy Haddad.

WL: Do your guests call in or do you interview them in person? 
TH: Sometimes they’re in person, like Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado was recently, but usually they’re on the phone. Here’s the thing: I came to Washington to produce Larry King’s radio show, and what I love about radio is that people get so comfortable. They’re talking, they’re in the office or they’re at home and when you’re having a conversation and not an interview, things slip out that they don’t plan, like when we interviewed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and he was reminiscing about growing up and being bullied as a kid. It’s much more intimate. I don’t want to say dangerous, but it can get dangerous because people are just so comfortable and could say anything … and we’re ready with all our questions, ready to just get it out of them! [laughter]

WL: Are you hoping to get Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the podcast?
TH: Oh, I think we’ll get them at some point. We’re talking to them.The other part of the election coverage is the candidates are looking around for other opportunities.You saw the President go on “Between Two Ferns” (comedian Zach Galifianakis’ online interview show). Politicians go wherever they can be effective and wherever they can get their message across, and I don’t think television shows are letting Donald Trump call in anymore.

WL: Is there room for another news outlet or podcast like yours out there?
TH: Podcasts have become part of the conversation in politics this season. Not just ours, but David Axelrod’s and Politico’s Glenn Trush’s are also making news. So, while some people say, ‘oh there’s so much media out there,’ the truth is there isn’t because consumers are looking for more. There’s also lots of media criticism in this election, as you well know. I would actu- ally argue the opposite— that media has never done a better job. Podcasts are one piece of it, but the reporting on candidates has been heavy and extensive.

WL: Do you have any convention predictions?
BFM: The Republican Convention is not going to look like past conventions. It will be much more of a production. We are going to see Trump every single night. As for the Democratic Convention, it will be interesting to see what kind of role Bernie Sanders plays in the platform, what kind of speaking spot he gets and how that goes over. One thing Hillary Clinton has in her corner is that Sanders has been very clear he does not want to see Trump elected, so I think by that nature, he’s going to come together with her.

This article first appeared in Washington Life’s Summer 2016 issue. The interview was conducted in June 2016.

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