The week in audio: The Fault Line: Bush, Blair and Iraq; The Heist – review

David Dimbleby neatly fills the gap between 9/11 and the Iraq war, and a jaw-dropping political podcast investigates Trump and taxes

The Fault Line: Bush, Blair and Iraq | Podcast
The Heist | The Center for Public Integrity

A couple of enlightening shows this week about how American and British politics work. The first, The Fault Line: Bush, Blair and Iraq, concerns itself with the politics of the fairly recent past: the 18 months between 9/11 and the 2003 Iraq war. Or: how Tony Blair and George W Bush fell in love.

Hosted by David Dimbleby, whose podcast on the rise of Rupert Murdoch, The Sun King, was such a success last year, The Fault Line, produced by Somethin’ Else, is a clear and classy listen. Informative, too: Dimbers, as ex-host of Question Time, has an enviable contact list, and we hear from many important behind-the-scenesters. In last week’s episode, the first, we met Bill Murray (not that one), a US spy who repeatedly informed the White House that his intelligence indicated that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction. This week, we’ll hear from Christopher Meyer, the British ambassador who says he was told to “get up the arse of the White House and stay there”. Dimbleby gives us little portraits of each. Murray: “quite a conspicuous person … he sticks out in a crowd”; Meyer: “slightly maverick, freewheeling”. He has an exemplary presenting style: honest without being trashy, measured without being boring.

I’m not sure what I expected from this podcast. I think I thought I knew the story, so worried that I might be bored. I was very wrong: the show reminds you of those months before the invasion, but also gives context, unpicks relationships, underpins everything with insider info.

Plus, The Fault Line has something else on its mind. Dimbleby asserts that this particular time, this particular US-UK love affair, laid the foundations for the current breakdown of trust between the electorate and our politicians. The podcast has not quite got there yet (an interview with Blair is promised, as well as Alastair Campbell.

Until then, enjoy such little gems as the time that Dimbleby interviewed the then US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s PR, after the interview, said, faintly: “Well, I think that’s lost me my job.” Or, in the second episode, when Lorna Fitzsimons, voted in as Rochdale’s MP in the 1997 election, recalls campaigning for New Labour: “It was wave after wave after wave of possibility and excitement. And people got involved: fourth-generation single parents, Asian women who had never been in politics before.”

Enough of the good ol’ days: let’s tackle the now. The Heist, from the US’s Center for Public Integrity, has just released its third episode. It’s been getting a lot of attention in the US, not least because of Trump’s recent tax “revelations”. The Heist also talks Trump and taxes and – amazingly – makes this interesting.

In the first episode, we learn about tax cutting. The Orange One was elected in 2016, partly because he promised to reform US taxes. When that didn’t happen, many Republican donors were upset. And in an unexpected move, one of these donors, Doug Deason from Dallas, decided to withdraw any financial help to Republican senators until the promised tax reform was passed. What’s more, he got in touch with a lot of other donors and urged them to stop coughing up too. He got them to turn off the money tap; the “Dallas piggy bank”, he calls it.

A sensible straight-shooter, Deason’s job is to invest his family’s wealth, and he chooses to do this by investing in politicians. (There are different schemes to do this: the most disturbing is called dark money, as the show explains.) When Sarah Kleiner, from the Center for Public Integrity, asks him why, Deason is clear: he does it because he expects the politicians in whom he invests to do what he wants. “Obviously, you sort of buy access,” he says. “It’s no secret.”

And the next episode, about Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, is just as jaw-droppingly clear. A sometime banker and film producer, Mnuchin “is who he needs to be at any given moment”, says Sally Herships, The Heist’s host. Mnuchin’s most personally exciting Treasury moment appears to have been getting his signature printed on dollar bills.

The Heist is a revelatory show, easy to understand and very listenable. So listen, understand, throw something in frustration, and then have a cup of tea to calm down.

Three interesting shows about family (sort of)

This is a fiction podcast that’s so close to the truth that I thought it was real for the whole of the first episode. Sharon Mashihi is Melanie Barzadeh, an Iranian-American on the verge of having a baby with her on-off older boyfriend. Melanie is in a mid-30s funk: messed up by her personal history and cultural expectations, as well as her own whither-my-life Brooklynite navel-gazing, she genuinely doesn’t know what to do in order to create the family life she craves. Produced by The Heart’s Kaitlin Prest, simultaneously irritating, moving, insightful and captivating, Appearances is unlike anything else out there.

One of the Family With Nicky Campbell
Mention family and Nicky Campbell, and you’ll probably think of ITV’s Long Lost Family, which he’s co-hosted for years. But this show is about the brilliance of dogs. Campbell pulls in high profile guests – Ricky Gervais, Rebecca Front, Chris Packham – who relax, completely, when talking about their pets, revealing a softer side that we rarely witness. There is a little bit in the show about how best to look after dogs, but really this is just a chat between dog people about how great each other’s dogs are. Start with Gary Lineker and Nihal Arthanayake talking (separately) about the grief they felt when their dogs died.

Newsbeat: Coronavirus and Students
When you leave home to go to university, you begin to create your own, new family. So what happens when you have to lock down for 14 days? On Monday, Radio 1’s Newsbeat had the bright idea of asking student radio stations to report in. “We’ve been four days without food,” said one student at Manchester. A Nottingham student described his first experience of university as “a different version of socialising… fear and loneliness is accentuated in our year”. “Everyone feels isolated,” said a guy from Aberystwyth. “I’m quite homesick at the minute,” said a girl at Glasgow. Poor kids.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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