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Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti On Leaving The Hill

Useful Idiots

June 4th 2021

Saagar Enjeti tells a story from his time as the co-host of The Hill’s Rising, in which he described the seniority system for House of Representatives Committee assignments. “I did a segment this is all I said: ‘Maxine Waters will be the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee till the day she dies,’” he recounts. “So her fucking staff called the boss of The Hill and said I issued a death threat against Maxine Waters! I shit you not. They said I was threatening her life.” He pauses. “They don’t call you. They call your boss’s boss. And here’s the thing, she’s the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee. And Hill reporters need to be able to talk to her. They know exactly whom to threaten.” This is how legacy media works. People who work in big institutions end up having to stay on a leash, avoiding even accidental offense, lest their co-workers lose access to important people. “My natural inclination is to say, ‘Go fuck yourself,’” Saagar explains. He didn’t that time, but, adding that he’s talking not about Maxine Waters but her “chickenshit chief of staff,” he doesn’t have to hold back anymore, because he’s “not off the record anymore, bitch.” After a groundbreaking and enormously successful run at The Hill, Krystal and Saagar have followed the iconic path of a certain former rock music podcast, going solo by launching a subscriber-supported show called Breaking Point that debuts next week. The longtime friends-of-show are true pioneers in the modern media age. At a time when virtually every other political discussion show is aimed exclusively at one political demographic or another, their Rising program represented literally the only mainstream effort to speak to all of America. Their core concept, which roughly speaking featured a conservative (Enjeti) and a liberal (Ball) discussing politics in a non-combative fashion, was shockingly successful. In addition to putting out a hit book, The Populist's Guide to 2020: A New Right and New Left are Rising, Krystal and Saagar consistently cranked out huge numbers — in their last month at The Hill, they outpaced CNN programming in terms of viewers. And yet, their insistence on retaining editorial independence resulting in parting on awkward terms with their former employers. We had a great talk with them both, not just about their new show, but about the irrationality of mainstream media business, and the weirdly petty ending with The Hill. Krystal, for instance, described The Hill’s weird fatwa on all collaborators with her own podcast with Kyle Kulinski, Krystal, Kyle & Friends — including Kulinski himself. Kulinski was a consistently strong guest for Rising, and helped the show especially in its early stages. “He always would deliver numbers,” Krystal said. “But once I started doing the podcast with Kyle, he was banned from appearing on Rising.” The Hill even placed a de facto ban on Katie, a regular Rising guest, appearing on Krystal, Kyle & Friends. This is just the beginning of a long and candid discussion of the looniness of the modern media business with two of its more successful innovators. That, plus a colorful talk about Barack Obama’s late-night droning habits, flag-stealing Republicans, and the brilliance of scientists who are able to secure funding to shoot debatably cute micro-animals into piles of sand. All this and more, on this week’s free edition of Useful Idiots.


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