Government shutdown, week four. Diane talks to longtime political analyst Norm Ornstein, one of the most prolific chroniclers of Washington's descent into partisan dysfunction.
After 37 years on air, Diane is stepping away from the microphone in December. Taking her place: Joshua Johnson, a breakout public media star and most recently co-creator and host of the provocative nationwide public radio series, Truth Be Told, which explored race in America. He talks with Diane about the new show 1A, a name inspired by the 1st Amendment. It will debut Jan. 2.
VIDEO: Diane Rehm Interviews Joshua Johnson
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I’m Diane Rehm. Donald Trump was the winner in last week's presidential election, but it's clear that Facebook and Twitter were winners as well. According to recent research, social media played an important role in shaping public opinion on candidates and the issues in the 2016 campaign, a troubling trend, given how easily misinformation can be spread.
MS. DIANE REHMBut first I have some truth to tell you. I'm delighted to introduce you to the new host of the program that will secede "The Diane Rehm Show" on January 2nd, 2017. He is a man of great intelligence, curiosity and depth. And to, Joshua Johnson, I give my warmest welcome and my heartiest congratulations. Welcome now to Washington.
MR. JOSHUA JOHNSONThank you, Diane. It's a thrill to be here.
REHMOh, Joshua. I'm so glad to have you and to introduce you to this fabulous audience that has been part of the NPR listenership for so long. You know, I, obviously, love this program. I love what I've done, but here you are. You teach podcasting at the University of California at Berkeley.
REHMYou most recently were co-creator and host of the Public Radio Series "Truth Be Told" which explored race in America. So why, after having all of this great work in California, why are you interested in this job?
JOHNSONWell, it's really a through-line to the work that I did in San Francisco with KQED Public Radio. It's about good storytelling. It's about allowing people to speak in their own voices rather than speaking for them. It's about creating a safe space for people to be heard. It's about giving people a chance to understand each other. It's about fostering empathy with people. We can't control what people say, do or think, but we can influence the way that people see and hear one another.
JOHNSONAnd if we do that, then people can make smarter decisions about the world in which they live. So really, the chance to do this is directly connected to all of that. Plus, quite frankly, this is something I've been dreaming and praying and begging God for since I was about 5 or 6 years old.
JOHNSONOh, yes. This is my one-life dream. Like, I've wanted to create and host a show since I was a very small kid.
REHMAnd it is going to be a brand-new show. Tell us about the name of the show.
JOHNSONThe show -- it's not going to be "The Joshua Johnson Show." The show is called "1A."
JOHNSON"1A" is -- it has two meanings. First of all, I used to work for WLRN Miami Herald News, which is a partnership between the NPR station there and the Miami Herald. And the Miami Herald calls its front page, page 1A. And I liked the idea of us focusing on these 1A stories, the stories above the fold that are so essential that everyone needs to know them and thoroughly understand them. And the stories below the fold that are just the ones that people keep talking about, but they may not be talking about them as deeply as they could.
JOHNSONIt's a lot of heat and not a lot of light. Those are the stories I really want us to focus on, those stories that connect people either because they're controversial or they're exciting or they're emotional or they're infuriating and we just need to be able to take a breath, get in the same room and talk. That's one meaning. The other meaning behind "1A" is first amendment, this idea that there are these freedoms that we have, which now, in 2017, I think are going to become ever more crucial and in a much hotter spotlight, this idea that we need to use these freedoms and own them and respect them.
JOHNSONAnd so it's kind of a dual meaning. It's the kinds of conversations we're going to have. It's an homage to this right that we have to exercise, that we have to use and it's really a promise that these are the kinds of stories you're gonna hear. We're not gonna do stories that are frivolous or extraneous or opportunistic. We're not just gonna be chasing the latest trends on Twitter, but if we do go for that trend on Twitter, we're going to do it for a reason. We're gonna do it for a purpose and we're gonna do it in a way that welcomes everybody.
REHMSo you're thinking about multiple platforms as you do the program.
JOHNSONAbsolutely. That's an opportunity for us to expand the reach of each show after and maybe even before the show. I mean, each addition to the program is still going to be an hour, still going to be two one-hour programs, but it's possible, for example, before an hour-long show, we might post -- and this is just a for-instance -- we might, for instance, post something on Facebook three days beforehand and say, hey, we're thinking about doing this topic.
JOHNSONWe're still building it in the news room. We'd really love to hear what you think. And that allows people to chime in and help build the show before the show. That's one of the things we did with "Truth Be Told." We cast around for stories of people's encounters with race and those stories populated the program. And they're still online, it's truthbetoldshow.org. And we used those stories either as audio clips or as call-ins or whatever, to help us do this work.
JOHNSONI think that now that social media are so much a part of the way people consume news and information, we can either fight that, which I think is a losing battle for us, or we can use that. We can leverage it and say, we're gonna be wherever you are. You don't need to climb some mountain to come access our program. You can access us easily and we will come to you as proactively as we can.
REHMI'm speaking with Joshua Johnson who will be the new host of the program that begins on January 2nd, 2017. It will be called "1A." And by the way, we are video-streaming this portion of the program so that you can not only hear Joshua Johnson, but see him as well. And Joshua, when they see you, they will recognize that you are a black man.
REHMI am a white woman, who's been doing this program for 37 years. Tell me about the difference that you think you, as a black man, can have on the public radio audience.
JOHNSONWell, I think, you know, day to day, it's kind of funny that you called that out because I've had more than a few people say, oh, you're Joshua Johnson. I never would've guessed you were -- and then they grab their mouths. I can't believe I said that. I can't believe I said that. And in those situations, as uncomfortable as they can be, my response has always been, why not? And in that moment, it gives them a chance to challenge that belief.
JOHNSONAnd it's -- I've had more than a few people say, oh, my god, I can't believe I thought that. And my response has always been, don't worry about it. You noticed it, you're aware of it and now you can choose to decide whether or not that's part of your belief system. I mean, I was turned onto public radio by my mother. My very first public radio station was WRTI, which is the station that's licensed to Temple University in Philadelphia. She tuned in for the jazz music and then she heard this guy named Robert Siegel on "All Things Considered."
JOHNSONAnd it just fired her imagination and she brought it to me. So I fell in love with public radio from a kind of color blind perspective, but as I began to think about what I wanted to do professionally, and how I wanted to kind of chase this dream, I hunted for people who reminded me of myself. And there weren't a whole lot. You know, there have been a few black men in prominent positions in public radio, Tavis Smiley and Juan Williams and Tony Cox and Ed Gordon and a few others, Kwame Holman on the PBS NewsHour.
JOHNSONBut there really haven't been many. I think it's people like my mother, first of all, who encouraged me to be willing to do this. My father, who gave me a very clear sense of argumentation and analysis. He's a very studious man. And then, growing up looking at black journalists on the air -- I mean, Bernard Shaw and the late Ed Bradley, God rest him, were always men that I looked at. Or even local hosts like, you know, Dwight Lauderdale, who was in Miami, who I grew up with and finally got a chance to meet.
JOHNSONAnd there was this whole generation. And especially the late Gwenn Ifill, you know, I wish I would've had a chance to contact her and say, hey, Ms. Ifill, I made it. I mean, I had the chance to meet her twice and having people like that who are an example, paves the way. I hope that my perspective as an African-American will inform the program, but it won't be the lens through which we do the show.
JOHNSONI think the perspective that all people of any kind of a diverse strand bring is the ability to see things from the outside and a different kind of empathy, which, hopefully, will be useful to everyone.
REHMOne last question, Joshua. I spoke recently at a farewell gala given for me that, given the election, the public radio system needs to broaden its reach to include people who, perhaps, have never listened to public radio, who don't even know what public radio is. What do you think you can do to help public radio broaden its reach?
JOHNSONWell, I've -- I'll tell you what I have done is I've had conversation with people who, for example, listen to very conservative talk radio, AM talk radio -- which is fine, if that's what you want to listen to, that's cool. And I've had the conversation where I've told them, you know, those hosts that you are used to listening to have told you all that they are. They have set the bar and they will never clear it. You hear a different version of the show basically every day. When you are ready for something new, when you're ready to go someplace you've never been, meet people you've never seen, explore ideas that are beyond your scope, when you are ready to be surprised, turn to us.
JOHNSONWe will expand your horizons. We will defy your expectations every day and when you're ready to continue to broaden where you are and how you are, that's where we come in.
REHMJoshua Johnson, he is the new host of a brand-new program you'll hear starting January 2nd. It's called "1A." Good luck to you, Joshua.
JOHNSONThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd short break, we'll be right back.
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