Structural Scammers


3/29/19 - Scammers are in the news again. From parents who buy their children's college admission to political media obsessed with white male candidates, we interrogate the long-running scams of wealth and power all around us.

Transcript below.

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Producer: Gina Delvac

Hosts: Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman

Theme song: Call Your Girlfriend by Robyn

Composer: Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs.

Associate Producer: Destry Maria Sibley

Visual Creative Director: Kenesha Sneed

Merch Director: Caroline Knowles

Editorial Assistant: Laura Bertocci

Ad sales: Midroll


The real college admissions scam

Stacey Abrams doing the work

Andrew Gillum doing the work

Beto sucking up the pres




Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.

Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.

Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.

Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. There's so many scams we have not yet addressed on this show. I feel like sometimes lumping the scams together is what gives the perspective necessary. For literally hundreds of years wealthy people -- most of them white -- have been scamming their way into elite institutions of higher learning.

Aminatou: Wow, thank you. You know, I almost forgot this is what we were talking about today and I'm excited all over again. [Laughs]

Ann: Well we're talking about other scams too but that is a noteworthy one.

[Theme Song]


Aminatou: Hey Ann Friedman.

Ann: Hello. Sorry that was overcompensating. I feel kind of low energy.

Aminatou: [Laughs] You mean Jeb Bush low energy?

Ann: It's sort of like you know when you're on the phone to make an appointment or do some kind of life admin and you're really frustrated and what you mean -- what you want to convey is some sense of urgency and annoyance about this like system failure. And instead you find yourself being like "Thanks!"

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: Like I really -- sometimes it just, it comes from somewhere deep within and I'm like I didn't mean to be that nice about this failure.

Aminatou: I know. It's like the people who just put exclamation points -- too many exclamation points and then the heart emoji in an email, you know? When I'm just like just say what you want to say which is that you're not happy. [Laughs]

Ann: But also you might be socially punished for saying what you want to say if you happen to be a woman so I'm like I also understand over-happily punctuating.

Aminatou: Ann, you might know this but sexism is a scam.

Ann: Oh my god, great intro. It's almost like we planned this.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: There are so many scams we have not yet addressed on this show. I feel like sometimes lumping the scams together is what gives the perspective necessary.

Aminatou: I know. There have been many scams and hoaxes because I do feel like we have to make a distinction. Some things are scams and some things are legit hoax.

Ann: What's the difference between a scam and a hoax?

Aminatou: I mean let's go to

Ann: Okay. A hoax is to trick someone into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous.

Aminatou: So a hoax is like when a very old white racist man -- this is actually a hoax that I love that happened I think a couple years ago -- said that some black kids had defaced his property. And the graffiti was signed "The blacks." [Laughs]

Ann: Wasn't there a Clint Eastwood movie about this?

Aminatou: There is always a Clint Eastwood movie about this. But I remember being like ugh, I hate kids who graffiti and then I looked at the tag and I was like sir, you wrote that yourself. So yeah, a hoax is when like . . .

Ann: Preposterous.

Aminatou: Right.


Ann: Okay, and a scam is a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation. I feel like operation is the important part here.

Aminatou: It's true.

Ann: Like one racist guy doing fake graffiti, he's a hoax. That is not a full operation.

Aminatou: A hoax involves conspiracy, you know what I mean? [Laughs] Also I just think it's generally more elegantly executed and it has longer-term consequences.

Ann: Well and also a scam, a sort of secondary note -- thank you Merriam-Webster -- is that it's about obtaining something like money.

Aminatou: Mm-hmm.

Ann: And I think that is also . . . like a hoax can just be someone doing something wild for no reason.

Aminatou: [Laughs] I love this.

Ann: A scam has got some intent behind it.

Aminatou: The taxonomy of deceiving people. How do we do it?

Ann: But I feel like most of what's been happening lately is deeply in the scam category.

Aminatou: Oh, it's 100% in the scam category. Uh, what are things that have been happening?

Ann: Okay, well for literally hundreds of years wealthy people -- most of them white -- have been scamming their way into elite institutions of higher learning.

Aminatou: Wow, thank you. I almost forgot this is what we're talking about today and I'm excited all over again. [Laughs]

Ann: Well we're talking about other scams too but that is a noteworthy one. People are framing it in terms of . . .

Aminatou: So what you're talking about is the college admission scandal.

Ann: I'm talking about some wealthy people, some of them celebrities on the who matrix in various places, some of them not who paid money to some fixers and also some people within universities.

Aminatou: Education consultants?

Ann: I mean yeah.

Aminatou: I'm making the biggest air quotes. [Laughs]

Ann: Can't see the air quotes on the podcast. To secure a place in a prestigious university usually by some type of fake placement on an athletic team and . . .


Aminatou: Sometimes there was a person who took the test scores.

Ann: Oh right, yes, and the means of deceit -- the means of deception -- were someone sitting for the test who was a professional at taking tests for other people as opposed to the actual wealthy child in question. So yeah, so this is in the news because actual money has changed hands in a way that people hadn't been aware of even though money changes hands to get people who are generationally wealthy into prestigious schools all the time and no one's upset about that.

Aminatou: I hear what you're saying. [Laughs]

Ann: Did I zoom out too fast for you?

Aminatou: No, no, no. You didn't zoom out too fast for me. The thing about this particular college scam that is interesting is that I understand the impulse of a lot of people to say like "Well, you know, actually this is Felicity Huffman and Aunt Becky," I don't know how you say her real name, "trying to get their kids into . . ."

Ann: And William H. Macy too.

Aminatou: And William H. Macy. I'm sorry Ann, I'm the real sexist. [Laughter] William H. Macy was not indicted.

Ann: We can have our class analysis and our like sexism analysis. Right.

Aminatou: We're operating on a lot of levels here. We're operating on a lot of levels. It's that I understand the impulse of a lot of people saying you know, these celebrities cheating the system in a specific way is a great entree into the conversation of how actually admission to most universities is a money game. But a thing that is lost for me in that is that the thing that these people did in this particular scandal, some of it is very egregious. Like it goes beyond just exchanging of money which is what . . .

Ann: It goes beyond making a big donation and then wink, wink your kid getting in.

Aminatou: Right. It goes beyond making a big donation. Like I laughed about it for a long time and then one of the things I was like actually this is very despicable is how a lot of these families misuse the disability accommodation policy that a lot of students can get to get more time for testing or to be accommodated in a particular testing place or whatever. The thing is that everybody already makes people feel like shit who need accommodations even though they don't deserve to feel like shit and the only people that will actually suffer from all of this transpiring are the kids who need that time, you know? So for that alone I'm like electric chair. Send them away forever.


That's the thing that is awful. This idea also of white people feeling entitled to a very fancy education when they make people of color usually feel like they have to justify belonging in every space, especially academically elite spaces, it's like hmm, this is also interesting. So I never want to jump so fast into the conversation of let's talk about the bigger scam. I'm like let's really focus in on some of the harm that is being done here because there are places where I'm like the harm goes very deep and also is not being addressed.

Ann: Well the thing about accommodations aside, more to the point of who gets singled out on campus and who very explicitly does not get singled out for their worthiness to be there I think is yes, obviously a part of this scandal but also just a long-running that underscores all kinds of elite education.

Aminatou: 100%.

Ann: Look, if there is an upside, like many of the scams we discuss are this is just outrageous. We love laughing at rich people getting scammed, right?

Aminatou: 100%.

Ann: But this is rich people doing the scamming and I think often when rich people are the ones doing the scamming there is a whole system to support that scam. And I think that's what's happening here.

Aminatou: Yeah, no, I agree with you. We're only down with harmless crimes like scamming your way into getting a free hotel room or pretending that you're a fake British royal analyst. Like that's fine. But with this it's just criminal action is happening. It's turning me into a full socialist where I'm like we need to eat the rich. This is ludicrous.


Ann: Of course we need to eat the rich. 100%.

Aminatou: [Laughs] Social cannibal.

Ann: You know, on its face it's almost hard to tell what is by the letter of the law a crime and what is just the way people have operated for a long time.

Aminatou: Mm-hmm.

Ann: Okay, look, we all love talking about Anna Delvey and that British royal scammer guy and the fake Saudi prince and all these people. But the fact that, you know, there are these people who somehow manage to duck the scam label, the scam was running not in the literal have someone take a test for you but in the sense of let me just pay for this visitor center or whatever and you will let my kid in without too many extra-curriculars.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: Like that scam is a long, long-running scam.

Aminatou: I mean it's also very telling the way it was framed, like in the indictments, you can read this where the thing that the person who is accused of running the whole ring would tell the parents is well, you know, you can give a really ginormous donation to the school and your kid might get in, right? So you can donate a hospital wing. You could get a library. You could get some bricks on the floor with your name on them.

Ann: No guarantees though.

Aminatou: Right, then that's not guaranteed. And he was like "But I have a guaranteed side door." And the fact that . . . one, the fact that there are people who can afford that because also the amounts of money that are involved are wild to me. The parents who are like "Here is 15,000 dollars, take this test for my kid," I don't respect it. It is a ginormous amount of money but those people are operating on the same spectrum as the other people who are giving 500,000 dollars. So I'm also just interested logistically in how money is distributed in this scam. I was like wow, wouldn't you be pissed if one person gave 15K and their kid got into USC and you had to give 500,000 dollars? What does this say?


Ann: Wouldn't you be the most pissed of all if you actually took the test and had to take out student loans?

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: Wouldn't that be the most frustrating?

Aminatou: Would you be the most pissed? You know me. I'm always like how can I identify with the scammer?

Ann: I know. It is a natural tendency because they're on a journey.

Aminatou: They are on a journey. But you know the thing about this too is this scam is very dumb. It's the kind of thing where there is also a reason they got caught, you know? I think that the people who donate the three million dollar library, they're paying for what they get. They're like if I give enough money that -- you know, they're like I am above board here. But if you're going to cheap out on your terrible spawn then you're definitely on your own journey. It's just been very fascinating to look like, and even the ways the schools are addressing it, you know, everybody's very aggrieved. They're like "We're institutions of higher learning and this shouldn't happen here." But none of the schools are saying "Hey, we're actually going to look at structurally how people gain access to our institutions and what makes some people feel entitled to the fact that they just belong here." That's not a part of the press release ever. The press release is . . .

Ann: Or we're going to look at legacy admissions for example which is a huge way that inequality manifests generationally of just like you know what? Generations of mediocre people in this family have gotten to do this so what's one more? That is the operating principle of the legacy admission.

Aminatou: Right. It's like your grandpa did this, why shouldn't you? Must be nice. [Laughs] That literally doesn't apply to me. The only place that I'm a legacy is nowhere.

Ann: And also why isn't that socially ostracizing, right? People being like "Oh, I heard he's a legacy." You know, that is 100% -- I guess I don't know, I didn't go to a school . . .

Aminatou: Listen, I'll tell you why it's not. Part of the reason that elite -- I hate using this word because . . .

Ann: So many air quotes today.


Aminatou: Because it turns out that all the people who call themselves elites are just gnarly, terrible human beings. I was like I don't know how to tell you this, we're elite. So . . .

Ann: In the truest definition.

Aminatou: Right. The Elite. The Elite, capital E -- the people who think that they are -- part of why they like to be surrounded by each other is because they're all in on the scam. Like that's the point of not letting other people in because then you know. It's like who interrogates the structure of power? Usually outsiders so don't bring outsiders in.

Ann: Wow.

Aminatou: As a person who is not entitled in this specific way it's a thing that I find very fascinating and one of the easiest ways to kind of see it is we're women so we understand structural misogyny pretty well. But one very low-level thing that people will always talk about when we talk about the amount of space that men take is how they just feel entitled to be there. "How did you learn that? How did you know that?" I don't know. Maybe if your whole life you were told that you're something special, a.k.a. elite, and that you build the institutions and it's your birthright to be there, maybe you always behave that way.

The other thing that this story is so fascinating for is especially when I look at the celebrity appearance some of those kids did not need to go to college, you know? Their parents are influencers who are making in a year more money than they've donated to the school. Like I'm sorry, if my kid is a successful YouTube influencer I am not sending that person to school because there are literally people at USC journalism school studying how to be good at YouTube and my kid has figured it out. Like we don't need to do this.

Ann: Counterpoint.

Aminatou: Tell me.

Ann: The influencer economy, we don't have a long case study there. I don't think those skills are transferable.

Aminatou: No, but here's what I was going to tell you: to me it's actually not about transferable skills, it is about the fact that like, you know, a lot of people tell their kids -- middle-class, lower-income people, immigrants -- the way that you make money is to go through these institutions right?

Ann: Of course, yeah.

Aminatou: It's always like that's the goal. My parents were not like "Go get an education because studying Greek mythology, it'll make you some sort of enlightened being."

Ann: The classics, yeah.


Aminatou: It was like this is how we eat. You have to do this. And so when I think about the fact that for some of these people who already have money, who could learn how to diversify their money or whatever, the reason that they want their kids to go to school is because it's a status symbol and that is also part of the scam.

Ann: Oh yeah, they're embarrassed to tell their friends that their kid isn't going to a top-tier university.

Aminatou: Right. And that I think is another value that we have in society that needs to be interrogated. I was like oh, this is why we shit on any kind of technical school. It's why we shit on community colleges that are amazing. It's why we don't let people go to trade school and treat them like they're, you know, they're actually doing something that is worthwhile. And that makes me really mad. This is not to shit on USC even though I have feelings about USC's level of education. But the idea that is a college is just good because they don't admit a lot of people, I was like we should probably just look into that as well also. You know what I mean? You have enough space to probably take most people who come here. The reason that you don't is because you're juking the stats.

And it's not the best school out there. It's a good school. It has become a status symbol because it's exclusive and a lot of these parents are chasing exclusivity for their kids and that is also something that probably should make you feel cringey. And . . .

Ann: Or rather maintaining exclusivity for their kids.

Aminatou: Right.

Ann: I don't think a lot of these kids were, unlike people for whom admission to a prestigious university will significantly impact the outcome of their lives, it's like these kids were on a path already. Look, I have my feelings about the reliability of being an influencer as a long-term career.

Aminatou: I think Olivia Jade would've been just fine.

Ann: Disagree.

Aminatou: Now her mom has fucked up her bag forever.

Ann: Normative beauty fades.

Aminatou: [Laughs] The beauty fades but they learn things. I'm just saying if you are somebody who does not want to go to college and you do not come from a significantly disenfranchised background I am confident that you will find a way in life to be okay. That's all I'm saying.


Ann: Sure, yeah. I am not disagreeing with that. I was just thinking about the influencer long game which is a different episode.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: I went down a separate rabbit hole. I don't know.

Aminatou: You don't think Assad is going to make it?

Ann: Oh my god, where are they now? I actually recently . . .

Aminatou: Where are they now, Assad and Blue Ivy?

Ann: I feel like it's like Assad and that duck everyone in New York was obsessed with for a while, like Blue Ivy and like . . . there's a lot of Internet personalities that I have not heard from in a while.

Aminatou: [Laughs] The duck is doing fine thank you very much. Unclear what Assad is up to. Blue Ivy is still the hardest working rap producer in the game.

Ann: Hang on, I'm going to find Assad.

Aminatou: I think Assad has an Instagram.

Ann: Okay, Assad had 1.9 million followers.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: Wow, baby influencer life. I mean . . .

Aminatou: Baby influencer life to me is a particular kind of demented thing that celebrities do and Assad's page actually I had to unfollow for this specific reason because whoever writes it writes it in Assad's voice. I don't believe that Assad is verbal yet.

Ann: This child is not saying "Sailing anyone? LAWL" Okay? That is the caption I am looking at right now.

Aminatou: [Laughs] I know. But another episode of this podcast will truly be parents who setup influencer pages for their kids. It truly -- we really are in late-stage capitalism. It's just it's all falling apart here.

Ann: Ugh.

Aminatou: Let's get back to structural scams after this break.



Ann: Okay, the most rage-inducing structural scam: the fact that the 2020 Democratic Primary has already begun.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: First of all that's like tier one of the next scam we're going to talk about, but then tier two being guess who has been declared front runners in terms of money raised, in terms of media attention. I don't know, do you want to guess?

Aminatou: I don't know, who? Who could it be? Could it be a woman? No, can't be a woman candidate. Can it be a black woman candidate? Hmm. Is there a white man that's running? Is there, uh, a tall white man that's running? Maybe that's him. I'm looking into my crystal ball.

Ann: Someone who has been described as having a lot of charisma.

Aminatou: Ooh, the Texas Kennedy. Is he running?

Ann: Right, we're talking about Beto O'Rourke, the fawning coverage of him. The persistence of any coverage for Joe Biden . . .

Aminatou: Who hasn't announced that he's running yet right? But somehow we're still hearing about this.

Ann: I will just retweet his slighting of Anita Hill in the '90s every day until he drops out again which is also inevitable.

Aminatou: [Laughs] Ugh.

Ann: Okay, so this is a thing that's making me mad about Beto in particular which is I was really happy that he was running for Senate. Like yes, great, great choice.

Aminatou: Run for a job you're qualified for.

Ann: Run for a job you're qualified for. And then you know what? A few other candidates who were running state-level races or races for Congress and then lost despite there being lots of love for them nationally, unlike those other candidates which we'll talk about in a second, he has continued to kind of get positive coverage for just hanging out?

Aminatou: Yeah, for standing on counters the whole time.


Ann: Continuing to rely on his spouse to provide childcare while he just has a finding himself experience. Meanwhile other candidates who were I would say positively on the national radar -- I'm talking about our fav Stacey Abrams who lost her race for governor of Georgia -- and Andrew Gillum who lost the race for governor of Florida, both of those folks are it seems like actually working and not road tripping and also not running for president.

Aminatou: Ann, are you saying that after the midterm we had three left darlings. Two of them were black people and that they all lost the election.

Ann: All three.

Aminatou: All three lost the race that they were in, and the white guy has decided that he is running for president and somehow the other two have gone back to work to register more voters in their states? Is that what you're saying is going on? And we're surprised by this? [Laughs]

Ann: Shockingly, shockingly that's what we're saying.

Aminatou: Man, the levels of shock. This conversation is interesting, right? I gave Beto money during the midterm. I was excited that he ran. I was excited when he was a congressman from Texas.

Ann: Right, me too.

Aminatou: I've been knowing Beto O'Rourke.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: And been a supporter. But here's the thing: he works really well when his foil is a ghoul like Ted Cruz, you know what I mean? Like yeah, no shit, I was excited during the midterm. That shtick does not work so well when 2020 is on the horizon. We've been working hard. We've been working to get everybody on the same level of like okay, get on our level of what is going on here.

Ann: In terms of who we're interested in as a primary candidate? Yeah. 

Aminatou: Right, in terms of who we're interested in as primary candidates. And also there are a lot of very qualified people who are running alongside him, right? And so it's interesting to me that somebody like Elizabeth Warren who you can feel how you want to feel about her and feel how you want to feel about the Native American frakah, you can feel how you want to feel about that, but just on a purely candidate level here is one person who every single day they are pumping out a new policy. They know what they're doing. Just like on top of shit. Like have been legislating in the Senate, knows how to make stuff happen. I saw that clip of her running to get a train.


Ann: Oh my god.

Aminatou: Did not get winded once. Like she just -- I was like you can feel how you want to feel about Elizabeth Warren. Probably ready to be president. Look who's president now, like the bar is quite low. And it's interesting to me that as a woman candidate she has to focus so much on her credentials and the policy. She has to have an answer for how are you going to pay for that? How are you making that happen? And there's another kind of candidate who just gets to be tall and handsome and waffle on how they feel about Medicare for all, gets to make gas straight out of the gate. You know, he made that joke about -- which I thought was in poor taste -- making the joke about his wife, like not being there to help his wife. I cannot imagine a world . . .

Ann: With their many children.

Aminatou: I cannot imagine a world in which a female candidate makes that same joke. Like oh, I'm not there to be a mom. [Laughs] And the country just lets it go. I have a hard time metabolizing all of that information. How he announced that he was running, like an announcement in a fancy magazine, going on an endless road trip and really finding yourself. And what did the Vanity Fair cover say that he had? The kicker for the piece was incredible.

Ann: Well first of all the headline on the online version is "I'm just born to be in it."

Aminatou: Speaking of structural scams. [Laughs]

Ann: Scam. Yes! Like my father was a politician. My family has a lot of money. I'm a tall, white, charismatic man.

Aminatou: Yeah, my wife's money has a lot of money. Who traditionally gets to run for . . .

Ann: My wife's money does have a lot of money. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Yeah, oops, my wife's family has a lot of money.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: I'm like who gets to run for president traditionally? It's these people.

Ann: Who gets this dusty Annie Leibovitz photo?


Aminatou: It's these people. It's not people like Stacey Abrams who are like "Uh, I have a lot of siblings. I come from a family background where we experience deep class warfare. I don't look like the profile who gets to be a leader." Like I can see how that person doesn't wake up and say "I was born to be in it."

Ann: Even though she was, yeah.

Aminatou: Yeah, she was. 100%. But that's not how the scam works.

Ann: Right, exactly. And I think that for me I am really happy to have lots of people with national-level name recognition who have politics that generally I agree with. Like I think it is a good thing to have a lot of people associated with politics or the future of the party, like in specific names, not just ideas. However there are a lot of different ways to work to advance your ideas within a party system. And when you are going from zero -- i.e. lost my senate race -- to 100, like now I need to be president, you are sucking up a lot of oxygen in the room. And I almost had an aneurysm. I went to the New York Times homepage maybe a week ago.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: And it was coverage of Beto in Iowa and I'm just like I know for a fact that Kamala has been in Iowa. Elizabeth Warren has been in Iowa. Amy Klobuchar has been in Iowa. Aminatou: Gillibrand's been in Iowa. Ann: Gillibrand has been in Iowa. You know, there are definitely the women who have announced for 2020 are hanging out there and meeting voters and getting a good reception. If you click down eight stories deep into the Des Moines Register or whatever you'll read about them. But the homepage of the New York Times is just like "Guess what?" breathless. "Beto is in Iowa." That is where I start to just be like you don't actually understand. When you say look, I know that I'm a white man and maybe in terms of the scope of history that's not demographically what we need right now, I'm like the scam is saying that and head-faking towards being better or knowing better and then doing the same old. That is how you run a scam. And I'm like why are you not registering voters in Texas? Get your ass to Texas and register voters or work on issues in your border community that have to do with very real needs that could use a charismatic white man doubling down on them and drawing attention to them.


Aminatou: Right. I'm not interested in helping anybody win who I'm not even sure they can win their own state yet. What are you doing in your state to make sure that you're going to get all of the support? Which is what Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams are doing, and they're doing it obviously for themselves for whatever they run for next but they're also doing it for the future of the Democratic Party because . . .

Ann: Or rather, yeah, structural progress too, you know?

Aminatou: Right.

Ann: Like the future of everyone who wants to actually exercise their right to vote.

Aminatou: Your point about how much media coverage a lot of the women candidates are getting, like that's something I'm definitely keeping my eye on. And also how that gets talked about. I noticed a couple stories like months ago that were the variation of the Hillary "Does she really have hot sauce in her bag?" And noticing stories about, you know, Kamala, Gillibrand, they're trying too hard. They're not connecting with people. And I was like hmm, this is interesting. So all of the years of male candidates running for president and doing dumb shit like eating butter at fairs and wearing cowboy hats in the south that they have no business wearing -- iconic Obama photo of this -- people do this. They go to small towns, they do the small town thing, it does not look authentic. When men do it it's called retail politics. When women do it it's phony.

It just seems to me that the people who are writing the stories of our politics have learned nothing. They are truly not equipped for the moment, still learn nothing, and we're still dealing with this bullshit. And in fact we will deal with more of this bullshit as the race continues. I would much rather that we fight about these candidates on an ideas level than on truly bullshit sexist double standards. That's the only way they're all going to push each other to be the best candidate they can be. I was like that's like let's talk about ideas. Let's talk about ideas. Let's talk about power. Let's talk about change. Let's not use this opportunity to make sexism lit again because that's not going to work.


Ann: I have to say too that it's almost palpable, like after this Vanity Fair profile came out and after like the focus was more on oh, who is Beto? A beautiful Annie Leibovitz photo on like a dusty road in Texas kind of vibes . . .

Aminatou: I mean also -- sorry, not to interrupt you, but you also remember the New York Times feature on him where he's a young man in New York trying to find himself? Like these stories go hand-in-hand.

Ann: 100%. And so for every reporter who . . . I mean I am positive that there was a reporter who was assigned to follow Gillibrand or something like that, you know, wherever she happens to be in the country and was pulled off that story to go do a puff piece on Amy O'Rourke or something like that. I'm confident that . . .

Aminatou: [Laughs] I just like the sweat that is dripping down my face.

Ann: You know I don't gamble and I would put all of my chips on the reality of that being a thing that happened in a news room. And that is what is so hard. Listen, we have not talked about 2020 primary politics yet because part of me is like look, it's too soon. I'm not ready to have all of the same fights. I'm not ready to talk about what flavor of Ben and Jerry's got assigned to Bernie Sanders while we ignore policy proposals from women in the race. Like old drama, old wounds. And also this is the kind of stuff that is not that useful.

I'm like okay, if you are one of a couple of contenders or if you have won a Democratic primary go do the coverage on what your family life is like and how you found yourself and what mix tapes you made when you were a searching teen. It's also too soon to interview any man who is like "I like to drink beer." We are still all recovering from the Kavanaugh hearings.

Aminatou: [Laughs] I'm sorry I'm laughing. It's because I'm nervous.


Ann: [Laughs] It's just it is really -- I feel resentful. The real scam is we're . . . and we are sitting here talking about him. Like we got got too.

Aminatou: Mm-hmm. Definitely got got with that one. Yeah, I can't believe that man has that job.

Ann: Sorry, that was a rant.

Aminatou: I know, it's a rant. But also, you know, this media coverage is a scam. One of my hopes for having more than one woman run for president and generally run for many different offices is that it complicates the narrative and it complicates a lot of people's understanding of women in power. But it is very depressing to see some people might not be getting it. Like in the way that you are betting about the puff piece my bet is that some of these campaigns -- some of these campaigns that have a woman candidate at the helm -- they're looking at the landscape and they're like "Okay, it's fine that I'm not the front-runner. It's okay to let somebody else lead in the beginning and then we'll hit them where it hurts later." There are people who just you know the strategy and that is . . . it's not great being a front-runner this far out. It's an exhausting like you will run out of gas in the tank very soon.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: And a lot of them also are used to being underdogs and they're used to being . . . I don't think that any of them went into the race thinking like okay, day one everything I say is going to be on the front page of the New York Times. There's always going to be a reporter covering me. I am very confident that that is not anybody's -- that is not the attitude of any woman who is running for office. And my hope is as we get closer to the actual debates and as we get closer to the times that matter that again we're talking about ideas and big things because the selection is about really big things.

Ann: Mm-hmm.

Aminatou: And so I will feel very defeated if we have the same old fights again and fights about dumb shit.


Ann: Ugh, yes. To your point about hoping for something better in terms of actually having multiple women in a presidential race complicating narratives about what is a trait or quality of a specific woman -- like Hillary Clinton -- versus what is sexism or what is old tropes about how we cover women, the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers is a place that does a lot of polling on how do people feel about women candidates? And several times for assignments where in 2008 and 2016 people were like "Oh, find out what the studies say about how do people feel about women running for president?" And the answer there is no useful data because we don't have information on women running for president. We have information on woman running for president, like woman Hillary Clinton. 

And that to me is the biggest loss here of okay, if all the oxygen is sucked out of the room by a couple of white men at least give us the data. All I want -- that is another part of this. Wouldn't it be great just to have more information and something that feels like a complicated conversation about what does a woman presidential candidate look and sound like? And what are the expectations? Even in the negative. Even like this is the stereotypes people have. I'm like that is so valuable and interesting in a way that I already understand how the boy wonder trope works. I don't need to know more.

Aminatou: Yeah, I know how a white dude gets elected to president.

Ann: I know. We all know.

Aminatou: I know how that works. You know, there are some white men running for president that I'm not mad about.

Ann: Tell me.

Aminatou: The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. I think I'm saying that right.

Ann: Do you think he should be in the race? Let the Buttigieg.

Aminatou: Let the Buttigieg. Um, what are we calling ourselves Team Buttigieg? Booty Gang? Is that who we are? To be fair I am not endorsing any particular candidate. In fact I've given money to multiple candidates this early.

Ann: Spread the bets.


Aminatou: I'm spreading the bets. But also mostly the reason that I gave Pete Buttigieg money is because he is kind of the underdog candidate. He needed I believe 65,000 individual donations in order to make it to the debate and I think that he has interesting enough ideas that he should be in the fucking debate.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: And also so far like talk about a white man who understands how much space he takes, has been conscientious about talking about issues. When I'm saying that the bar is low it's also true, like oh, there's a candidate who taught himself Norwegian so he can read novels? I'm like I'm going to overlook a lot of things. It turns out that this one is actually smart and good . . .

Ann: Also we do like him more because he's gay. I'm going to be honest.

Aminatou: Yeah. Also yeah, I mean that was the other thing that I was going to say.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: He's gay which is something that is really important to me. He is also a veteran which is something that that is a community that I care a lot about and that's also important to me in somebody who is running for president and the kind of experience that they bring. Surprise, surprise millennials be running for office now, you know? Whenever people make jokes about millennial I'm like I don't know how to tell you this, we're old enough that we're fucking running countries now.

Ann: He's an old millennial. He's exactly my age, a.k.a. the oldest millennial.

Aminatou: I know. You're the oldest millennial.

Ann: A.k.a. almost Generation Catalano, like . . .

Aminatou: Listen, you're still a millennial. It doesn't matter to me. And this is not an argument about millennials.

Ann: [Laughs]

Aminatou: It's an argument for the fact that I think that having younger people bring energy into politics is something that is very important to me right now. When I look at somebody like the prime minster of New Zealand and the kind of leadership that she has it's hard for me not to think about that in terms of also generational values. Having a candidate that's the fucking mayor who knows what he's doing, like you're a manager, thank you. Also somebody . . .

Ann: The business book vote. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Right, the business book vote. But also on an identity level I'm like I'm not going to lie, I am excited. This seems like a breath of fresh air to me. It's not a surprise that women who are senators are running for president. That is a track that we have explored before. Seeing somebody who has a different kind of experience and is just a different kind of human being, that's also important to me. And so I think that I want to see more of this. So when people get excited about people I'm like this is the kind of excitement I can get behind.


Ann: Yeah, and I think the age point is really important and it does affect how I feel about some of the other candidates who are in this shallow and wide primary pool. I believe that people of all ages should be represented in the government but like right now old people are disproportionately represented. And you're 100% right that looking at all kinds of demographic representation issues, first millennial presidential candidate -- check, check.

Aminatou: Listen, I'm here for it. I am so here for it. And so it's going to be a very long race. [Laughs]

Ann: Oh my god, that is the thing. Like even as -- okay, I know even as we sit here and talk about this someday we're going to look back and be like March 2019. That's how long we've been talking about this.

Aminatou: I mean and the thing is we have really resisted talking about it. This started a long time ago, you know what I mean? And so . . .

Ann: It was the rage flare I experienced this week that really . . .

Aminatou: Ugh. I'm also gearing up for the fact that we have to fight amongst ourselves before we can even defeat the final boss. There's so much work that needs to happen and so on a very practical level of looking far ahead and being like wow, this fight is long, I'm just trying to pace myself and trying to save my outrage for things that really matter and trying to save my energy for things that matter. But also really focusing on the places where I personally think I can be effective and the things that I can do and the things that I actually care about.

Ann: And a lot of that is not looking at polls in March of 2019. Yeah.

Aminatou: Right. I'm like call me when we have a debate, you know what I'm saying?

Ann: I mean I will.

Aminatou: I've really been loving some of the town halls honestly so if you're looking for content of how do I experience what a candidate is saying . . .

Ann: Right, as opposed to only what the Vanity Fair wants to highlight? Yeah.

Aminatou: Right. As opposed to what Vanity Fair is trying to highlight as opposed to who do you follow on Twitter and do you think that they have better ideas than you, I do think that some of these candidate town halls have actually been very effective because you hear from them one-on-one. And even people -- like people have surprised me. And so I just . . . I'm like that's how I'm trying to consume my candidate news. I'm like you talk to me. And so let's see. Let's see where we pan out.


Ann: I love that. And then also just being a more critical reader of not just your normal news sources or like your social media what are people sharing about 2020 because that tends to privilege, I don't know, all of the things we're talking about in terms of tropes that are already beloved like the scam right? The scam of inequality already being perpetrated in presidential politics. You can instead seek out news about candidates -- probably women candidates if you're going to have to be hunting for it -- who you care about hearing from and that you actually want to know about. And I think that that experience too is really different than what I have already confessed to which is like rage spikes when you're just reading the homepage of the New York Times or looking at your social media feed.

Aminatou: Whew. Here's to a long year. [Laughs]

Ann: Oh my god, the scam is afoot.

Aminatou: The scam's afoot. It's like a year-and-a-half. Ugh, it's longer. Well you know what boo-boo? I'll see you volunteering for a candidate somewhere maybe.

Ann: Oh my god, not for a long time. You're going to see me on the Internet long before you see that but yes you will.

Aminatou: See you on the Internet. You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website, you can download the show anywhere you listen to your favs, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, our associate producer is Destry Maria Sibley. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.