We Don’t Usually Cover Culture


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When the producers of “The Daily” are in a room together, we inevitably turn to the shows and films we watch, albums and podcasts we listen to, plays we see, exhibitions we visit. But we almost never cover them on the show.

Why is that?

It’s something we debate a lot. In this moment of fractured media, what’s the place of pop culture on a news show — and on a news show meant to tackle a single topic that can be of interest to everyone?

On any given day, we survey a vast world of news — political upheavals, congressional investigations, military conflicts — that seems to call out for the kind of illumination that we specialize in.

And day after day, the crush of human drama unfolding on the ground seems to edge out the human drama reflected back to us by the world of art.

A few days ago, there was an exception. The surprise victory of the movie “Green Book” at the Academy Awards on Sunday — and the emotional debate it touched off about race, history and how we tell the story of America — had an urgency that rivaled anything happening in the news.

We just needed to find a way to tell it on “The Daily.”

The obvious man for the job was Wesley Morris, a Times critic-at-large and co-host of the podcast “Still Processing,” whose brain is a wonder to watch in action. He pulls together ideas across time, history, culture. He makes art feel big and universal and essential.

In our conversation, Wesley traced a 30-year history — starting with “The Toy” and “Driving Miss Daisy” — of what he called “racial reconciliation fantasies,” stories of racial harmony told through the eyes of white protagonists on a journey of discovery, with supporting black characters standing still. In these movies and TV shows, Wesley said, just being around a black person cured a white person of racism. These stories, he told us, are simplistic, flawed and ubiquitous — and one of them had just won best picture.

Talk to Michael on Twitter: @mikiebarb.

On “The Daily” this weekWhen Hollywood gets it right-ish on race

After Tuesday’s episode, Ike Sriskandarajah — a “Daily” producer and longtime fan of the interracial buddy comedy genre (since “Trading Places”) — wanted to pose this question to Wesley Morris: What movies and TV shows actually get interracial relationships right?

Wesley sent over this watch list, emphasizing that these aren’t perfect depictions of racial reconciliation, but are more honest portrayals of relationships between black and white characters than we typically see in our mainstream media.

From a seven-hour hearing to a 30-minute episode

There aren’t many people who perk up at the sound of a congressional hearing, but “Daily” producer Rachel Quester is one. Here’s how she tackled Thursday’s episode:

“As the self-appointed Washington news junkie of the team, I’ve had Michael Cohen’s testimony marked on my calendar since it was first announced. Here was a man who once said he’d take a bullet for Donald Trump. Now, he’s potentially the biggest legal threat against the president. I wanted to hear, in Cohen’s own words, what motivated such a dramatic shift.

“Four of us hunkered down in a room with C-Span up on the big screen and a box of Dunkin’ doughnuts by our side (shoutout to Alex Young). We recorded the entire seven-hour hearing, time-stamping major moments along the way. Then we hurried into the studio to call Maggie Haberman, who, from her years of New York political reporting, knew all about the past lives of Cohen and Trump.

“Our first draft of the episode came in at 47 minutes — two episodes’ worth of material. We’d built a scene with Republicans trying to call off the hearing before it began, and another about the fiery exchange between Rashida Tlaib and Mark Meadows. But in the end, we chose to focus on the story that we knew Maggie would have unique insight on: Cohen’s journey from being Trump’s pit bull to being the hangdog figure we saw that day.”

That’s it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.

For the biggest stories of our time, told by New York Times journalists each weekday, listen to “The Daily.” You can find it at nytimes.com/thedaily or wherever you get your podcasts.

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