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Oppenheim: Podcast Parallels

I recently attended my 40th High School Reunion. I grew up in Western Massachusetts and I’ve been a regular to these events every five years.

There’s something unique, almost a little weird about seeing a group of people in five year increments. With few exceptions, we don’t stay in regular touch, even on Facebook. But some of the connections run deep - a few since kindergarten.

When some of us went out for drinks, the subject of President Trump came up. A newspaper editor in the group just groaned. To him, it reminded him of work and he wanted to change the subject. But the rest of us just couldn’t resist. We wanted to talk about the world we’re now in, so changed from the one we inhabited five years ago.

And what was most palpable was our confusion about where this is all going. We admitted feeling like we’re in a movie where nothing so far has given us a good sense of how the story will end.

I’d just finished listening to a podcast called Slow Burn – hosted by Leon Neyfakh - a talented writer who retells the saga of the Watergate scandal, largely through compelling side stories that were hot at the time, but have since been largely forgotten. And with my high school chums, I started to talk about it.

In eight episodes, Slow Burn feels like a good Netflix series, where you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next. The big difference, of course, is it’s all real. And by listening to what it was like for people to experience Watergate in the actual moment, you start to realize how nobody could predict the outcome.

History has a way of creating myths. One is that the Republicans during the Nixon era were much more moderate and willing to stand against their President than the current batch. But Slow Burn reminded me that this assumption isn’t entirely accurate. The loyalty to Richard Nixon, from the White House to Congress to voters, simply crumbled slowly – as evidence mounted that the President had not only obstructed justice, but led a mission to interfere with a national election.

It remains to be seen if any of those parallels apply to this presidency. But maybe at least by the time my next high school reunion comes around, my pals and I are going to know.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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