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Fresh Air

Fresh Air

Fresh Air from WHYY, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Hosted by Terry Gross, the show features intimate conversations with today's biggest luminaries.

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Episodes

Remembering Bucky Pizzarelli, Adam Schlesinger, Ellis Marsalis

Today we remember three people from the music world who died this week of COVID-19. First, we'll listen back to two interviews with the great jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. He was 94.

Then we'll hear an interview with Adam Schlesinger, who was 52. He co-founded the band Fountains of Wayne, wrote songs for the movies 'Thing You Do!' and 'Music and Lyrics,' and won three Emmys for his songs for the TV series 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.'

Later, we'll hear what jazz musicians Wynton and Branford Marsalis said about their father, pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, who has died at age 85.
2020-04-03
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A 'War Doctor' Shares Stories From The Front Line

Trauma surgeon Dr. David Nott has spent decades volunteering in war and disaster zones all over the world. Now he's advising doctors on how to treat COVID-19. He spoke with Terry Gross about how fighting the pandemic is similar to working in a war zone, and shares harrowing stories from his time in the field. His book is 'War Doctor.'
2020-04-02
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Masks, Vaccines & How COVID-19 Might End

Two years ago, 'Atlantic' science writer Ed Yong predicted a new global pandemic and how we might be caught unprepared. Now that so much of what he warned about in his reporting has come true, he's been covering how and why we failed to stop the spread of COVID-19, why the virus has been so successful in spreading, how the pandemic might end, and what the aftermath might be.
2020-04-01
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Understanding The Origin Of 'Heaven And Hell'

Religion scholar Bart Ehrman says the notion of eternal rewards and punishments isn't found in the Old Testament or in the teachings of Jesus. Ehrman traces the origin of these ideas in his new book, 'Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.'
2020-03-31
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Winston Churchill & Fearless Leadership In Times Of Crisis

In 'The Splendid And The Vile,' author Erik Larson details Winston Churchill's first year in office, during which England endured a Nazi bombing campaign that killed more than 44,000 civilians. Larson says Churchill told his citizens the truth and inspired them to resist.

Also, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews 'The Glass Hotel' by Emily St. John Mandel.
2020-03-30
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Best Of: Marc Maron / Hank Azaria

Comic and 'WTF' podcast host Marc Maron named his new Netflix stand-up special 'End Times Fun' before the COVID-19 pandemic started ? but now the title feels eerily apt. He talked with Terry Gross about how he's handling the crisis as a "recovering hypochondriac."

Hank Azaria plays a colorful baseball announcer in the IFC comedy series 'Brockmire,' which is now in its 4th and final season. Azaria spoke with Dave Davies about the series, and why he doesn't voice the Indian American convenience store owner Apu on 'The Simpsons' anymore.
2020-03-28
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Stephen Sondheim - Part 2

Sondheim, who turned 90 on March 22, composed the music and wrote lyrics for 'Sweeney Todd,' 'Into the Woods,' 'Company' and other Broadway shows. He spoke with Terry Gross in 2010 about his career in musical theater. (Part 1 of this interview was released on March 20.)
2020-03-27
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Trump's 'War' On The Presidency / Remembering Playwright Terrence McNally

Journalist Benjamin Wittes spoke with Terry Gross about how President Trump has changed the presidency fundamentally ? and how we're seeing the impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the author, with Susan Hennessey, of 'Unmaking the Presidency.'

We remember Broadway playwright Terrence McNally, who died March 24 due to complications related to COVID-19. He won Tony awards for 'Kiss of the Spider Woman,' 'Ragtime' and 'Master Class.' He spoke with 'Fresh Air' in 1993.
2020-03-26
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Michael Pollan On The Drug We Use Every Day: Caffeine

'Omnivore's Dilemma' author Michael Pollan talks about his audiobook, 'Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World.' He describes caffeine as the world's most widely-used psychoactive drug. (Originally broadcast Feb. 2020)

Also, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new album from guitarist Jeff Parker.
2020-03-25
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How The Government Can Mobilize In A Pandemic

Author Max Brooks became an expert on disaster preparedness ? from pandemics to nuclear war ? through researching for his books, 'World War Z,' 'Germ Warfare' and the forthcoming 'Devolution.' He spoke with Terry Gross about how the federal government is designed to respond to crises like COVID-19 ? and what is preventing the tasks forces from being deployed. He'll also explain why "panic is not preparation," and how to have good "fact-hygiene."
2020-03-24
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Comic Marc Maron On 'End Times Fun'

Maron named his new Netflix comedy special 'End Times Fun' before the COVID-19 pandemic started ? but now the title feels eerily apt. He talked with Terry Gross about how he's handling the crisis as a "recovering hypochondriac," and what he's doing to pass the time in isolation. Maron co-stars in the Netflix series 'GLOW' and hosts the interview podcast 'WTF.'
2020-03-23
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Best Of: Octavia Spencer / Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Octavia Spencer stars in the new Netflix limited series 'Self Made' as Madam C.J. Walker, America's first black, female, self-made millionaire. She sold hair and makeup products to black women in the early 1900s.

John Powers reviews the Hulu series 'Little Fires Everywhere,' starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has shuttered its doors in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin reflects on their final performance in an empty concert hall, which was livestreamed for more half a million viewers at home.
2020-03-21
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Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Broadway is dark because of the virus, but that doesn't need to stop us from celebrating the 90th birthday of Broadway's best living composer and lyricist?and one of the best in the history of Broadway, Stephen Sondheim. His 90th birthday is Sunday. We're listening back to our interview from 2010, which we recorded on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He wrote the songs for 'Sweeney Todd,' 'Follies,' 'Into the Woods,' 'Sunday in the Park with George' and 'Merrily We Roll Along.' Revivals of two of his shows had to go dark because of the virus: 'West Side Story,' for which he wrote the lyrics, and 'Company.'
2020-03-20
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How One Orchestra, Faced With A Pandemic, Played On

The Philadelphia Orchestra has shuttered its doors in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin reflects on their final performance in an empty concert hall, which was livestreamed for more half a million viewers at home. He spoke with Terry Gross about the unusual performance and how music comforts us in troubling times. Also, we'll hear an excerpt of our interview with the conductor from last year.
2020-03-19
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The Case For Abolishing The Electoral College

Jesse Wegman, author of 'Let the People Pick the President,' says the Electoral College's winner-take-all rule is not mandated by the Constitution: "There's nothing keeping us from changing it." Wegman talks about how winner-take-all came to be, attempts to change it, and how the Electoral College disproportionately affects people of color.
2020-03-18
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'Simpsons' Voice Actor Hank Azaria

Azaria plays a colorful baseball announcer in the IFC comedy series 'Brockmire,' which is now in its 4th and final season. Azaria spoke with 'Fresh Air' about sobriety, his flamboyant character in 'The Birdcage,' and why he doesn't voice the Indian American convenience store owner Apu on 'The Simpsons' anymore.

Also, John Powers reviews the Hulu series 'Little Fires Everywhere,' starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.
2020-03-17
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Octavia Spencer

Spencer stars in the new Netflix limited series 'Self Made' as Madam C.J. Walker, America's first female self-made millionaire. She sold hair and makeup products to black women in the early 1900s. Spencer talks about Walker's legacy, playing a maid in'The Help,' and learning to speak up for better pay in Hollywood.

Also, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the K-pop group BTS' new album 'Map of the Soul.'
2020-03-16
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Best Of: Writer James McBride / RuPaul

James McBride's new novel, 'Deacon King Kong,' takes place in 1969, in a Brooklyn housing project similar to the one he grew up in. "In this book and in this community, people generally love each other," he says.

RuPaul describes his drag persona as "one-part Cher, two-parts David Bowie, one-part Diana Ross and two heaping spoonfuls of Dolly Parton." The reality show he hosts and created, 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' is now in its 12th season on VH1.
2020-03-14
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Philip Roth On 'The Plot Against America'

Roth's 2004 novel, 'The Plot Against America,' is an alternative history which imagines Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh beats FDR in the 1940 presidential election and the U.S. sides with the Germans in WWII. We'll listen back to Terry Gross' interview with Roth about the novel, and TV critic David Bianculli will review the new HBO miniseries that's based on the book.

Film critic Justin Chang reviews 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' about a teenage girl in small-town Pennsylvania who decides to have an abortion.
2020-03-13
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How Trump's Mismanagement Helped Fuel Coronavirus Crisis

?Politico reporter Dan Diamond says dysfunction within the White House, infighting and the need to flatter Trump have caused distractions that have slowed the response to the new pandemic.?
2020-03-12
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The Untold Story Of Saudi Crown Prince MBS

'New York Times' Beirut Bureau Chief Ben Hubbard says Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is full of contradictions: He ended a ban on women driving, but his agents also carried out the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Hubbard's book, 'MBS,' tells the story of the enigmatic leader. Hubbard says MBS could rule the country for the next 50 years.

Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews 'Writers & Lovers' by Lily King.
2020-03-11
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RuPaul

RuPaul describes his drag persona as "one-part Cher, two-parts David Bowie, one-part Diana Ross and two heaping spoonfuls of Dolly Parton." The reality show he hosts and created, 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' is now in its 12th season on VH1. He talks with Terry Gross about his early punk style of drag, becoming a "glamizon," and the best advice his mother gave him.

Also, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead shares a remembrance of legendary pianist McCoy Tyner. He died last Friday at 81.
2020-03-10
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Writer James McBride

James McBride's new novel, 'Deacon King Kong,' takes place in 1969, in a Brooklyn housing project similar to the one he grew up in. "In this book and in this community, people generally love each other," he says. McBride is best known for his '95 memoir 'The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.'

Also, Ken Tucker reviews Best Coast's new album, 'Almost Tomorrow.'
2020-03-09
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Best Of: Author Louise Erdrich / 'Watergate Girl' Jill Wine-Banks

Louise Erdrich talks about her new novel, 'The Night Watchman.' It was inspired by her grandfather, a chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa who fought a Congressional initiative to move indigenous peoples off their land and into cities.

Critic John Powers reviews the genre-bending film 'Bacurau,' about a small Brazilian town grappling with a series of mysterious events.

In her memoir, 'The Watergate Girl,' Jill Wine-Banks talks about confronting Nixon White House insiders on the witness stand and enduring sexism in the courtroom.
2020-03-07
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Biographer Robert Caro

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert Caro was never interested in only telling the stories of great men. Instead, he says, "I wanted to use their lives to show how political power worked." He talks about his two most famous works ? biographies of Lyndon Johnson and New York City planner Robert Moses. Caro's memoir about his process, 'Working,' is now out in paperback. He spoke with Dave Davies last year.

Also, TV critic David Bianculli reviews two new sci-fi/fantasy shows ? 'Devs' on Hulu and 'Amazing Stories' on Apple TV+.
2020-03-06
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Uncovering The CIA's Operation To Steal State Secrets

For 50 years, countries all over the world bought encryption technology from a Swiss company, called Crypto AG, to protect their communications with diplomats, soldiers and spies. What they didn't know is that the firm was actually owned by the CIA and German intelligence, which rigged the encryption products so they could spy on the countries that bought them. 'Washington Post' reporter Greg Miller tells the story.

Also, film critic Justin Chang reviews the Western 'First Cow.'
2020-03-05
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Author Louise Erdrich On Native Peoples' 'Long, Brutal Fight For Survival'

Erdrich's new novel, 'The Night Watchman,' was inspired by her grandfather, a chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa who fought a Congressional initiative to move indigenous peoples off their land and into cities. Erdrich says the policy amounted to tribal termination. "Termination was a way to finally resolve what Congress thought of as 'the Indian problem,'" she says.

Also, critic John Powers reviews the genre-bending film 'Bacurau,' about a small Brazilian town grappling with a series of mysterious events.
2020-03-04
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A Father Searches For His Son And Answers In The Costa Rican Jungle

In 2014, the 27-year-old son of adventurer Roman Dial walked alone into the Costa Rican wilderness. "I'm planning on doing 4 days in the jungle," he wrote in an email before leaving. "It should be difficult to get lost forever." Then he vanished. Dial talks about his frantic search for his son ? and for answers to what happened. His book is 'The Adventurer's Son.'

Maureen Corrigan reviews 'Scratched,' Elizabeth Tallent's new memoir about perfectionism.
2020-03-03
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Former Parole Officer On 'Hardship & Hope After Prison'

As a parole officer in New Orleans, Jason Hardy was responsible for 220 individuals ? four times the recommended caseload. He says the parole and probation system fails the most vulnerable.

Also, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new album of ballads from trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.
2020-03-02
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Best Of: Actor Ben Mendelsohn / Trump's 'Hit List'

In the HBO series 'The Outsider,' which was adapted from a Stephen King novel, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn plays a detective trying to solve a murder ? and resisting the idea that the killer may be a supernatural entity.

Also, Ken Tucker reviews a newly released live album from Bryan Ferry, best-known as the lead man of Roxy Music.

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan says the president has "crossed a psychological line" since impeachment, developing a list of disloyal officials to oust ? and suggesting loyalists to replace them. "Experience matters far, far less to Trump than loyalty," Swan says. "It's not even close."
2020-02-29
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Aidy Bryant On 'Shrill'

Bryant co-writes and stars in the comedy series 'Shrill,' based on Lindy West's book about identifying as fat and a feminist. Bryant is also a cast member on 'Saturday Night Live.' (Originally broadcast March 2019)

Also, we listen back to excerpts of interviews with rhythm guitarist Marty Grosz. Now 90, he tells his story in the memoir, 'It's a Sin to Tell a Lie.' He spoke with Terry Gross in 1984 and 2004 and also played some of his music.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the dystopian novel, 'The Resisters.'
2020-02-28
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Understanding Trump's 'Hit List'

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan says the president has "crossed a psychological line" since impeachment, developing a list of disloyal officials to oust ? and suggesting loyalists to replace them. "Experience matters far, far less to Trump than loyalty," Swan says. "It's not even close."
2020-02-27
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Actor Ben Mendelsohn On 'The Outsider'

In the HBO series, which was adapted from a Stephen King novel, the Australian actor plays a detective trying to solve a murder ? and resisting the idea that the killer may be a supernatural entity. He talks about masking his accent, acting with his eyes and how his role on 'The Outsider' is a departure from the "baddies" he's played in the past.

Film critic Justin Chang reviews 'Wendy,' a loose retelling of 'Peter Pan,' directed by Benh Zeitlin.
2020-02-26
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Facebook: The Inside Story

How can one company be so wildly successful ? and so thoroughly distrusted? 'Wired' Editor-at-Large Steven Levy reflects on Facebook's enigmatic leader and its reckless drive for expansion in his new book, 'Facebook: The Inside Story.'

Also, Ken Tucker reviews a newly released live album from Bryan Ferry, best-known as the lead man of Roxy Music.
2020-02-25
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The Supreme Court's Battle For A 'More Unjust' America

In his new book, 'Supreme Inequality,' lawyer/journalist Adam Cohen makes the case that the Supreme Court has been "a right-wing court for 50 years," siding with corporations and the wealthy ? and against the poor.

And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews 'Life Goes On,' a record by Carla Bley's trio.
2020-02-24
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Best Of: Claire Danes / Rachael & Vilray Sing Swing Standards

Claire Danes has played CIA agent Carrie Mathison on 'Homeland' for 8 seasons. As the last season begins on Showtime, she looks back on the series. She also spoke with Terry Gross about her break-out role on 'My So-Called Life' when she was a teen.

Critic John Powers reviews the French film 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire.'

The music duo Rachael & Vilray perform songs from their self-titled debut album, which draws on the music of the '30s and '40s. Rachael Price is also the lead singer of Lake Street Dive. They spoke with producer Sam Briger.
2020-02-22
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Writer Recalls Her Mother's Secret Gambling Enterprise

Growing up, Bridgett M. Davis' mother booked and banked bets from their home in Detroit. She writes about her experience ? and the role of "the numbers" in the black community ? in her memoir, 'The World According to Fannie Davis.' (Originally broadcast Feb. 2019)

TV critic David Bianculli reviews the latest season of 'Better Call Saul.'
2020-02-21
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Claire Danes

Danes has played CIA agent Carrie Mathison on 'Homeland' for 8 seasons. As the last season begins on Showtime, she looks back on the series. She also spoke with Terry Gross about her break-out role on 'My So-Called Life' when she was a teen. "I remember just being amazed ... that somebody out there had been able to articulate what I was going through so, so perfectly," she says.

Also, film critic Justin Chang reviews the new adaptation of Jane Austen's 'Emma.'
2020-02-20
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Chaos, Corruption & Trump's Secrets At Deutsche Bank

In his book 'Dark Towers,' David Enrich traces Deutsche Bank's shadowy practices, from laundering money for Russian oligarchs to the violation of international sanctions. Enrich, who is the finance editor at the 'New York Times,' also talks about the bank's long relationship with Donald Trump, and the suspicious activity that has gone unchecked.

Also, critic John Powers reviews the Amazon series 'Hunters' starring Al Pacino.
2020-02-19
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Rachael & Vilray Sing Swing Standards

The music duo perform songs from their self-titled debut album, which draws on the music of the '30s and '40s. "There is a timeless quality to these old standards," Vilray says. Rachael Price is also the lead singer of Lake Street Dive. They spoke with producer Sam Briger.

Also, we remember Ernest Hemingway biographer A. E. Hotchner. He died Feb. 15. Hotchner spoke with Terry Gross in 1999.
2020-02-18
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Donald Trump's Testing Of America

'Washington Post' reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker discuss presidential rages, erratic decision-making and other troubling tendencies of the Trump presidency. Their new book is 'A Very Stable Genius.' (Aired Jan. 22, updated Feb. 12, following Trump's impeachment acquittal.)

Also, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a record by saxophonist Ellery Eskelin.
2020-02-17
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Best Of: The 2020 Disinformation War / Michael Pollan Explains Caffeine

The Trump campaign is planning to spend $1 billion and a lot will go towards disinformation and propaganda. 'Atlantic' journalist McKay Coppins talks about what he learned about the new techniques the campaign and its supporters are using to spread disinformation, discredit journalists, and dismantle the mainstream media.

Justin Chang reviews 'And Then We Danced,' a gay romance about Georgian folk dance partners.

'Omnivore's Dilemma' author Michael Pollan talks about his new audiobook, 'Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World.' He describes caffeine as the world's most widely-used psychoactive drug.
2020-02-15
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'High Fidelity' Author / Remembering Ladysmith Black Mambazo Founder

Nick Hornby's 1995 novel, 'High Fidelity,' about a heartsick record shop owner, was made into a film starring John Cusack in 2000. Now it's been adapted and updated into a new Hulu series, starring Zoë Kravitz. Hornby spoke with Terry Gross when the book came out about judging people based on their pop culture tastes ? an idea central to the story.

Also, we remember the frontman of the South African a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala. He died this week at 78. He spoke with Terry Gross in 1991 about collaborating with Paul Simon on 'Graceland' and growing up on a farm.

Justin Chang reviews 'And Then We Danced,' a gay romance about Georgian folk dance partners.
2020-02-14
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Amazon & The 'Rise And Reign' Of Jeff Bezos

The new FRONTLINE PBS documentary 'Amazon Empire' investigates Amazon's business practices, as well as questions surrounding privacy, surveillance and regulation. We talk with James Jacoby, the film's director and correspondent, about how the company went from being an online bookseller to having its hands in space travel and facial recognition software.

Also, Ken Tucker reviews singer-songwriter John Moreland's new album 'LP5.'
2020-02-13
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An Inside Look At The Watergate Prosecution

In her memoir, 'The Watergate Girl,' Jill Wine-Banks talks about confronting Nixon White House insiders on the witness stand, enduring sexism in the courtroom and how the Watergate probe differs from Trump's impeachment. She's now a legal analyst for MSNBC.

And book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Deepa Anappara's novel 'Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line.'
2020-02-12
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The 2020 Disinformation War

The Trump campaign is planning to spend $1 billion and a lot will go towards disinformation and propaganda. 'Atlantic' journalist McKay Coppins created a new Facebook account so he could "like" MAGA-related pages, join MAGA groups, and receive messaging being sent to Trump supporters. He'll tell us what he learned about the new techniques the campaign and its supporters are using to spread disinformation, discredit journalists, and dismantle the mainstream media.
2020-02-11
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Michael Pollan Explains Caffeine Addiction & Withdrawal

'Omnivore's Dilemma' author Michael Pollan talks about his new audiobook, 'Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World.' He describes caffeine as the world's most widely-used psychoactive drug. "Here's a drug we use every day. ... We never think about it as a drug or an addiction, but that's exactly what it is," Pollan says. "I thought, why not explore that relationship?"

Also, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new album from guitarist Jeff Parker.
2020-02-10
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Best Of: 'American Factory' Filmmakers / Uncovering A Secret Addiction

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's Oscar-nominated documentary goes inside a Chinese-owned automotive glass factory in Ohio, where a unionized GM plant once stood. The filmmakers talk about the work culture clash in the factory.

Justin Chang reviews the Russian movie 'Beanpole.'

Writer Eilene Zimmerman didn't learn of her ex-husband's addiction to cocaine and opioids until after his drug-related death. Her memoir, 'Smacked,' explores how her former spouse, a wealthy, high-powered attorney, hid his addiction and depression from her and their two children.
2020-02-08
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'Joker' Dir. Todd Phillips / Remembering Kirk Douglas

'Joker' director Todd Phillips talks about how he disguised his "deep-dive character study" film as a comic book movie. It's nominated for 11 Oscars including Best Picture.

Also, we remember 'Spartacus' actor Kirk Douglas, who died Thursday at 103. He spoke with Terry Gross in 1988.

Film critic Justin Chang reviews the Russian movie 'Beanpole.'
2020-02-07
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A New Frontier Of Assassination

'New Yorker' staff writer Adam Entous says the U.S. could face further retaliation from Iran for the death of General Soleimani: "If you look at their history, they take a long time before they strike back."

TV critic David Bianculli reviews 'Tommy,' a new CBS cop drama starring Edie Falco.
2020-02-06
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