The podcast, hosted by Slate’s Leon Neyfakh, offers a sense of political drama, hope, and the comfort of knowing that justice was served.
Photograph by Bettmann / Getty
“Slow Burn,” the popular Slate podcast about Watergate hosted by Leon Neyfakh, will soon reach its exciting conclusion, in which, one assumes, Richard Nixon resigns in disgrace. Each week, in half-hour-ish segments, “Slow Burn” seeks to illuminate for the modern listener what it was like to live through the Watergate scandal, beginning with the aftermath of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters, in June, 1972, and following the wild story’s circuitous path, illuminating its basic elements—the burglars’ connections to Nixon’s reëlection campaign, the secret White House recordings, Deep Throat, and the like— as well as less familiar characters and crazy minor details, involving everything from stolen shoes to dune buggies.
“Slow Burn” manages all of this with aplomb, vivid writing, deft use of archival and recent audio, and a zesty theme song that evokes seventies TV. Neyfakh, a Slate staff writer, narrates in careful but excited tones, sounding like a wonk who’s truly enjoying himself. All of this is key to what makes listening to “Slow Burn” feel vital: a sense of political drama, hope, and the comfort of knowing that justice was served. It’s both escapist and invigorating. You listen with attention, as if you’re searching for answers. After the first episode came out, Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted, “it blew my mind”; Neyfakh appeared on Hayes’s show in late December and on Rachel Maddow’s in early January. Both hosts asked him about Watergate’s relevance to today. The answer to that question is complicated—and less fun than listening to “Slow Burn.”
Watergate has “this long, wonderful story that people only know a little piece of, and it has certain resonances with our current political moment,” Neyfakh told me recently. “All the President’s Men,” the 1976 movie based on the 1974 book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, he went on, “only covered the first five or six months. It begins with the burglary and then it ends with the Inauguration—June to January. There’s all this other stuff that happened afterward that is not covered. And that I personally knew very little about.” Neyfakh is thirty-two. “All the President’s Men” ends with a shot of the Washington Post newsroom, Nixon on TV getting inaugurated for his second term, and a great clattering of typewriter keys: journalists writing, and then a montage of teletype headlines culminating in “nixon resigns.” That resignation happened in August, 1974, two years after the break-in. “Slow Burn” explains what was going on during that montage, and it’s as bonkers as it is revelatory.