This British-Muslim Reporter Has Captured Hearts with His Political Podcast
I have a big mouth and I managed to turn it into a career,” says Mehdi Hasan shortly after answering the video call and exposing GQ to glorious morning sun in Washington DC.
Hasan is a wonderful oddity in the world of US political journalism: he’s an immigrant, he’s a Muslim, and he’s wholly unfamiliar with biting his tongue.
The 39-year-old is a columnist for The Intercept, a media organisation founded by journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill in the wake of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass surveillance in the US intelligence community. The Intercept says it is “dedicated to the kind of reporting those disclosures required: fearless, adversarial journalism”. Hasan, happily, fits the mould.
Read his articles. Watch him on screen. Listen to his podcast. It’s obvious: Hasan has a fire in his belly. Ask him where it comes from – a beat won’t pass before he fires an answer.
“I don’t like bulls***. I don’t like people lying to me. I don’t like people exploiting others. I don’t like con artists,” he says.
Hasan’s podcast, Deconstructed, is built around his outsider’s perspective on the US political debate. It’s the first time that the veteran of TV and print journalism is trying his hand in the art of podcasting. It’s working out.
The first season was a runaway success, sparked by an inaugural episode that hosted US senator Bernie Sanders. Hasan describes Sanders, a man whose politics he admires, as rather moody – the kind of man who can be cranky or jolly.
“You never know which Bernie you will get,” he says, adding that he thinks Sanders may run for the US presidency again in 2020. “The difference between Bernie and every other politician is he is the kind of guy that crowds of young people will chase down the hall because of his character and personality.”
His other guests included the straight-talking, anti-corruption senator Elizabeth Warren (another rumoured 2020 presidential candidate), Edward Snowden, and director and comedian Judd Apatow. But, what about the important question: which of his podcast guests wore it best?
“I interviewed comedian Hasan Minaj in his apartment and he was wearing his pyjamas. He still looked good; he’s cool.”
The second season of Deconstructed launched in September and promises to be even more political, with the US mid-term elections around the corner. Hasan tells us to rest assured that it will be “adversarial journalism that doesn’t follow the crowd”. He wants to present a genuine challenge to the mainstream media’s absolutist concept of remaining neutral in journalism.
“Be honest about your biases, which is what I do, and then still try and be fair and dispassionate. Or, if you are going to pretend to be unbiased, focus on being fair and dispassionate and as detached as you possibly can.”
One bias Hasan won’t shy away from is his distaste for the sitting president. “Unhinged” and “narcissistic” are just a few adjectives he reaches for.
Hasan moved to America just weeks before Trump became president. Although he acknowledges the risks of being
a Muslim and a British immigrant in the US right now, he keeps his optimism.
“It gives me a distinct perspective on what’s going on here,” he says. “I think it’s absolutely fascinating.”
And amongst all this – the changing waves of journalism and the increasingly disturbing relationship between government and press – what is it that Hasan sees himself as?
“I see myself as someone who is not afraid to call a spade a spade.”
The second season of Deconstructed is streaming now.
Mehdi Hasan’s current affairs podcast queue
1. Why Is This Happening? With Chris Hayes
“Chris Hayes is probably the best journalist in US cable news. There is a hunger from a lot of people for much more in-depth journalism.”
2. The Ezra Klein Show
“Even if you disagree with a lot of his guests, it’s a very meaty, intellectual podcast that takes its listeners seriously.”
3. The Daily
“Every journalist I know listens to it. It’s the first podcast I started listening to. The New York Times has its flaws, but The Daily is a reminder of what’s great about it.”
Easy listening... two more to try
Everything is Alive
Ian Chillag interviews inanimate objects, from a lamppost to a pillow to a can of cola. The result? A magical and playful look at the world we live in.
The Paris Review
Covering the best in prose and poetry throughout the legendary journal’s history – with a production that will leave you shivering in joy.
From the October issue of GQ Middle East