How Politico’s ‘Off Message’ Podcast Is Rising Above Site’s Staff Departures

“The typical political reporter question-and-answer format is dead,” host Glenn Thrush tells TheWrap

Politico’s “Off Message” podcast is driving segments on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC and keeping Politico in the news for the right reasons.

Less than a month ago, the D.C. site was all over the news following a mass exodus of high-level employees, rumors of a battle for control between CEO Jim VandeHei and publisher Robert Allbritton and even allegations of ghostwriting.

But over the past few weeks, guests like Ben Carson and Al Sharpton have made waves on Politico’s “Off Message” podcast, turning it into a news-making event. The earned media is a result of the site’s Chief Political Correspondent and “Off Message” host Glenn Thrush shaking things up.

“My view of the podcast is upside down. It’s not a performance — they’re sort of print interviews being recorded in that they’re much more relaxed and much less time sensitive, Thrush tells TheWrap.

Politico spokesperson Brad Dayspring tells TheWrap the podcast provides a smart, relaxed and unvarnished conversation about politics.

“Listeners get unique insights, anecdotes and a few laughs, but they also contain scoops and news, which is reflected by the earned coverage,” Dayspring said.

“The idea is to get people to make news talking about the things that they want to talk about. If you give them the time, people have really interesting things to say,” Thrush said. “The typical political reporter question-and-answer format is dead. I hate doing it; it elicits boring answers. This format is more fun, real and interesting. It’s the only way to go.”

That’s exactly what happened when Carson made news on the podcast by saying that President Obama cannot truly understand the African-American experience because he was “raised white.”

“He’s an ‘African’ American. He was, you know, raised white. Many of his formative years were spent in Indonesia,” Carson said. “So, for him to, you know, claim that, you know, he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

The comments made national news and Politico was mentioned everywhere, essentially defining “earned media.”

“This week alone, ‘Off Message’ earned coverage on TV (CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, ABC), in print (WAPOST, New York Times, Associated Press), online (Yahoo, HuffPost, TPM, Breitbart, the Blaze, IJ, Gawker) and has been picked up by non-traditional sites for political news (Perez Hilton, SportsGrid),” Dayspring wrote last Thursday in a memo to staff obtained by TheWrap.

Most other podcasts have a hard time making news, but those other podcasts take a different approach.

“I don’t want to interrogate or really even interview guests. My goal is to interact with them,” Thrush said.

It happened again last week when Sharpton joined Thrush’s podcast.

“The best way I can describe Donald Trump to friends is to say if Don King had been born white he’d be Donald Trump,” Sharpton said. Once again, the comments, and therefore Politico, were everywhere.

“Off Message” launched in 2015 and returned just in time for the lead-up to the Iowa Caucuses with its Obama conversation. The interview also created earned media, popping up in publications across the world when the president said voters need to pay attention to “the degree to which the Republican rhetoric and Republican vision has moved not just to the right but has moved to a place that is unrecognizable.”

Today’s episode features political strategist David Plouffe saying Hillary Clinton has a “98 percent” chance of being the Democratic nominee and that the GOP nomination is Trump’s to lose. Tomorrow’s episode will feature recently fired Ted Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler.

Other guests have included Rep. Barney Frank, Speaker Paul Ryan, Nicolle Wallace, David Axelrod, George Pataki, Hugh Hewitt, Martin O’Malley, Jeb Bush and “The Big Short” director Adam McKay.