Craig Carton has problems. The former WFAN morning guy is facing 45 years in federal prison for running what prosecutors say was a ticket-broker Ponzi scheme. He lost his job on radio. In 2017, there’s only one way to resolve such a professional and criminal and public-relations nightmare: Carton started a podcast.
Hello, My Name Is Craig, which debuted on Monday, is the latest specimen in a micro-genre we can call the Pariah Podcast. When a celebrity is chucked out of American life, the podcast is where he goes for rehab. It’s penance with “mid-roll” ads. Bill O’Reilly has a podcast. So do Lance Armstrong and former Canadian Broadcasting Company host Jian Ghomeshi. Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara—who was fired by Donald Trump in March—went from prosecuting crooks to answering Twitter questions from @OpenMindedBunny.
The Pariah Podcast has a number of qualities. One is to prove that you can still do what you were doing before the cops/feds/Trump intervened. Carton began Monday’s episode by surveying the New York sports scene in the way he did when he was Boomer Esiason’s wiseass partner. He talked about Eli Manning and Aaron Boone and added a take that would have goosed WFAN’s phone lines: “How could [Kristaps] Porzingis be one of the great players in the NBA when he can’t play back-to-back nights?” There was even that old standby of sports radio: audio “drops” from South Park.
But the main event of Hello, My Name Is Craig was an interview with Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted a mere 11 days as Trump’s communications director. Scaramucci himself is something of a pariah. Carton didn’t compare their predicaments, but he asked some questions we could guess he has been asking of himself:
“It seems like lately it’s open season on the Mooch. Is that how you feel?”
“Would you go back in time or are you in a better place now than you ever thought you’d be … ?”
Scaramucci—whose White House career ended after he lit himself on fire in a New Yorker interview—complained that the media is “trying to disfigure and mischaracterize me.” Carton agreed with the sentiment: “When I first heard Trump talk about ‘fake news’—it’s really amazing how much there is.”
Near the end of their interview, Carton asked Scaramucci what he’d like to read on his epitaph. “Obviously, very flawed guy,” Scaramucci said. “Risk-taker. Smart—hopefully they’ll think that about me. Good sense of humor. I got that the first joke had to be on myself.”
This is where their fates are truly aligned. Carton is hoping that even if he goes to jail for wire and securities fraud, a few dozen episodes of Hello, My Name Is Craig will leave a lasting impression with listeners. Say what you will about Carton, but at least he could take a joke.
The Pariah Podcast is a new model for public rehabilitation. It used to be that a fallen sports or media star had little choice but to donate their bodies to sportswriting. Basically, they granted every interview request and hoped a glimpse of their tormented souls would create sympathy.
Armstrong tried that approach. He sat for profiles with Esquire and Texas Monthly. But when he started his podcast The Forward last June, he seized the machinery of redemption for himself. As Armstrong told CNN, “I’m my own boss with this and nobody tells me what to do.”
From a cold-eyed business perspective, the Pariah Podcast makes a certain amount of sense. The hosts may be conventionally unemployable, but they aren’t unpopular. Despite Bill O’Reilly paying about $45 million in harassment settlements, his latest “Killing” book sits on the New York Times bestseller list. Bharara attracts the same #Resistance groupies that have glommed onto everyone from Stephen Colbert to Jason Kander. Armstrong’s guests have included Neil deGrasse Tyson, Thomas Dimitroff, and Seal.
The allure of some Pariah Podcasts is that after years of hiding behind attorneys or the conventions of politics, the host can finally level with you. “I’m not putting anything off limits,” Bharara promised USA Today. His first episode of his Stay Tuned pod was titled “That Time President Trump Fired Me.”
Other pariahs address their “situations” only in metaphor. Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of sexual assault charges in 2016 (he settled another out of court with a formal apology). A Slate piece found that on his podcast, The Ideation Project, Ghomeshi was still complaining about the evils of social media … in the most cloying way possible:
Everyone looking for their own kick in the hopes of more friend requests, more “likes.” Slacktivism meets fury. Heroism defined by those shouting the loudest—those forming the jury. And so, who will be the latest target? Tune in at any hour. Remember, cyberspace is an insomniac. Blust [sic] never sleeps. Maybe it’s a tabloid scandal candidate tonight, or the guy who hunted the lion tomorrow morning. Wait, wasn’t it his right to kill? Begin the debate. Just make it … shrill.
On another episode about immigrants, Ghomeshi asked, “What if we are becoming an entire world of exiles?”
The host of a Pariah Pod enjoys it when an old enemy follows him into the pit of shame. Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken have been arguing for years. After Franken was accused of groping, O’Reilly told his No Spin News listeners: “I recuse myself because I despise Al Franken.” Then he un-recused himself: “He is a liar, a charlatan, a bad person, all of those things.”
Why do these pods find an audience? One reason is that podcasts aren’t that hard to do, and some of the hosts turn out to be pretty good at them. When Armstrong interviewed former Esquire editor David Granger, The Washington Post noted, his very naïveté led him to ask more interesting questions than Granger might get on your average media pod. A recent Guardian headline read: “Whatever your opinion on Lance Armstrong, liking his podcast is not a sin.”
Another reason is that podcasting is already perceived as a kind of pariah medium—pirate radio for those who weren’t stars in the big leagues of TV or film. The original premise of Marc Maron’s WTF was him talking to comedians who were more successful than he was.
Podcasting is also a therapeutic medium, with hosts like Maron pushing guests to relive childhood traumas. There was a little bit of that on the first episode of Hello, My Name Is Craig. Scaramucci talked about finding out who your “real friends” and “false friends” are during a crisis. He offered advice on how to handle professional disappointment. “The number one person you have to forgive is yourself,” he said. “Take the millstone off your neck and put it aside.”
“You’re like Tony Robbins now,” Carton said.
Carton never mentioned his own legal predicament. But alongside the usual podcast fare of the opening monologue and the coupon code, one pariah counseling another was almost touching. “Great things are going to happen to you, my friend,” Scaramucci said. “That’s my prediction. … I wish you nothing but success.”