The Young and the Breathless — Time Out Chicago
A University of Chicago political radio host and podcaster made a name for himself by asking tough questions
By Laura Oppenheimer
Permanent link: http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/out-there/26093/the-young-and-the-breathless
In rapid succession, the interviewer throws out questions about safety on the Green Line, surveillance on CTA buses and divestment policies in Darfur. Mayor Daley looks confused for a second, then gives a standard line about increasing the police presence on buses. He declines to answer the other questions, and the entire interview is over in less than a minute. No, it isn’t one of the Chicago Tribune or Sun-Times’ city hall reporters asking the hardball questions. It’s 19-year-old University of Chicago student Alex Beinstein. This free-form interview is typical of his radio show and podcast, Tomorrow with Alex Beinstein.
Beinstein’s projects had a somewhat limited following until last spring, when Alaskan senator and then–presidential candidate Mike Gravel did a phone interview with Beinstein. “He said some things that bordered on anti-Semitism,” Beinstein recalls. Other media outlets picked up on the interview, and suddenly Beinstein had more listeners and, even better for him, more accessibility to presidential campaigns.
Over the past year, he’s interviewed representatives from every major campaign except Mitt Romney’s (though Beinstein is quick to point out that Romney’s national press secretary is a member of the Tomorrow with Alex Beinstein Facebook group). Oftentimes the interview is merely a sound bite of him asking a politician a question at a media event, but other times it’s a lengthy talk with a campaign insider, like the interview he did with Barack Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, one that Beinstein says is his favorite.
Although nothing as salacious as Gravel’s comments has emerged in recent segments, Beinstein prides himself on asking questions that make his subjects squirm. He’s every bit as uninhibited as you’d expect a teenage policy wonk to be. “Major politicians should be asked questions that are unequivocally important, but not asked all the time,” he says. “No one is God, but the longer you treat them that way, the more delusional they’ll become in believing they are.”
He asked Rudy Giuliani’s policy director to explain why the campaign is arguing that lowering taxes increases revenue, when data shows this isn’t always true. He questioned Jesse Benton, national press secretary for Ron Paul, about whether Paul would violate the Constitution in a time of war. And he challenged Hillary Clinton’s communications director, Howard Wolfson, to defend the importance of talking about policy positions on the campaign trail.
While Beinstein isn’t rooting for any particular candidate on Super Tuesday, he’s been closely following the Democratic campaign. The fact that Clinton and Obama are “dividing people, when they think so similarly, is fascinating,” he says. Beinstein doesn’t know how far his show will take him, but he’s got no plans to stop anytime soon. “I think eventually people will get sick of watching the same four networks ask the same questions,” he says. And when they finally do, they can turn to this Chicago teenager’s show for some mature political discourse.
Tune in to Beinstein’s radio show every other Tuesday on WHPK-FM 88.5, from 3 to 4pm, and his podcast at alexbeinstein.com. For more information on his podcasts, see Time In, Radio & podcasts.