BEST OF 2020 Transcript

December 1, 2020

Note: This transcript has been created with a combination of machine ears and human eyes. There may be small differences between this document and the audio version, which is one of many reasons we encourage you to listen to the episode!

Dan Gorenstein: 2020 has tested all of us in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

In my two decades as a reporter, this pandemic has been one of the most intense stories I’ve ever covered.

And we’ve seen a lot of great health care and science journalists meet the moment. 

Clip: Welcome to another in our series of coronavirus episodes of Scientific American Science Talk.
Clip: …and you’re listening to Amplify Nursing.
Clip: …I check back in with Times’s Science reporter Donald J. McNeil Jr.

DG: Investigating. Explaining Witnessing.

Clip: …and why wasn’t this pandemic insured. That’s what we’ll try to find out today on Freakonomics Radio.
Clip: I’m Steven Johnson and this is Fighting Coronavirus.

Today, we’ve invited some fellow journalists to recommend their favorite health care podcasts of 2020 — some light, some heavy and some wonky as hell.

From the Annenberg Studio at the University of Pennsylvania, I’m Dan Gorenstein, and this is Tradeoffs.

We kick off this best of 2020 with someone I’m betting many of you know. Dan Diamond, host of POLITICO’s Pulse Check. Dan thanks for joining us.

Dan Diamond: Dan, I’m glad to be here.

DG: So what’s a podcast that just knocked your socks off this year?

DD: Well, I’d like to share a podcast that isn’t just about COVID-19 and is not about health care, but a podcast that I think does a great job of getting at these issues. And that is the podcast from Slate called What Next.

DG: Right, that’s the podcast hosted by Mary Harris. Was there a particular conversation that jumped out at you?

DD: There was an episode in the middle of October with Olivia Troye.

What Next: MARY HARRIS: Olivia Troye says if you work in the White House, you’ve got a choice to make. You can wear a mask and try to avoid the coronavirus, or ditch the mask and fit in.

DD: She was the recently departed official from the Trump administration who had been advising Mike Pence on coronavirus response. And after leaving the administration came out as a major critic of the Trump response.

What Next: OLIVIA TROYE: We finally got temperature checks at the gate. And suddenly those temperature checks went away. And I thought to myself, “We are putting everyone repeatedly at risk.”

DG: So Dan, Olivia Troye had done a number of media interviews at that point. What made this one stick out? 

DD: Well, Mary Harris asked a question that I’d been waiting for other reporters to ask Olivia Troye,

What Next: MH: I’ve noticed that you seemed reticent to speak out about Vice President Pence.

DD: Why did Troye criticize President Trump so much, but dance around the role of Mike Pence, who is technically leading the coronavirus task force?

What Next: OT: It was hard. This is someone I got to know fairly well. He was always very kind to me. He was a good boss. 

DD: That she felt conflicted in some ways. She liked Mike Pence, and it was harder for her essentially to speak out against him than it was to go after the president.

DG: Dan, you know, a lot of the focus around COVID has been on mortality rates, the impact on doctors and hospitals. Some people might think this is just an inside the beltway story that just doesn’t have as much meaning or importance as those other issues. What do you say to that?

DD: First, perhaps my core job is to break news for POLITICO. So that’s made me a very picky news consumer. And by the time the New York Times’s Daily podcast, for instance, is tackling something to do with health care, that’s a story that if I’m doing my job well, will feel old to me. I look for podcasts, personally, that either have new information or are getting decision makers to open up on how they made their decisions and are just really fun listens at times. And I think Slate’s What Next combines a lot of that. 

DG: Dan you have always been a kind generous, gracious person. Thank you for joining us. 

DD: This is the least I can do Dan. I mean, it’s easier than buying a Tradeoffs tote bag. 

DG: Which we don’t have yet folks, but we may, we may want to start producing them. Thanks, Dan. Great idea. 

DD: Holiday season 2021. Be safe and talk to you soon, buddy. 

DG: Talk to you, Dan. Bye. That was Dan Diamond, host of POLITICO’s Pulse Check podcast.

We also have asked our producer Andrew Parrella to talk to a few other health care podcasters for their favorite shows from this year.

AP, thanks for coming in. So what’d ya have for us?

Andrew Parrella: Excited to be here, Dan. So I’ve got some good stuff, including chickens and some Danish mink.

DG: Go on….

AP: This is actually a pick from Laura Carlson, host of the Bloomberg podcast Prognosis. They release a few short episodes a week about health care news, and here’s what she’s listening to.

Laura Carlson: My recommendation is This Week in Virology or TWIV, as the hosts love to refer to it as, which I think is amazing.

TWIV: The podcast about viruses, the kind that make you sick.

AP: So TWIV is a little wonky, a little goofy, but quite clearly super serious, too. 

LC: It is just listening to experts talk about exactly what is in their field, and that is of course, always relevant to COVID-19 in some way, shape or form.

AP: TWIV is actually one of the OGs in the podcast space. They started in 2008. They get into some virological deep tracks. Dan, they did a whole episode on Danish mink — y’know those weasel-looking things.

DG: That’s what you’re talking about! Got it. 

TWIV: And as the virus propagates through mink you have a diversification of the genome and you have accumulation of variants…

LC: I can’t recommend it enough. I mean, the hosts are great. The guests are great. If you want to know the science of the things that we hear in the news in terms of testing, vaccines, I guarantee you, there has been at least a segment or an episode dedicated to it on TWIV.

AP: Ok, moving on here. I’ve got another pick for you, Dan.

Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako: My podcast is called Flip the Script. It’s a labor of love.

AP: That’s Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako, host of Flip the Script. He’s a med student at Yale. This is a side project for Max. His mission: educate listeners about health inequities. Max had a bunch of podcasts to recommend. But one clearly rose to the top: The Nocturnists, a storytelling podcast where doctors and nurses share stories from the frontlines of health care. It’s a bit like The Moth for the medical community.

DG: Yeah, I know this podcast, it’s fantastic. 

The Nocturnists: You’re listening to The Nocturnists, Black Voices in Health Care, I’m Ashley McMullen. 

AP: Specifically Max said their Black Voices in Health Care series was something that really struck a chord with him. 

MT: So the series came out in the summer, in the middle of the pandemic and the uprisings related to George Floyd and Brianna Taylor. 

The Nocturnists: The legacy of anti-Blackness runs deep, and while Black pain may be what others see when they look at us, we know we are so much more.

MT: At a time where it basically, there’s a sort of like double grieving happening. 

The Nocturnists: We are strong.

MT: Especially for black health care workers. 

The Nocturnists: We are creative.

MT: It came almost kind of like a respite, like, you know, like a source of, like, joy.

The Nocturnists: With all the pain and all the things that make it heavy, I have yet to meet someone who would trade it, who would trade being Black, and it’s good to love who you are, right?

MT: It made me happy to the point where I had tears rolling down by the time the episode was over.

AP: Max says this series was really just a chance to recharge, a chance for him to catch his breath. 

The Nocturnitsts has wrapped its Black Voices in Health Care series, but continues to deliver first-person stories from medical providers on the front lines. 

DG: Thanks, Parrella. 

We’ll be right back with more 2020 picks, but a quick word. 

As we talk about all the great health care journalism from this year, I want to talk about the work we’ve done at Tradeoffs.  

We’ve talked about mergers, drug prices, systemic inequities and COVID.

We think these are valuable stories to tell, and clearly you do too. 

Because that’s what you are telling us.

Julie Stone: My name is Julie Stone. There is not a single episode where there isn’t a takeaway for me.

DG: Julie’s been working in health care for 35 years

JS: Health care is so unbelievably broken in our country, and I believe Tradeoffs is one of several influential platforms to educate, inform and impact future discussions. And that’s the reason I support the podcast.

DG: When you contribute to Tradeoffs, you’re supporting more than a podcast. You’re helping create a conversation that shapes health care decisions. 

And since we know there’s nothing hotter in health care right now than value, your gift is matched dollar for dollar by the Institute for Nonprofit News. 

Make yours now at

And thanks. 


DG: Ok, we’re back, wrapping up 2020 with a look at some of the great health care podcasts over this difficult, sometimes traumatic, important year.

Helping us do that is producer Andrew Parrella.

AP: And I’ve got one more for you Dan from Alex Olgin, host of the podcast Gist HealthCare Daily. As the name suggests, their purview is…

Alex Olgin: …health care business and policy news headlines. 

AP: Alex’s pick — not a “health care” podcast, but one most of us have heard of: Planet Money.

Planet Money: The story involves the anthrax scare and an undisclosed number of secret government chickens.

DG: Chickens, Parrella! Seriously? I’m still recovering from the minks. 

AP: Afraid so, partner. We’ve got a medical menagerie here today. In the episode Alex is talking about, they were focussing on the vaccine, even way back in March.

AO: They were talking about how there’s not really a market for emergency vaccines and drugs because a lot of times pandemics go pretty quickly. And so drug companies don’t want to spend lots of money and betting on a market that may not exist in, you know, several months or a year plus. And one thing I found fascinating was they talked about how the government creates flu vaccines. 

Planet Money: It is a shockingly fragile, delicate, expensive process involving chicken eggs.

AO: And they have to have tons and tons of eggs.

Planet Money: And hens only lay one egg a day, so you need thousands of chickens working around the clock for their one egg. And then those eggs report for work, straight from a farm to a pharmaceutical company.

AO: And so the government contracts with all these chicken farmers all over the country. It’s like a top national security thing where these are undisclosed locations and government chickens, and they’re having all these eggs reserved. 

AP: I think they call that the Strategic Poultry Reserve. Seriously, Alex told me this episode gave her a lot more insight into why vaccines are so hard to finance and helped her think about vaccine development over the last eight months.

DG: That’s the whole point of this show. There’s been a lot of great journalism this year. Thanks AP for spending so much time in the kitchen to bring us all these delicious dishes. 

AP: Same time again next year?

DG: We’re rounding out our review of health care audio journalism from 2020, and, we’ve saved the best for last. Our final guest, the dean of health care journalists.   

Julie Rovner: I am Julie Rovner. I am chief Washington correspondent at Kaiser Health News. 

DG: And she hosts What the Health?, where journalists do a weekly roundup of national health policy news.

Julie, I know this is going to be good. What’s your pick?

JR: Yeah. The podcast that I’m just finishing up is by my colleague at Kaiser Health News, Sarah Jane Tribble. It’s called Where It Hurts. It’s about what happened to a small town in Kansas when their hospital closed and basically what happened to the town after the hospital left. And as usual in health care it’s complicated.

DG: You’ve actually stolen my pick of the year. I thought this was an excellent example of health care journalism at its best. And she did such a great job untangling all of those storylines for us.

JR: I think it really helped that she’s from that neck of the woods. She wasn’t some, you know, big city journalist who dropped in to say hi and then leave again. She really understood the depth of what was going on and what it meant to grow up in a town like this.

DG: One moment that stuck with me was when…

Where It Hurts: Karen seems really tense.

DG: Sarah Jane had spent the morning with a woman… 

Where It Hurts: The last 5-6 days have not been good.

DG: …who had cancer and had just gotten to her chemo treatment.

Where It Hurts: Karen’s husband, John, has dementia.

DG: And she was hustling back home to take care of her husband.

Where It Hurts: And as we pull into Karen’s driveway…

DG: And there’s this moment in the car as the car pulls up the driveway and the woman sees her husband, who’s supposed to be dressed and ready.

Where It Hurts: John is standing in the driveway, wearing just his jeans. No shirt at all. 

DG: And he’s just standing there. 

Where It Hurts: Karen looks alarmed for just a moment. Then she catches herself.

DG: The weight, the pressure in that moment, Julie, for that woman, who’s dealing with cancer and dealing with her husband, and the world’s sort of collapsing around her, and yet still finding that perseverance to get out of the car and go get her husband dressed was an indelible moment.

JR: There are a lot of those. 

DG: There really are.

JR: It’s really an amazing act of reporting and writing and just presenting a story.

DG: Julie Rovner, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. 

JR: Thank you for having me. 

DG: We’ve posted bonus picks from all our guests today on our website.

Producing this season has been incredible. 

First, a shout out to the amazing Tradeoffs team! 

They’ve worked damn hard to bring you the best stories possible. And I feel lucky to work with such a fine collection of people.

As we look ahead to 2021, we’ve got a new administration, a new Congress, new research. There are plenty of Season 2 stories to tell, and we can do it with your help. 

Now is the time to become a Tradeoffs supporter because your gift will be doubled by a special challenge from the Institute for Nonprofit News. 

Make your gift — whatever you can afford — at

I’m Dan Gorenstein, and this is Tradeoffs. Talk to you in the new year.