Midday Podcast | WYPR

Midday Podcast

AP Photo/Ragan Clark, File

(This program was originally broadcast on June 18, 2020)

Before he murdered George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, former police officer Derek Chauvin had been the subject of 17 previous complaints of misconduct.  As streets around the world filled with protesters against police use of force and violence against people of color, further examples of the very kind of behavior that animated the demonstrations took place, including peaceful protesters being violently dispersed in front of the White House, and the shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.  

The calls for changing the way police interact with the public range from complete abolition of police departments to reforms in training, more transparency, fewer barriers to prosecuting officers, and prohibiting certain aggressive techniques such as chokeholds...

Photo by Heidi Ross

(This program was originally broadcast on September 30, 2019)

Tom’s guest today is the acclaimed writer Ann Patchett. She is the winner of the Pen Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for fiction, and her work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Patchett is the author of eight novels, the latest of which, The Dutch House, was just published last week.  As with some of her other immensely popular books -- novels such as Commonwealth, State of Wonder and Bel Canto -- in The Dutch House, Patchett writes with grace, authority and limitless compassion. Her characters navigate a complicated world with humility and fortitude, and she reveals their stories with a masterful touch, peppered with brilliant and straight-forward observations that elucidate that which is poignant and important about the human condition.

Ann Patchett joins Tom on the line from the studios of Spotland Productions in Nashville, Tennessee. 

(This conversation was first recorded September 20, 2019, so we couldn't take any calls, emails or tweets.)

Joe Henson Photography

(This program was originally broadcast live on December 10, 2019)

The business of diversity is booming.  Corporations and cultural institutions spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on diversity training, yet despite the ubiquity and expense of these efforts, overall racial, gender and ethnic diversity remains an aspiration rather than a reality. 

Today on Midday: what's been tried, what has succeeded and what's flopped in efforts to achieve more inclusion in American life.

Dr. Pamela Newkirk is a professor of journalism at New York University and author of Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business," named one of Time Magazine's "Must-Read Books" of 2019.

Dr. Newkirk joins Tom on the line from Argot Studios in New York City.

(This program was previously recorded, so we can't take your comments or questions.)

photo by Crystal Wiley-Brown

(This program was originally broadcast on October 15, 2019)

Today, Tom’s guest for the hour is the award-winning novelist, literary scholar and artist, Charles Johnson

Dr. Johnson is best-known as the author of Middle Passagethe epic novel about the 1830s slave trade for which he won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1990. At the time, he was only the second African-American man to have won the honor, after Ralph Ellison. 

Johnson's other novels include Night HawksDr. King’s RefrigeratorDreamerand Faith and the Good Thing.

In 1998, Dr. Johnson received a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius grant."  In 2002, he received the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Harper Collins Publishers

(This program was originally broadcast live on June 17, 2020)

Nationally, the United States ranks 26th in the world in voter turnout.

Given the pandemic, a battered economy, widespread civil unrest and all that is at stake in the upcoming presidential election, it remains to be seen whether more voters will embrace the power they yield at the ballot box in November.

Tom’s guest is Kim Wehle, a constitutional scholar who has written a primer on voting: how voting differs from state to state, what the structural barriers are to voting, and how those barriers can be overcome.

Wehle is a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a legal commentator for CBS News.

Her last book was called How to Read the Constitution and Why. Her new book is What You Need to Know About Voting and Why. 

Photo by Jerome De Perlinghi

Today, conversations with two acclaimed authors.

Tom's first guest is Madison Smartt Bell, the author of a dozen novels, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning trilogy of books on the Haitian Revolution and its iconic leader, the 18th century general, Toussaint Louverture.   He’s also written several non-fiction books, including a biography of Louverture. Earlier this year, he published a literary biography of an iconic American author who was also a close friend.  Robert Stone is considered by many to be one of the most singular and influential novelists of the postwar era.  Stone passed away in 2015.  Madison Smartt Bell’s definitive, authorized exploration of his life and work is called Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone. Madison Smartt Bell joins Tom from his home here in Baltimore.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Tom's guest is the award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative correspondent who covers race and social justice issues for the New York Times Magazine.  She won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for The 1619 Project, a multi-platform exploration of the history of enslaved people in America.  That series began last summer.  Last Sunday, Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote the cover story for the NY Times Magazine, a compelling essay about reparations for descendants of the enslaved, called What is Owed.  

Calls for reparations are not new.  Ta-Nehisi Coates made a Case for Reparations in a controversial Atlantic Magazine essay in 2014.  What is new is the multi-racial and multi-generational protests taking place in communities large and small across the country, and in fact, around the globe.  In  a recent poll, half the registered voters in the US said they support the Black Lives Matter movement.  Given the ubiquity and intensity of demonstrations for racial equality, is now the moment when the calls for reparations will finally lead to sustained action? 

Nikole Hannah-Jones joins us via Zoom.

image courtesy 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

It's the July edition of Midday at the Movies, and Tom is joined again by two of our favorite movie mavens -- Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday and the Maryland Film Festival's founding director, Jed Dietz. 

As demonstrations for police reform and racial justice continue across the country, Ann and Jed discuss the ripple effects the national dialogue on race is having on film culture, from HBO's decision to add "context" to Gone with the Wind --  the classic (and racist) 1939 film about the Civil War-era South --  to director Spike Lee's latest joint, Da 5 Bloods, a film now streaming on NETFLIX that recaps the arc of the 1960s civil rights awakening as it follows four Black Vietnam War vets who return to Nam to recover the remains of a lost soldier. 

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the nation and keep most movie theaters dark, Ann and Jed note the success of recent virtual film festivals and the return of drive-in movies. They also spotlight some other summer streamers, including Shirleya tour-de-force performance by Elizabeth Moss, in a dark, quirky portrayal of horror-genre writer Shirley Jackson, now streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime; and the Friday, July 3 streaming debut of Hamilton, a film of the multi-award-winning 2016 Broadway stage production, featuring the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, in the title role.  Hamilton will stream exclusively to paid subscribers on the Disney Plus channel.

Harper Collins

In 2016, when Mike Pence accepted the Republican nomination for vice president, he introduced himself to the national electorate as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” 

Mike Pence and President Donald Trump appear to be polar opposites.  Why does Pence serve and defend a man so distant from the moral ideals that Pence himself has so long espoused?  According to a probing biography published last fall, Pence chose to do so because “in the end, ambition and the hunger for power outweighed anything else.”

Today on Midday, a conversation about one of the most enigmatic figures in American politics. Biographer and veteran political reporter Tom LoBianco joins Tom via Zoom to talk about his book, Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House.


HBO and NBC are going national with their newest streaming services. Netflix, Amazon and others are jumping on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon; and Issa Rae and Dave Chappelle are back.  New standouts like Yvonne Orji are making a splash, and the show with a lot of buzz, HBO’s I May Destroy You, raises important questions about victims and victimization. 

Tom's guests for today's edition of Tube Talk are Maureen Harvie, senior producer for WYPR’s On the Record with host Shelia Kast; Jamyla Krempel, screenwriter and WYPR digital producer, and Bridget Armstrong, producer for Land of The Giants: The Netflix Effect, a podcast from Vox Media.


While the COVID-19 data for Maryland are good in comparison with many other states, more than 3,000 people have died, and the pandemic is still having a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of Marylanders.  Even as Governor Hogan’s Stage Two re-opening plan allows businesses to resume limited operations, one of the pillars of the state’s economy – child care services for working parents – is in crisis. 

State-wide there are more than 8,000 child care programs licensed to care for over 213,000 children. A little under half of them have been closed since late March.  The rest have been authorized by the state to care for the children of essential first-responders. 

According to a survey by the non-profit Maryland Family Networkjust over half of all child care programs in the state say they may be forced to permanently close if families continue keeping their children home as a result of the pandemic.  Two thirds of the state’s child care service providers reported significant financial losses due to the closures and reduced attendance...

 It’s the Midday Healthwatch, with Dr. Leana Wen.  

29 states around the country are seeing a spike in the number of new cases of COVID 19.  The CDC has revised its risk assessment for the disease to reflect the fact that more young people are being infected.  Are the numbers headed in the wrong direction because the US is re-opening too soon?

Dr. Leana Wen is a visiting professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, a distinguished fellow at the Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. She is the former Health Commissioner of Baltimore City.  

Profiles PR

The torrent of news that NPR and its affiliates around the country need to cover would be daunting in the best of times, but to cover it while the health risk is high and revenue is down presents unprecedented challenges.

About a year ago, when LaFontaine Oliver took over as president and general manager of WYPR, we talked with him on this program about his plans for our station moving forward. We promised to have him back occasionally to give listeners an update on where the station is heading. Today, we are keeping that promise...

Photo by Monica Simoes

The region's theaters remain dark as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevent traditional indoor public stagings. But as we've reported previously here on Midday, the shows must - and do - go on, through a rich variety of live-streamed and pre-recorded streaming productions.

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom today to tell us about some upcoming and continuing virtual theater events. Notable among them is the first-ever live streaming at 7 p.m. this Sunday (June 28) of the recorded 2013 production of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, by Obie Award-winning actor and playwright David Drake, with The Provincetown TheaterThe show, directed by Tony nominee Robert La Fosse, weaves threads of the LGBTQ coming-out experience with the story of veteran AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer (who passed away just three weeks ago). It features an all-star cast, including Mr. Drake, Tony Award-winners BD Wong (M. Butterfly) and Andre de Shields (Hadestown, Ain’t Misbehavin’), plus 3-time Tony nominee Robin de Jesus (In the Heights, Boys in the Band), and Tony-nominated star Rory O’Malley (Book of Mormon).

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

As we went to air today, the House Judiciary Committee convened an investigative hearing into “political interference and threats to prosecutorial independence” at the U.S. Justice Department.  The hearing opened on the heels of last weekend’s firing of Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  President Trump’s plan to install in his place a political ally with no prosecutorial experience drew pushback from even Trump loyalists like Lindsey Graham.  The Committee chairman, Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York, is expected to subpoena US Attorney General William Barr in early July, although whether Mr. Barr will comply is an open question...

Photo Courtesy / Keystone Korner

Theaters, concert halls and live performance venues were the first to close when the pandemic arrived, and many will be among the last to re-open.  Tom talks with jazz impresario Todd Barkan Co-owner of  Baltimore jazz club Keystone Korner  and Audrey Fix Schaefer communications director of the National Independent Venue Association on what’s needed to keep independent music venues alive. 

Then Ken Skrzesz, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council, joins Tom to discuss how Maryland artists and arts organizations are coping with COVID 19.

Brian Witt / AP

We begin today with a check on the state of Maryland’s efforts to mitigate the coronavirus and continue Gov. Larry Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery. 

Tom’s first guest is Fran Phillips.

She is Maryland’s deputy health secretary for public health services and a member of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Coronavirus Response Team.

Before being named to her current role in the Maryland Health Department, Phillips was the health officer of Anne Arundel County for many years.

Senator Ben Cardin

Joining Tom for the hour today is the senior Democratic senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin.  First elected to the Senate in 2006, he is currently the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.  He also serves on the Senate Finance Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. 

Among today's topics :

President Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.  The arena wasn't as full as his campaign predicted it would be, but Mr. Trump did attract more than 6,000 people, despite numerous warnings from health officials that the rally posed a major health risk. 

A federal judge denied the Trump Administration's request that Simon and Schuster be blocked from releasing former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s tell-all memoirnoting how many copies of the book were already circulating.  Bolton is making the rounds of national news shows, verifying reports in previous tell-all books that Mr. Trump is not fit to serve in the highest office in the land....

AP Photo/LM Otero

In June, 1921, White mobs destroyed Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood neighborhood, a thriving African American community known as Black Wall Street.  An estimated 200 to 300 African Americans were killed during the attack.  Perhaps as many as 10,000 people were left homeless. 

There has been renewed interest in this bloody chapter in America’s history because President Trump is set to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa tomorrow.  The rally was originally scheduled to take place Friday, on Juneteenth, but the date was changed after a national outcry.

Washington Post reporter DeNeen L. Brown joins Tom to discuss the significance of Juneteenth, the sacred space that the Tulsa massacre holds in our history, and the event's significance for race relations in the current moment. 

You can read DeNeen L. Brown's moving essay, 'Black people are tired of trying to explain racism, here.  

AP Photo/Ragan Clark, File

Streets around the world remain filled with protesters demanding that police be “defunded.” Today on Midday, a police perspective on the intensifying calls to defund and reform the nation's police departments.

Tom is joined by Officer Seth Templeton, a beat cop in Baltimore County who wrote an open letter in the Baltimore Sun to a protester, hoping to bridge the gap between demonstrators and law enforcement;  Chief Melvin Russell, who served in the Baltimore City Police Department for 40 years; and Matthew Horace, a 28-year veteran of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and author of The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement. 

Harper Collins Publishers

Nationally, the United States ranks 26th in the world in voter turnout.

Given the pandemic, a battered economy, widespread civil unrest and all that is at stake in the upcoming presidential election, it remains to be seen whether more voters will embrace the power they yield at the ballot box in November.

Tom’s guest is Kim Wehle, a constitutional scholar who has written a primer on voting: how voting differs from state to state, what the structural barriers are to voting, and how those barriers can be overcome.

Wehle is a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a legal commentator for CBS News.

Her last book was called How to Read the Constitution and Why. Her new book is What You Need to Know About Voting and Why. 

Also today, this sad note: Dr. Shirley Basfield Dunlap, the director of Theater Morgan at Morgan State University, passed away Sunday at her home in Baltimore. 

Dr. Dunlap was a highly respected theater artist who directed productions nationwide.

She worked with Melba Moore and Ossie Davis, but it was her students, at Morgan and elsewhere, who will forever remember her intensity and her vitality.

Photo by Larry Canner

All 50 states are in some phase of re-opening their economies after a few weeks, and in some cases several months, of lockdown.  Here in Maryland, health officials announced another day of fewer than 400 new cases of COVID-19, and the statewide positivity rate has dropped to 6.2%.  It’s been 10 weeks since we’ve had as few COVID patients in ICU beds as we do now, and as of yesterday (6/15/20), overall hospitalizations had dropped for 20 days in a row.  With 150+ testing sites now open, state officials hope that many more people will be tested in the coming weeks.  

These trends propelled Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to announce last Wednesday further easing of restrictions for a greater number of businesses.  Indoor dining is now allowed in many jurisdictions, and as of Friday, gyms and malls will also be allowed to re-open. 

Tom's first guest today is considered one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases, and at a media briefing last week he expressed concerns about the pace at which our state, and others, are re-opening.  Dr. Tom Inglesby is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  He has served on Governor Hogan’s Coronavirus Response Team since the governor announced a state of emergency in early March.  Dr. Inglesby joins us via Skype.

Khari Parker

Now, a look at how restaurants are adapting to "the new normal."  The National Restaurant Association estimates that about 40% of US restaurants will be forced to close because of the pandemic.  Many will never re-open.  Here in Maryland, indoor dining is now allowed in many jurisdictions, although not yet here in Baltimore City. 

Photograph by Chad Davis/Flickr

We are nearly three weeks into sustained worldwide protests over the Minneapolis police killing last month of George Floyd. On Friday night, a white police officer in Atlanta named Garrett Rolfe killed a 27-year-old Black man, Rayshard Brooks, as he fled after failing a sobriety test.  Brooks had taken a Taser gun from another officer and pointed it, and possibly fired it at Rolfe. The coroner has declared Brooks’ death a homicide.  Rolfe has been fired, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating.

This latest incident has further intensified calls for reform of police use-of-force policies, and growing demands in cities across the country to “defund the police.”  The Baltimore City Council met virtually on Friday night to discuss cuts to the Baltimore Police Department budget. The U.S. Senate and the House are considering federal legislation, and leaders in Annapolis have vowed that police reform will be a high priority in the next General Assembly.

Some call for reform within traditional law enforcement structures; others advocate for reallocating funds from police to social services...

AP Photo/Brian Witte

If history repeats itself and the Democratic nominees for local offices prevail in November, a new cadre of progressive leaders will take a sharp left turn on their way to Baltimore City Hall, where they will assume responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic, the re-build of the local economy, a persistent murder rate and the reform of a police department.

Political strategist Sophia Silbergeld and WYPR City Hall reporter Emily Sullivan join Tom with analysis.  


Alan Levine / WikiCommons

A Middle River crab house has become a flashpoint in the struggle for social justice in Maryland.  

On June 1, Vince Meyer, the owner and operator of Vince’s Crab House, wrote on Facebook, “There is one place I bet the protesters/rioters won’t light on fire or break into or even block the road to .... the social services buildings.”

Meyer closed all five of his establishments last week after this post and others came to light, prompting mass protests outside of his restaurants.

Tom's guest is local activist  Kellie Vaughan, who organized the protests against Vince’s Crab House.

Courtesy of MD Dept of Health

At the heart of Gov. Hogan’s plan to reopen the state economy are increased testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing.  The state has tested more than 460,000 people, and it has deployed 1,400 contact tracers so far.

Vickie Fretwell is Tom's guest. She is special assistant and senior advisor in the office of Maryland Health Secretary Robert R. Neall. And she is leading the Maryland Health Department’s new statewide effort to educate the public about contact tracing.

An important note: If a contact tracer for the state calls, your phone's caller ID will read MD COVID, and the call will come from this number: 240-466-4488. The Health Department's simple message:  Please answer the call. 

Courtesy of the Save Our Sun campaign

Next, a conversation about the future of The Baltimore Sun. Since 1986, when the A.S. Abell Co. sold the paper to the Times Mirror Corp., people throughout the community have lamented that our city’s paper of record was not locally owned. Over the years, there have been efforts to buy the paper and make a go of it as a for-profit business. 

Now a coalition of local business leaders, foundations and the union that represents journalists at the Sun have banded together to try once again to purchase the paper from its current owners, a company that is controlled by Alden Capital, a hedge fund with a history of buying newspapers and decimating them. The group has launched a campaign called Save Our Sun. Two of its leaders join Tom.

Liz Bowie is a Sun reporter and a leader of the Baltimore Sun GuildMatt Gallagher is the president and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation, one of the philanthropic organizations that would help fund the purchase, if the current owners agree to a sale. To add your name to the petition of those who agree with the Save Our Sun campaign, click here. 

Photo Courtesy / Corina Newsome

Black conservationists and avian enthusiasts are challenging the widely held racist stereotype that Black folks and people of color are more suited to urban landscapes than to the fields and forests of the natural world.

A group called BlackAFinSTEM declared last week to be the first-ever ‘Black Birders Week,’ a celebration using digital platforms to create virtual events that showcase African Americans working in the natural sciences, and who are lovers of the outdoors.

Photo Courtesy City Health Dept.

One of the key elements in reopening plans, across counties or states, is to increase contact tracing to determine if people infected with COVID-19 may have exposed others to the virus. Maryland employs about 1,400 contact tracers so far, and it is looking to hire more. Last week, Mayor Jack Young announced the new Baltimore Health Corps, which will employ nearly 300 people as contact tracers.  

To tell us more about that program and other aspects of COVID-19 in the city, including testing, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa joins Tom for another installment of Midday with Tish the Commish. Dr. Dzirasa is the health commissioner of Baltimore City.

If you are interested in applying for one of the 300 new jobs with the Baltimore Health Corps, click here for more information. The jobs include training and do not require previous public health experience.