The Uncertain Hour‘s absence from year-end best-of lists may make it podcasting’s best-kept secret. The series, presented by American Public Media’s Marketplace, delves into controversial topics “because the things we fight most about, are the things we know least about” to quote host Krissy Clark.
The series returned this week with the start of its third season, which will focus on the war on drugs. The first episode, released Thursday, goes back thirty years to the bizarre moment when President George H.W. Bush held up a bag of crack cocaine in the Oval Office. It explores the even more bizarre backstory of how that bag, purchased in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House (but with a caveat), ended up in the president’s hands and examines the misleading facts presented in the president’s address which led to a multi-billion dollar investment in the war on drugs.
While the excesses of the war on drugs may seem obvious in 2019, the story about President Bush and The Uncertain Hour‘s previous seasons reveal a knack for finding interesting and engaging avenues into seemingly mundane topics. Season two, which focused on regulation, opened with a riveting three-part examination into how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined which products could be labelled peanut butter — riveting isn’t overstatement; go listen to it. The first season, which dug into the legacy of welfare reform, uncovered an (unintentionally?) hilarious album created by a public assistance office in Riverside, California to convince its clients that getting off welfare was cool and states that put welfare money toward couples counseling.
The first episode of season three includes an interview with Michael Isikoff, the then-Washington Post reporter who uncovered the history of the bag of crack that ended up on President Bush’s desk. Drug enforcement agents arranged the buy, so the president could tell the nation crack was so prevalent that it had pervaded the shadow of the White House (it hadn’t). The memorable speech led to an investment in the war on drugs over Bush’s four years in office that exceeded that of the previous four administrations combined.
The nation is currently in the throes of another drug epidemic, of course. One that authorities have handled with a gentler touch, which raises its own questions about policing and race. Season three of The Uncertain Hour promises to use the crack epidemic to examine how drug epidemics end. If previous seasons are any indication, it will be well worth the listen.
The Uncertain Hour will release new episodes every Thursday.