Discussion UnCivil Podcast on Elizabeth Van Lew & Mary Bowser Spy Ring in Richmond

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Pat Young

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With podcasts now getting hundreds of millions of downloads this year, the Civil War podcast UnCivil is back with the story of Richmond socialite Elizabeth Van Lew and former slave Mary Bowser. Their spy ring penetrated into the household of Jeff Davis, hid escaped Union POWs and kept the Union army up to date on the goings on in the Confederate capital.

http://www.gimletmedia.com/uncivil/the-ring#episode-player
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Bookmarked, thank you! Hoping to hear more on the relationship- one book on Bowser does that ' thing ', pitting women against each other, with Mary supposedly dismissive of Van Lew, and Elizabeth supposedly just dabbling at being a spy. Doesn't appear to be true and no idea where that perspective originated. Mary Bowser did incredible ( and extremely risky ) work in cooperation with Van Lew- love to hear more.
 

Pat Young

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Bookmarked, thank you! Hoping to hear more on the relationship- one book on Bowser does that ' thing ', pitting women against each other, with Mary supposedly dismissive of Van Lew, and Elizabeth supposedly just dabbling at being a spy. Doesn't appear to be true and no idea where that perspective originated. Mary Bowser did incredible ( and extremely risky ) work in cooperation with Van Lew- love to hear more.
Hope you like it. Just remember it is a podcast, so it is as much about storytelling.
 
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Even though this thread is several months old now, I hope that it's okay for me to respond.

I listen to a ton of podcasts during my commute and housework. I listened to every single episode of a bunch of different Gimlet podcasts. I found out about Gimlet Media because one of the founders used to be on public radio.

I listened to every single Uncivil episode, including the episode referenced here. I liked all of the episodes. However, something seems "weird" or "off" to me about Gimlet's relationship with the podcast and the hosts, though.

On more than one occasion, I became deeply attached to one particular Gimlet podcast or another. Then, without any prior warning, the podcast would just cease to release new episodes. I wouldn’t see any notes on social media or on the platform where I get podcasts. Months would go by. Then, Gimlet would either announce that they cancelled the podcast, or else they would finally admit that the season ended and that I should stay alert for a new season soon. In one highly-publicized example, I waited for over a year to find out that the podcast in question (Mystery Show) was cancelled and that the host (Starlee Kine) had been terminated months earlier. If you Google "Mystery Show" and "Gimlet" there are a ton of results about the controversy around the cancelling of Mystery Show.

Here’s why I mention this:
Between October and December 2017, Gimlet released ten episodes of Uncivil. And then . . . crickets. Did Uncivil’s Season One end? Would Uncivil return with a Season Two? Uncivil actually does have its own Facebook page, and indeed people posted these questions on Facebook. I didn't see any response to these answers. I actually checked in every once in awhile to see if the Facebook pages for Gimlet or Uncivil provided any answers, because I really wanted to listen to more episodes.

I moved on to other podcasts. And then I browsed iTunes for podcast suggestions. I learned through my search on iTunes that on ONE day – November 9, 2018 – Uncivil actually did release TWO brand-new episodes. I was really confused, because I checked in from time to time on Facebook and I hadn't actually seen any announcement about new Uncivil episodes.

(I guess that I would have found out about this sooner if I had actually subscribed to Uncivil, but I had an older phone and I was having storage issues by subscribing to too many podcasts at once. At that point, Uncivil hadn't released a new episode for months, so I had deleted it from my list of subscribed podcasts.)

Even weirder, the podcast app on my phone lists these two very newest episodes as “unknown season.”

So, I have no idea if Uncivil is coming back for a Season Two. I have no idea why two brand-new Uncivil episodes were both released on the same day, after eleven months of no new episodes.

The whole thing just seems really weird to me. I wonder if Gimlet Media is having any kind of creative or financial dispute with the journalists who put together Uncivil. I concede that I might just mistrust the management at Gimlet now after the whole Mystery Show controversy.

I'm posting this here to see if anybody else had similar questions / doubts / vibes about Gimlet and / or the Uncivil podcast.
 

Lubliner

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@Forks of the Ohio, I could apparently believe the people putting together the shows either; 1. receive inadequate compensation for their work, 2. Broadcasters (see 1.) 3. They get sidetracked into more viable interest.
Sometimes eating a whole pizza alone makes you wish for a burrito and taco the next time out. Who can say?
Maybe the powers that be enjoy the making of "Mystery of the Uncivil".
Lubliner.
 
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Lois Leveen

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The Uncivil podcast about Mary Bowser is filled with errors. Note that they did not interview a single historian for it -- in fact, one of the hosts of the show came to hear me give a talk about her at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, then used content from the talk in the episode without crediting my research, AND they misrepresented what I've documented about her life. Indeed, there is one point in the episode where the other host discusses an 1865 article about a talk given by the former spy, without having read the article. If you'd like a more factual account, try https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-vanishing-black-woman-spy-reappears/ and https://time.com/5609045/misremembering-mary-bowser/
 
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The Uncivil podcast about Mary Bowser is filled with errors. Note that they did not interview a single historian for it -- in fact, one of the hosts of the show came to hear me give a talk about her at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, then used content from the talk in the episode without crediting my research, AND they misrepresented what I've documented about her life. Indeed, there is one point in the episode where the other host discusses an 1865 article about a talk given by the former spy, without having read the article. If you'd like a more factual account, try https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-vanishing-black-woman-spy-reappears/ and https://time.com/5609045/misremembering-mary-bowser/

I'm interested to hear @Belle Montgomery 's thoughts on this since she has posted before about her knowledge of female ACW spies.

I criticized Gimlet Media in the past in regards to their lack of communication about the status of several of their podcast series. (Google the scandal regarding their termination of Mystery Show host Starlee Kine.) However, one of Gimlet's founders was a former podcast host from NPR and the hosts on Uncivil seem to have respectable credentials. Also, Uncivil won a Peabody award. So, I'm curious about the real story behind the production of this podcast.
 
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Belle Montgomery

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I'm interested to hear @Belle Montgomery 's thoughts on this since she has posted before about her knowledge of female ACW spies.

I criticized Gimlet Media in the past in regards to their lack of communication about the status of several of their podcast series. (Google the scandal regarding their termination of Mystery Show host Starlee Kine.) However, one of Gimlet's founders was a former podcast host from NPR and the hosts on Uncivil seem to have respectable credentials. Also, Uncivil won a Peabody award. So, I'm curious about the real story behind the production of this podcast.
I see a lot of errors too however that's what happens when you are unable to cite credible sources.
 

Lois Leveen

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I'm interested to hear @Belle Montgomery 's thoughts on this since she has posted before about her knowledge of female ACW spies.

I criticized Gimlet Media in the past in regards to their lack of communication about the status of several of their podcast series. (Google the scandal regarding their termination of Mystery Show host Starlee Kine.) However, one of Gimlet's founders was a former podcast host from NPR and the hosts on Uncivil seem to have respectable credentials. Also, Uncivil won a Peabody award. So, I'm curious about the real story behind the production of this podcast.
The original cohost of the podcast, Jack Hitt, seems to no longer be affiliated with the show. So there may be a gap between what the Peabody folks were evaluating and this episode; given that Hitt left *and* they have not posted any more episodes suggests they might have already been strained on resources by the time they made this episode.

This is an example of the level of "not history" on this episode: at one point, one of the hosts starts critiquing the way a newspaper in September 1865 covered a talk given by the former spy -- but from what the host says, it seems she didn't read the newspaper article, only the headline. And her critique is completely off base if you have any historical understanding of the time period (e.g. calling her "a colored lady" in the headline would have been a mark of great respect, not an insult, and prioritizing her before Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous men in America, was an even greater sign of respect).
 
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I thought the series was a bit biased towards Southerners (I'm from the North, in fact). I did enjoy getting a different perspective of the war from and enjoyed the first episode on the raid Harriet Tubman led, however there was a lot I did not agree with.

There was an episode about black Confederates. The base of the episode was some kid got roped into joining the SCV under the impression he would do research on black Confederates. They did extensive interviews with the subject who frequently bashed the group as racists and they interviewed a historian who has frequently written about the fact that there were no black Confederates. But they didn't interview a SCV member or pro black Confederate historian.

Or the episode about the black settlement on the barrier island off Georgia. The episode was all about how the bad rich white millionaire forced off the poor black folks and took their lands to build resorts. They interviewed lawyers and descendants of the people who got removed, but never interviewed a single other individual from the other side. It almost seemed as if they were deliberately trying to be one sided in controversial topics.

They should have stopped with the politics and stuck to interesting history.
 
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So, I've been a fan of Gimlet podcasts since before I found this message board. This is because one of the Gimlet co-founders (Alex Blumberg) came from NPR. My sisters and I were originally fans of NPR podcasts. Anyway, shortly after Gimlet Media was founded, one of my sisters told me about it. We discovered that the media company's very first podcast, Startup, actually reported on the founding of their own podcast company.

Things seemed to get weird after the whole Starlee Kine / Mystery Show controversy. After awhile, I stopped listening to their podcasts because there was very little communication about the sudden ending of seasons and entire podcast shows. For instance, as I mentioned above, Uncivil just ended without any communication as simple as "Hey, guys, this will be our last episode." Similar things happened on a bunch of their podcasts.

I read that Gimlet was sold to Spotify earlier this year. Then, I recently listened to one of their remaining podcasts, Reply All, and at the end of the podcast episode, the hosts announced that Matt Lieber, the other founder, was no longer with Gimlet. I just realized today that Startup has announced on Facebook that they are starting a FINAL season, titled "Startup: The Final Chapter" and that this final season is about Gimlet's sale to Spotify earlier this year. I see that one of the new episodes in this season is titled "Our Company Has Problems."

I intend to listen to the available episodes this week. I hope that it will answer some of my questions about what happened to the Uncivil podcast.
 
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So, I've been a fan of Gimlet podcasts since before I found this message board. This is because one of the Gimlet co-founders (Alex Blumberg) came from NPR. My sisters and I were originally fans of NPR podcasts. Anyway, shortly after Gimlet Media was founded, one of my sisters told me about it. We discovered that the media company's very first podcast, Startup, actually reported on the founding of their own podcast company.

Things seemed to get weird after the whole Starlee Kine / Mystery Show controversy. After awhile, I stopped listening to their podcasts because there was very little communication about the sudden ending of seasons and entire podcast shows. For instance, as I mentioned above, Uncivil just ended without any communication as simple as "Hey, guys, this will be our last episode." Similar things happened on a bunch of their podcasts.

I read that Gimlet was sold to Spotify earlier this year. Then, I recently listened to one of their remaining podcasts, Reply All, and at the end of the podcast episode, the hosts announced that Matt Lieber, the other founder, was no longer with Gimlet. I just realized today that Startup has announced on Facebook that they are starting a FINAL season, titled "Startup: The Final Chapter" and that this final season is about Gimlet's sale to Spotify earlier this year. I see that one of the new episodes in this season is titled "Our Company Has Problems."

I intend to listen to the available episodes this week. I hope that it will answer some of my questions about what happened to the Uncivil podcast.

Okay, I just listened the to the entire podcast series about the events that preceded Spotify's acquisition of Gimlet Media.

The episodes didn't mention Uncivil by name. However, this is what I learned that could possibly apply to Uncivil:

1.) In spring 2018, the management of Gimlet Media had just completed a round of financing that they hoped would last for two years. However, they learned in a meeting that at their burn rate at that time, the money raised would last for a much shorter time.

2.) Alex Blumberg noted that several of Gimlet's podcasts cost a great deal of time and money to produce and that these podcasts didn't produce enough ad revenue to cover the expense of making them. (Blumberg didn't mention Uncivil by name, but I am under the impression that Uncivil might have possibly fallen into this category.)

3.) The management was disappointed that they weren't able to increase the listenership for its podcasts.

4.) Gimlet Media received an offer from Spotify in late 2018. They actually received the offer in late November or early December 2018.

(Note that all but two of the Uncivil episodes - so, the first ten episodes (including the episode about the "Black Confederate Soldiers" referenced above) were posted from October - December 2017. The two remaining episodes - including the one about Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary Bowser - were both posted on November 8, 2018.)
 
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