‘The Trojan Horse Affair’ is Serial’s best podcast since ‘S-Town’ : NPR

In 2014, an nameless whistleblower leaked a duplicate of a letter that allegedly revealed an Islamist plan to take over faculties in a single English metropolis. A brand new podcast tells the story behind the faux doc.


That is FRESH AIR. Serial Productions lately launched its newest investigative podcast collection, “The Trojan Horse Affair.” It is co-hosted by Brian Reed, a veteran producer of This American Life and host of the podcast “S-City,” and Hamza Syed, a doctor-turned-reporter from Birmingham, England. Podcast critic Nick Quah says it is Serial’s finest present since “S-City.” This is Nick.

NICK QUAH, BYLINE: A letter, a nationwide scandal and a thriller. These are the beginning factors for the newest podcast from Serial Productions known as “The Trojan Horse Affair,” which follows an investigation that would not really feel misplaced in a John le Carre novel.


HAMZA SYED: That is my first story as a journalist. I do not plan for it to be my final story as nicely, however given what’s occurred within the years I have been engaged on this, it most likely can be. It is a few letter that surfaced in my metropolis and had enormous penalties for Britain. This letter launched 4 authorities investigations, modified our nationwide coverage and ended careers. It is harm among the nation’s most weak kids. A letter that, many individuals who’ve seen it agree, is ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It is unsigned, undated.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Did not even appear to be a severe doc, did it? It simply appeared comical. Like, what the hell is that this?

QUAH: Besides, after all, that is no fiction. In 2014, an nameless whistleblower leaked to the British press a photocopy of what gave the impression to be a secret communique, one which supposedly revealed an Islamist conspiracy to take over faculties within the English metropolis of Birmingham. The doc would later be extensively considered faux, however that did not cease a nationwide panic over Islamic extremism infiltrating faculties and past.

Capitalizing on the second, conservative politicians took the chance to stall a motion that sought to assist immigrant communities enhance schooling outcomes by integrating their tradition into faculty curriculum. The panic additionally resulted within the implementation of harsh counterterrorism insurance policies, which made life tougher for Muslims residing within the U.Okay.

Referred to as the Computer virus affair, referring to a phrase used within the letter, the scandal is usually recalled within the nation today as a multitude finest stored up to now. After all, not everyone has the privilege of transferring on. In Birmingham, a metropolis with a sizeable immigrant Muslim inhabitants, the Computer virus affair ruined careers and thrust weak communities deeper into the void. Remarkably, regardless of all the pieces brought on by the letter, the author’s id and motivation had remained a thriller. That is the place the podcast begins its inquiry. And main the investigation is an unlikely duo – Brian Reed, a veteran producer at “This American Life,” and Hamza Syed, a former physician turned journalism scholar.

A Birmingham native who occurs to be Muslim, Syed is intimately accustomed to the scandal, and his burning curiosity in uncovering the remaining unknowns of the Computer virus affair is the catalyzing occasion for the collection. He is the one who brings the story to Reed, together with a perception within the remedial properties of the reality. Resolve the thriller of the letter author, and maybe, you can rectify the results of the letter as soon as and for all – or at the least that is the hope.

What ensues is an exciting audio documentary, positively Serial Manufacturing’s perfect since “S-City,” which Reed additionally hosted. It excels in bringing you contained in the investigation. You are feeling the thrill of excavating a brand new doc, a brand new lead, a brand new identify. On the coronary heart of the podcast is the partnership between Reed and Syed, who additionally produced the collection with Rebecca Laks. There’s an air of a road-trip film to the proceedings. We’re aware about the duo as they collaborate, compromise, argue and riff. This provides a enjoyable layer to the combination. However the expertise takes on a richer dimension when the collection reveals itself to even be in regards to the alternative ways of wanting on the position of journalism on this planet.

Reed and Syed signify totally different views on the matter. They differ in nationality, journalistic expertise and, after all, racial backgrounds. And the best way by which the collection handles their sometimes-conflicting views seems like a real revelation. It isn’t unusual for narrative podcasts to function a number of hosts, however hardly ever are they made to work together, a lot much less confront one another.


SYED: Do you assume it’s going to change anybody’s thoughts about something? Is that even an essential ambition to carry? Or does it not matter?

BRIAN REED: I do not take into consideration that after I’m doing a narrative.


REED: ‘Trigger I really feel like it’s going to typically result in disappointment. The issues that inspire me to do a narrative are ‘trigger it is a good-ass story, and I wish to inform an excellent story. And I really feel like it could actually have all kinds of byproducts, like altering individuals’s minds. However for me, I believe I might get upset rather a lot. Whereas, like, in the event you’re doing a narrative the place you personally wish to know the reply to one thing, you personally wish to do the perfect story you possibly can, then that is, like, the place I attempt to derive the motivation from, you realize?

SYED: No, I did not know. Why would you do a narrative in the event you did not care what impression it could have?

QUAH: We hear the strain between the 2 views flare up afterward within the collection, like throughout an interview of an individual who dismisses the unfavourable results of the Computer virus letter on the nation’s Muslim neighborhood. The interplay results in Syed dropping his cool, successfully ending the interview and inflicting Reed to be annoyed. It is a difficult scene, one which underlines how the story’s stakes are totally different for Syed as a British Muslim and Reed as a white American. But it surely is not a critique of Reed’s strategy, both. Reasonably, it seems like a working by of the tensions between totally different journalistic norms.

The Computer virus affair is a narrative with no simple conclusion. As Reed and Syed tumble deeper down the rabbit gap, it turns into more and more obvious that even when they have been to determine the reality of the Computer virus letter, what that revelation would result in is not so clear. And given how neatly this podcast plugs into up to date political anxieties right here in the US, notably with the uproar on essential race idea, the place this investigation goes in the end leaves me with an unsettling feeling. The reality that they discover is messy, surprising and inconvenient to the story different individuals wish to consider. And so it raises the query – even in the event you have been capable of finding and communicate the reality, does anyone care sufficient to hear?

DAVIES: Nick Quah is podcast critic for New York Journal and Vulture.

On tomorrow’s present, we talk about an influential determine within the civil rights motion. Although she litigated Brown v. the Board of Schooling, was the primary Black lady to argue earlier than the Supreme Courtroom and represented Martin Luther King, few individuals know her identify – Constance Baker Motley. We’ll speak together with her biographer, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, writer of “Civil Rights Queen.” I hope you possibly can be a part of us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR’s govt producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and critiques are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the present. For Terry Gross, I am Dave Davies.


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