John Quincy Adams
Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
James K. Polk
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
William Howard Taft
Warren G. Harding
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
George H. W. Bush
George W. Bush
“Presidential” is the first in a series of podcasts by Washington Post journalist Lillian Cunningham.
Over the course of 44 weekly audio episodes — stretching from January 2016 through Election Day in November — Cunningham chronicled her effort to better understand the lives, legacies and leadership styles of all of the U.S. presidents. She interviewed prominent biographers, historians, White House correspondents and even presidential relatives to create intimate, revealing portraits of each commander in chief week after week. At the heart of the podcast series was this question: What makes for a great American president, and how has that changed over time?
For those seeking to better understand the story of America, and to what extent a single leader — for good or for ill — can change the course of a nation, the “Presidential” podcast is required listening. The series was an Academy of Podcasters finalist for best news and politics podcast, as well as a Webby Awards honoree. It has been downloaded by millions of listeners worldwide since its launch.
In 2017 and 2018, The Post released Cunningham’s second podcast series, “Constitutional,” which explored important fights over the U.S. Constitution throughout American history and influential figures who shaped and reshaped the words and spirit of that document over time.
Cunningham's third podcast series, "Moonrise," explores the real origin story of America's decision to go to the moon, digging into declassified presidential documents, the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, and even the birth of science fiction, to unearth a story that has so much to reveal about our country -- and about being human on this Earth.
ABOUT THE HOST
Lillian Cunningham has been a journalist with The Washington Post since 2010. She began as the editor and feature writer of The Post’s “On Leadership” section. As part of that work, she was awarded a 2011 Emmy and a 2016 Emmy for a series of video interviews she conducted with leaders in business, politics and the arts. It was the experience covering leadership news and issues that led her to dream up the “Presidential” podcast, which she envisioned as a way to investigate the historical successes and failures of various leadership styles in the White House. She was host, editor and producer of the series. She has since become The Post’s enterprise reporter for audio, working on serialized podcasts including “Constitutional” and a forthcoming project slated for 2019.
ABOUT THE ARTWORK AND MUSIC
The presidential figurines of George Washington through Richard Nixon were made by Louis Marx & Co. Figurines of Gerald Ford through Donald Trump were made by Patric M. Verrone. Photos and art direction were by Amy King, and the background illustrations in the photos were made by Craig & Karl for The Washington Post. The design and development was led by Jake Crump. The original music for the podcast, featuring various renditions of “Hail to the Chief,” was composed by Dave Westner for The Washington Post.
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NEXT IN THE SERIES
The “Constitutional” podcast: Listen here The third podcast: Coming 2019
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How can I listen to “Presidential”?
“Presidential” is an audio podcast comprising 44 episodes, each around 40 minutes in length, which can be listened to on your computer or mobile device whenever and wherever you would like. It’s free and doesn’t require any special software. Just click “play” on an episode to start listening. Ready to dive in? Visit the Episodes page to listen to the podcast on The Washington Post site, or find it on these other audio platforms: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and RadioPublic.
Do I have to listen to the episodes in order?
I loved “Presidential” and “Constitutional.” Can I suggest a topic for the next series?
We are already at work on the third podcast, but we are always happy to hear suggestions for future series. In fact, that’s how we got the idea for both “Constitutional” and the next one. You can email the show creator directly at email@example.com.
When’s the next podcast coming?
The third podcast is slated to publish in 2019, but we plan to announce the topic in the fall of 2018. You can be the first to know by signing up here for an email alert, or by following Lillian Cunningham’s Twitter account.
Are transcripts of the podcast available online?
Yes! You asked for them, so we published them. You can find an episode’s transcript by going to the Episodes page, then looking for the “Transcript” link next to each episode’s audio player. If you’re a teacher, you can also find a “Presidential” lesson plan for your students on our Education page.
Do you ever do educational speaking engagements?
Due to the nature of our production schedule, it is usually hard to coordinate classroom visits. The best way to inquire about opportunities such as conference panels or schoolwide talks is to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I buy or download the “Presidential” music?
Unfortunately the theme music is not publicly available at this time. But we’re so glad you like it!
Where can I find the presidential figurines featured in the artwork?
The presidential figurines of George Washington through Richard Nixon were made by Louis Marx & Co., and the figurines of Gerald Ford through Donald Trump were made by Patric M. Verrone. You can often find old collector’s sets online through sites like eBay.
For the Classroom
We’ve heard from many teachers that “Presidential” is a great tool in the classroom. While that wasn’t our intention at the outset, we’re so excited that it has found a second life as an educational resource and we want to make it as easy as possible for teachers to incorporate it into their lesson planning.
At teachers’ requests, we have created printable transcripts of every episode. You can find them by going to the Episodes page, then looking for the “Transcript” link to the right of each episode’s audio player.
We also worked with our colleagues at Newspaper in Education to create lesson plans that teachers can use to help structure academic exercises around the podcast. Below you will find downloadable PDFs of the three lesson plans — one based off the George Washington episode, one based off the Andrew Jackson episode and one based off the Abraham Lincoln episode. All three of these lesson plans explore questions of presidential leadership and are designed for use in high-school U.S. history classrooms, though they can be adapted by teachers for use with younger or older students as well. Read and download them here:
Lesson plans: Presidential leadership
Creating the presidency
A lesson plan exploring George Washington’s leadership
See lesson plan
Altering the presidency
A lesson plan exploring Andrew Jackson’s leadership
See lesson plan
Saving the presidency
A lesson plan exploring Abraham Lincoln’s leadership
See lesson plan
Making the podcast
We hope the questions, exercises and additional materials contained in these guides will give teachers different ideas and options for how to engage students in learning more about presidential history. For example, some teachers might tease out a single question to use as an in-class activity — they can pose the question, play a relevant clip of the podcast, then have students break into small groups to discuss. Other teachers might provide extra credit to students who listen to the podcast at home and complete the entire packet of questions on their own by the end of the quarter.
However you choose to use these guides, we hope they will serve as a useful springboard for your teaching goals. Note that, in addition to providing questions on the particular president, each lesson plan also broadens out to engage students in questions of how that president’s life, leadership style and legacy intersect with those of other presidents throughout history. Each plan also includes, at the end, some further reading from The Post’s archive that relates to the office of the presidency but may or may not directly tie to the podcast episode itself.
For additional suggestions on how to create educational exercises and activities around these “Presidential” lesson plans, please visit the Newspaper in Education site.
Has listening to “Presidential” sparked a deeper interest in presidential history? Here are some ways you can keep learning, even after you’ve finished the podcast.
THE “PRESIDENTIAL” READING LIST
Many of the guests on our episodes are prominent historians and biographers who have written in great depth about the presidency, so we put together a reading list to complement the podcast. It features books that are either mentioned in “Presidential” episodes or are penned by our guests. It also includes books that Post readers voted the best presidential biographies. See the list
After publishing the podcast, we heard from lots of listeners who wanted transcripts of the episodes so they could easily reread portions of their favorite interviews or use them in a classroom setting. We have since published downloadable and printable versions, which you can find by clicking on the “Transcript” link next to each episode on our Episodes page. Go to the episodes
MORE STORIES FROM THE POST
The Washington Post has been covering the American presidency from the nation’s capital for decades, and The Post’s site is a great repository of presidential stories from history. (For example, read this breakdown of how The Post originally reported on President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.) The Post also has a blog called Retropolis and a podcast called “Retropod” that might be of particular interest to “Presidential” listeners. It focuses on fascinating stories from the past, rediscovered. Listen to the Retropod podcast
RESOURCES FEATURED ON THE PODCAST
While numerous institutions across the country contributed their experts and expertise to the “Presidential” podcast, there are two in particular that served as constant resources on the project from beginning to end. The staff of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress dedicated an incredible amount of time and knowledge to helping us sift through their large collection of presidential papers, much of which is available online. And the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was another invaluable resource, especially its robust collection of presidential profiles and archived speeches.