Kara Swisher, rocking aviators, AirPods, and a “Lesbians Who Tech” sweatshirt, rolls into Vox Media’s DC headquarters and gets right to work. Today’s episode of On with Kara Swisher, a twice-weekly podcast that launched in September, is about the future of the Republican Party after the House Speaker free-for-all, and she’s tapped CNN’s Manu Raju and The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes to make sense of the mess. Once the guests come on camera, Swisher apologizes for wearing sunglasses, explaining that she forgot her prescription pair at home.
“It’s very Dark Brandon,” says Raju.
“I had it before him,” Swisher shoots back. “Let’s be clear on that situation.”
Swisher, as an interviewer, shows little tolerance for bloviating; she gets to the point. About halfway through the episode, she calls for a “lightning round” of House Republicans, asking Sykes to “tell us if the person is a true believer or a phony.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene?
“She is a conspiracy theorist, batshit-crazy bigot, and antisemite, and for some reason that has made her a rock star in the Republican Party,” says Sykes, a Never Trump–style conservative. And? “She’s a believer—it’s bullshit, but she believes in it.”
After wrapping up the podcast, her third taping that day, Swisher keeps up a rapid-fire patter with me. In the course of a few minutes, she bemoans the lack of “entrepreneurial” reporters, recalls “a big fight with Roger Goodell” after the NFL commissioner suggested her sons play football, and mentions talking the previous night with superagent Ari Emanuel about bull riding. But just like that, Swisher has to run—not to CNN, where she’s booked to appear that night—but for drinks with executives from CNBC. She recently declined to re-sign her contributor contract with the network because she felt constrained by its exclusivity rules “and the money wasn’t enough to keep me there.” Now they’ve come to talk to her again. “I always get approached by the networks,” Swisher tells me. “And they just never”—she lets out an exasperated sigh—“they never know what they want to make.”
Which is not a problem she seems to have. Beyond On, Swisher, 60, also hosts Pivot, a twice-weekly podcast with brash NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway; is writing a memoir about her beat-reporting days covering the dawn of the web; is working on a fictional TV show with another veteran Silicon Valley journalist; is advising Post News, a social platform she hopes will be a Twitter competitor; and is raising four kids, two of whom are toddlers. “She has a coffee before bed every night, after midnight,” Semafor’s Ben Smith texts. “This seems somehow emblematic to me. (In a good way.)”
Swisher, who is five foot two but “writes tall,” as she likes to say, has carved a considerable niche for herself, cutting across television, the web, podcasts, and social media—becoming “the queen of all media,” as veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg puts it. A former Vox Media colleague is less charitable: “She’s always been searching for a way to make her platform even bigger, and she’s done that. But it begins and ends with her. There’s no legacy beyond that.”
Leaving legacy aside for the moment, Swisher has plowed a path through the media landscape alongside industry shifts, from reporting at a newspaper to blogging to cofounding successful websites and conferences to becoming a brand unto herself—part of a trend of elite journalists walking away from legacy outlets in pursuit of more freedom and, potentially, profits. Last year she gave up a podcast and column at The New York Times largely because, as she says, “I don’t need mama telling me what to do.” And she stepped back from Code, the iconic tech conference she’d organized and hosted for the past two decades. “It was like painting the same painting over and over again,” she tells me, “and I just wanted to make something else.”
On is the sixth podcast Swisher has hosted, but it’s the first where she owns the IP and has complete editorial control. She’s riffed on Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg while expanding her aperture well beyond Silicon Valley, interviewing the likes of Darren Star and Geena Davis, and exploring topics ranging from comedy to death. Swisher’s betting there’s an audience willing to turn to her for more than just expertise on tech moguldom. “I mentor a lot of people, and almost every single one of them is worried about losing their place if they step out of line. And I’m like, the only way you get higher is if you step out of line,” Swisher tells me. “That’s the only way. Seriously. Unless you’re untalented. And then you should stay in line.”
On a Monday afternoon in January, Swisher’s house is chaotic, but the good kind, the kind you find in a place where life is happening. Toys are strewn everywhere and a baby is laughing and sometimes crying and the sink is running in the kitchen, where the Golden Child—as Swisher’s three-year-old daughter is commonly referred to on her podcasts—is about to have a snack. There’s lots of talk of “Elsa cheese,” which is string cheese that Disney has branded with Frozen characters. The Golden Child crawls up onto the counter, where, at the opposite end, Swisher and her wife, the journalist Amanda Katz, are catching up on each other’s day.
“How was the Scaramucci thing? Who won?” Katz asks, referring to a public debate Swisher did that morning with financier Anthony Scaramucci on whether Musk—whom Swisher has known and covered since the ’90s—is killing Twitter.
“I did, obviously,” says Swisher. “I said he is, and it’s killing Elon more than he’s killing it.”
“And then Pivot was good,” Swisher says. “Scott made at least 14 prostitute jokes.”
Despite having a ministroke a decade back, Swisher famously does not like taking time off and works around the clock. In December, “she had heart surgery and she was working the day before and the day after. That’s not an exaggeration,” Galloway tells me. (When I ask Swisher how the surgery went, she replies, “Good, obviously.”) Her turbocharged work ethic could be traced, in part, to tragedy early in life. When she was five, her father died suddenly at 34 of complications from a brain aneurysm. Fresh out of the Navy and with three kids, he’d just purchased his first house and landed a gig as the head of anesthesia at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. “He thought he was headed for the big time. He just died—fell over one day. And that has informed everything I’ve done. I’m like, I don’t have time for this,” says Swisher, adding, “You don’t have time, either. Nobody has time.”