Meet Maren Machles from Bad Watchdog

Jessie Nguyen
Marketing and Communication Specialist
June 5, 2024
·
5
min read

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With a growing network of podcasts and organizations that create educational content about democracy, civic engagement and civil discourse, we caught up with one of our hosts Maren Machles about Bad Watchdog, misconduct and a failure of leadership in the Office of Inspector General and the criminal justice system.

Q: Tell me about yourself and Bad Watchdog.

Maren: I’m Maren Machles, I'm the host of Bad Watchdog and an investigative journalist. I also write and produce the show and do some of the mixing and interviewing. I've spent a lot of my time focused on criminal justice systems from immigration to state, federal and sometimes tribal criminal justice systems. I've been at the Project On Government Oversight or POGO for a couple of years now and we recently did our first season of Bad Watchdog in 2023. Right now we're working on our second season.

Bad Watchdog is a six-part investigative podcast that's narrative-driven and character-driven. We use our investigations as the foundation for the season and build the narrative around that, bringing the audience along as we unpack some of the twists and turns as our investigators uncover things. The first season was about the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, and how people within the office were trying to raise alarm bells about how he was dropping the ball on certain issues.

Q: How did the idea to create the Bad Watchdog podcast come about?

Maren: I have a background in video documentary and have done some work in podcasting. When I joined POGO, I think they had always wanted to turn an investigation into a podcast, and we're excited about that media. We had a number of investigations from Nick Schwellenbach and Adam Zagorin, our two senior investigators. They'd collected a lot of whistleblower stories and internal documents and showed this pattern of misconduct and a failure in the leadership in the Office of Inspector General. And so it naturally lends itself to a podcast because you're following this one person, Cuffari, through their journey in this role and using that as a way to talk about different systemic issues within a single agency. I think there was always a desire to do more of an investigative podcast and we were waiting for the right story to kick it off. And that was Joseph Cuffari for us.

Q: What were some goals you and the team set out to achieve when Bad Watchdog first started?

Maren: We were excited about the chance to connect with audiences beyond Washington because the Project On Government Oversight is very Washington-focused as much as we're doing work that impacts the rest of the country. A lot of our audience is government insiders, and Bad Watchdog has a lot of fans in the general community. We wanted to try to reach more people especially when inspectors general are so important to our democracy and not many people know what they do. So this was a creative way to get more people educated about the role, not just Joseph Cuffari and how he did that role, but how the role operates and how important it is to the function of our government.

Q: How has Bad Watchdog as a podcast helped POGO in not only getting the word out about the importance of an inspector general but also educating the public about public issues and democracy?

Maren: We continue to get tips from inside the federal government as a result of the podcast, which is cool. But as far as educating people, I'll often hear from people who have listened to it that they had no idea what an inspector general was, or they didn't know that the Department of Homeland Security was created after 9/11, or that it had FEMA and ICE and all of these big agencies that we hear about often and yet we're not fully aware of how they all connect, and to also have it be connected with members of Congress who are heavily invested in the performance of our inspectors general. People were interested to hear who they should be calling, who they should be focusing on and who they should be talking to. A lot of people were pleasantly surprised because I think when you hear inspectors general, it doesn't sound like a sexy story but it ended up being very interesting to a lot of people who aren't typically in that space.

Q: Looking ahead, what are some goals that the Bad Watchdog team has in store for this year?

Maren: I’m really excited to see what people think of season two because it is very different, but I think it's just as good if not maybe a little bit better. I hope people feel that way.

We're planning on doing season three so we're going to start planning those interviews and what that production schedule looks like. And we want to broaden our audience as much as possible. The goal was to reach more people through podcasting but there are a lot of podcasts and it's hard to cut through the noise and show people this is worth listening to. So improving our marketing and trying to reach as many people as possible so they can hear these stories and the cool and brave people who are working to keep the federal government accountable. Their stories are awesome and they deserve to be heard

Q: What is the one reason people should be listening to Bad Watchdog right now?

Maren: There's a lot of thankless jobs in the federal government, people that are doing a lot of work to try to make sure that our government is working for us, and they don't always get the credit that they're due. I think Bad Watchdog does a good job of putting those people at the forefront and even people who aren't working within the federal government but working outside of it to hold the federal government accountable. If you're interested in learning more about the complexity of the federal government while still having that human connection and people's lived experiences, Bad Watchdog is a cool podcast to listen to and hear from people you wouldn't normally hear from.

Discover the top episodes selected by our hosts

Bad Watchdog (Podcast Series 2023) - IMDb

Bad Watchdog: The Missing Text Messages

How did a peaceful transfer of power turn into the first breach of the U.S. Capitol in over two centuries? We may never have all the answers, thanks to the DHS watchdog’s failure to alert Congress for months about deleted Secret Service text messages. What’s more, Cuffari refused a request to help recover the text messages and halted an internal Secret Service investigation into their deletion.

Government watchdogs, called inspectors general, are supposed to hold powerful actors accountable. When they don’t do their jobs, the impacts can be disastrous. Investigators at the Project On Government Oversight examine Cuffari’s initial response to the missing Secret Service text messages and explore his abrupt change of course after a former White House aide gave shocking testimony about then-President Trump’s actions on January 6th.

➡️ Listen now!

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