The Why: Philly Explained-logo

The Why: Philly Explained

News & Politics Podcasts

There’s more to every story, if you take the time to tell it. Get to the “why” behind the issues that matter in the Greater Philadelphia region with hosts Annette John-Hall and Shai Ben-Yaacov. Each episode, they’ll pluck one local story from your feed and break it down.


United States


There’s more to every story, if you take the time to tell it. Get to the “why” behind the issues that matter in the Greater Philadelphia region with hosts Annette John-Hall and Shai Ben-Yaacov. Each episode, they’ll pluck one local story from your feed and break it down.






400 stories: What The Why taught us about Philly

Shai Ben-Yaacov and Annette John-Hall, the hosts of The Why, have spent the past two years asking the questions many people have in their minds after reading the news: Why is this happening? Why is this person doing this or this thing a certain way? As we listened back to the podcast’s 400 episodes, common themes emerged. Philadelphia is strangely unique; Philly has system flaws; Philly is a city full of interested, committed people, and Philly is just plain fun. So for this final episode of The Why, Ben-Yaacov and John-Hall look back on some of their favorite shows — stories that revealed a little bit about why Philly is the way it is.


Will Philly’s new police oversight commission be any better?

Philadelphia has had a Police Advisory Commission for decades. In theory, it was responsible for handling complaints from citizens about police misconduct. In practice, the commission wielded little power, and the process for a single complaint to be fully adjudicated often took years. Now, Philadelphia voters have approved a new independent body to do the job. But there are very few details about how the Citizen Police Oversight Commission will work, and how it will be funded–leaving some wondering whether it will be any better than the body it’s replacing. Annette talks this over with WHYY Criminal Justice Reporter Aaron Moselle.


A decade after lawsuit, Philly is still stopping and frisking

We look back on the 10th anniversary of the Philadelphia lawsuit that released decade’s worth of data showing the racial disparities of stop-and-frisk. What have we learned from this lawsuit? And why is it important that we keep tracking this data? Longtime civil rights attorney David Rudovsky, who brought the suit a decade ago, says progress has been slow, but that he has some hope for improvement.


A camera, a mask and 2020’s most enduring image

Since March, Philadelphia area photographer Kyle Cassidy has taken pictures of essential workers as a part of a series called “Between Us and Catastrophe:” healthcare workers, Instacart shoppers, members of city government, sanitation workers, and more. Cassidy interviewed these workers as well, asking them about the risks they’re taking and the sacrificing they’re making to keep us all safe. “Some of these people are fighting COVID because they heard the clarion call and they ran out to stand between us and this virus and fight it. And other people are fighting this virus because we left them out there,” he says. Why could pictures like these, highlighting essential workers, stay with us as the most enduring images of 2020? Cassidy’s photographs are currently on display at an outdoor exhibit at the Science History Institute.


$1 billion in relief sat around while Pa. businesses struggled

Last spring, small business owners in industries like food service and entertainment say they were able to limp through COVID-19 restrictions thanks to help from the CARES Act, which provided relief from the federal government. Then a second wave of COVID hit and some of those businesses were asked to adhere to restrictions yet again. But this time, no relief was forthcoming — even though some was available. Pennsylvania had $1 billion dollars of CARES Act money sitting around for six months while the state’s small business owners struggled and lawmakers haggled. Why didn’t the remaining money go to direct aid? Keystone Crossroads reporters Miles Bryan and Katie Meyer walk us through why things shook out the way they did, and why politicians on both sides of the aisle are pointing the finger at the federal government.


The struggle is real for working women during the pandemic

In January, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a milestone: For only the second time in history, and the first during a non-recession, women held the majority of jobs in the country. It was a sign of the future and of the changing American workforce. That is, until the pandemic hit. Since March, women have been more likely than men to lose their jobs in 2020, and four times more likely to leave the workforce. Executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Engagement Jovida Hill explains why the pandemic is hitting women’s working lives the hardest, and what women she’s spoken to say they need.


Philly’s Wanamaker Organ has survived 2 pandemics

For many in the Philadelphia area, the holidays mean taking a trip to Macy’s in Center City to see its famous light show and listen to the symphonic sounds of the Wanamaker Organ. This year, because of the pandemic, Macy’s is putting most of their holiday traditions online in their interactive Santaland experience. But department stores haven’t always changed their celebrations for the sake of public health. In 1918, when the Spanish Flu was spreading, Wanamaker’s — the store that later became Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia — put on a parade where people stood shoulder to shoulder, a sing-along organ concert inside the store. Department store historian Michael Lisicky explains what changed between 1918 and now, and how Macy’s can keep the holiday spirit alive in a Christmas season like no other.


Penn’s $100 million pledge has a backstory

Christmas came early this year for the Philadelphia School District. The University of Pennsylvania pledged $100 million to go toward fixing unsafe school buildings. Over the next decade, the Ivy League institution will send $10 million to city schools each year. Activist leaders on campus and across the city have called for a donation like this for a long time. They want Penn to pay payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOTs, calling foul on the regulations that allow a nonprofit that owns $3.2 billion in city real estate to skip property taxes. Like the tax dollars contributed by other property owners in the city, their payments could towards public schools and infrastructure, these critics say. Emily Dowdall, policy director of Reinvestment Fund, says the university has instead chosen to invest in public amenities in its own backyard, like the Penn-funded elementary school in West Philadelphia where university employees and their neighbors in the area can now send their children. She explains why Penn is now turning its attention to the school district as a whole and the difference the donation could make.


Delaware’s new class of LGBTQ representatives

Delaware has never sworn an openly gay person into its General Assembly. That will change this January, when three members of the LGBTQ community join the legislature, making history for the state. WHYY reporter Zoë Read spoke to queer people across the state who said they saw this election as an especially important victory. They say that their hard-fought rights have slowly come under threat during the Trump administration, and they worry they could lose things like marriage equality with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Zoë explains the progressive agendas of Delaware’s new representatives, and what they’ll be able to do to protect the rights of their LGBTQ constituents.


Not all remote learning is created equal

As more schools decide to stay remote during the pandemic, education advocates worry about the effects of virtual learning, especially on socialization and early literacy. Keystone Crossroads reporters Miles Bryan and Emily Rizzo have been spending time with families across the economic spectrum who have been striving to help their kids get what they need out of remote learning. They say parents have been doing everything from creating learning pods lead by private tutors to utilizing city-provided programs housed in recreation centers — all evidence the pandemic is further exposing the opportunity gaps between rich and poor students that have long existed.


Why Trump’s lawyers keep targeting Pa.

A full two weeks after the election, the Trump campaign is still challenging the Pennsylvania vote. Today, a federal judge will listen to the campaign’s arguments at a hearing in Western Pennsylvania. But legal experts say Trump’s barrage of lawsuits doesn’t have merit. In addition, President-Elect Joe Biden won the state by 70,000 votes, and that 1% margin means those lawsuits won’t win the commonwealth for Trump. But Trump is forging ahead anyway. Ryan Briggs of WHYY’s PlanPhilly explains Trump’s legal challenges and why he’s suing.


Inside Philly’s new COVID-19 restrictions

As COVID cases soar, Philadelphia is unrolling a new round of restrictions: no more indoor dining at restaurants, and gyms and movie theaters must close. City officials initially tried to avoid taking these measures, and even increased indoor capacity at restaurants as cases were rising, likely because they were concerned about the impact they could have on businesses already struggling during the pandemic. Instead, they previously pressed residents to take personal responsibility, repeatedly encouraging them to wear a mask, wash their hands, and stay six feet apart from others. WHYY health reporter Nina Feldman explains why Philadelphia is changing its course.


What worked for Biden in Delaware might not in D.C.

Delaware politicians are known for their civility and a spirit of compromise. It traces back to one of the state’s oldest traditions: Return Day, an 18th-century ritual that includes a carriage ride, a town crier, and a hatchet that literally gets buried in the sand. It usually occurs every two years and attracts the state’s leading elected officials, though the coronavirus limited the celebration this year. Still, President-Elect Joe Biden is a fan of Return Day and seldom misses one. How have Return Day and Delaware’s unique brand of politics shaped Biden? And will he be able to carry Delaware’s ideals to the White House? Our guest, Mark Eichmann, deputy managing editor of WHYY’s Delaware desk, explains this historic Delaware tradition.


NJ voters legalized recreational marijuana — but the fight isn’t over

Last week, New Jersey voted overwhelmingly on a constitutional amendment to make recreational marijuana legal, a law that has been 10 years in the making. Philadelphia Inquirer cannabis reporter Sam Wood walks us through the Garden State’s path to legalization, which included framing legalization as a social justice issue. He says some cannabis activists disagree with this framing and claim new regulatory structures exclude people of color who don’t have big investors behind them.


The trauma caused by viral videos of police killing Black men

A cell phone video of the killing of West Philadelphia resident Walter Wallace Jr. was viewed more than a 1 million times. Then, on Nov. 4th, the Philadelphia Police Department released the official body camera footage of the shooting, which was undeniably disturbing. There are two schools of thought about whether videos of police killing Black men should be released. One says they should, because they raise awareness about police brutality and systemic racism, while another says no, because watching them could be traumatic, especially for Black and brown people. Guest Layla A. Jones of WHYY’s Billy Penn explains about the mental health effects of viral police videos and what people who are traumatized by them can do to help themselves heal.


Van Drew race speaks to U.S. political divide

All across the United States, election officials are counting votes — not just for the presidential race, but for Congressional races, too. In New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew leads challenger Amy Kennedy. But it’s a tight race. Van Drew has been a South Jersey politician for over two decades, but this is the first time he’s run as a Republican. Last year, he did something that is rare in politics — he switched parties from Democrat to Republican and pledged his undying support for President Trump. Why did Van Drew flip to the Trump playbook? And what does his fight to keep his seat say about the political divide driving the 2020 presidential election? Our guest, WHYY New Jersey political reporter Joe Hernandez, breaks down a story that has received national attention.


Why Pa. didn’t have results on Election Day

Over the weekend, President Trump said he wanted to see election results by the end of Election Day and suggested that Democrats may try to steal the election if the votes weren’t counted by then. But with record numbers of mail-in ballots this year — more than 3 million voters requested them — and the fact that Pennsylvania is among a handful of states that won’t be able to start counting votes until Election Day, it’s highly unlikely the commonwealth will be able to process its ballots in one day. Our guest, WHYY reporter Aaron Moselle, has been digging into ballot-counting operations in Philadelphia and the suburbs and explains why results will take longer in a battleground state that could decide this election.


Pa. voters speak

Tomorrow is Election Day. More than 2.4 million early ballots have already been collected in Pennsylvania. Millions more people are expected to head to the polls in person on Tuesday, masks on. WHYY and Keystone Crossroads have been talking to voters across the state — from proud Trumpers to folks ridin’ with Biden, from the burbs to the city to rural Pa. Today, we step aside and bring you the voices of people voting in what could be the most important swing state this election.


911 program could have helped spare Walter Wallace’s life

Walter Wallace Jr.’s family says they called for an ambulance on Monday afternoon because the 27-year-old was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Police arrived instead, and Wallace was shot and killed by two officers. Only three weeks earlier, the department announced a new program calling for a clinically trained behavioral health worker to help identify 911 calls that require a different kind of response. WHYY reporters Ximena Conde and Nina Feldman explain why that initiative wasn’t implemented in time, potentially costing Wallace his life.


Philly could ban using tear gas, rubber bullets on protesters

On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council is expected to pass a ban police officers’ use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other “less lethal munitions” against protesters. The city’s police department already put a moratorium on these tactics after police clashed with racial justice demonstrators in late May and early June. That policy was put to the test Monday night when violence erupted in response to the death of Walter Wallace, a Black man who was shot and killed by police in the city’s Cobb’s Creek neighborhood. Darryl C. Murphy of WHYY’s PlanPhilly and WHYY reporter Ximena Conde covered more than six hours of public hearings on the bill, and join us to explain why residents and some city council members pushed to make that ban law.