The Gist

The First “Welfare Queen”

Linda Taylor was one-of-a-kind. But her fraud was presented as typical, and proof that America’s social safety net needed burning.

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In the interview, Linda Taylor committed many crimes, but only one of them—welfare fraud—really mattered to politicians, the press, and the public. Anecdotes about kidnapping and possible murder would only get in the way of the portrait Ronald Reagan presented to American voters in 1976, of a woman whose defrauding of taxpayer money was typical among those dependent on social programs. Slate national editor Josh Levin wrote Slate’s most read story ever, and has expanded it into a book—The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth—and a Slate podcast: The Queen, available now wherever you get your podcasts.

In the Spiel, Anand Giridharadas fact checking Jared Diamond.

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Podcast production by Daniel Schroeder and Pierre Bienaimé.