Johnson — who is Diane Rehm's successor on the show, which is named after the First Amendment — says he plans to do that by creating a "safe, smart, compelling space" where people of any political persuasion can feel heard.
Johnson says he gets emails from listeners who call him both conservative and liberal, unable to figure out where he stands on the political spectrum. He is proud of that accomplishment because he doesn't want to offer listeners his own opinion, but rather to speak with anyone, regardless of political position, with a level of mutual respect.
"There is a common basis of respect with which we should treat one another even if we disagree, and I don't think that's a value that you should have if you're a person of color or an LGBT person, you just have that because you're a human being. We try to treat everyone on the show like they're human," Johnson tells The Advocate.
As a host, he says he tries not to take a side. He treats his guests as he would treat a visitor to his home. "There's no point in inviting somebody that you're just going to beat up. You invite somebody to have a worthwhile encounter," he says.
Inspired by Harvey Milk's philosophy that prejudice against LGBT people would start to crumble when people come out of the closet, Johnson believes that once a listener is able to connect a story to a social issue, they are able to exhibit greater empathy for others.
"Once you know someone who's dealing with an issue and you get to really hear their story in a compelling way, you can't be the same … you're affected," he says.
"What we're trying to do not is not tied to a particular political bent but with a larger mission of allowing everyone to see everyone much more clearly, so if we can find a way to do that storytelling well, then anything's on the table."