When I started the ‘Daly Grind’ newsletter last September, I vowed to keep it mostly free of politics. I think I’ve done just that, and I certainly plan to continue.
But as a political writer for multiple publications, I often hear from people who share a common frustration related to politics that transcends parties and ideology, and tends to produce a specific question that I thought would make a good topic this week:
Where can I go to get honest news and commentary?
It’s great question, and also an important one. It’s wise to stay informed and know what’s going on in both the country and the world. It’s also good to know what our elected leaders are up to, since they make important decisions on our behalf. (Well, at least they’re supposed to).
These days, a lot of people get their national news from either 24-hour cable-news networks or the Internet, in part because those platforms are always available. A big problem with both, however (that I think more and more people have come to realize over time), is that they largely follow a business or entertainment model, rather than a journalistic model.
In other words, most such outlets are dispensing news and opinion in a way that appeals to the biases and preconceptions of a certain type of news consumer, rather than from a position of good faith and earnestness.
“No duh,” many of you are assuredly thinking right now. After all, media bias has been around a very long time (and I’ve been writing about it for a very long time). But the problem is even more deliberate and consequential these days than a lot of people probably realize.
Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News, wrote about the issue in a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, describing the societal result of this model to be “a nation of news consumers both overfed and malnourished.”
He added, “Americans gorge themselves daily on empty informational calories, indulging their sugar fixes of self-affirming half-truths and even outright lies.”
It’s a hard truth for some to swallow, but it’s a truth nonetheless.
Stirewalt wasn’t done:
Cable news producers work in a world of 15-minute increments in which their superiors can track even tiny changes in viewership.
Ratings, combined with scads of market research, tell them what keeps viewers entranced and what makes them pick up their remotes. It’s no different from the pressure online outlets face to serve up items that will generate clicks and steer consumers ever deeper into the maw of “you might be interested in” content.
Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet.
Again, media bias is nothing new. Neither is consumer bias. As a right-of-center thinker myself (I consider myself a fiscal conservative and social libertarian), I freely admit to shying away from many left-of-center media sources over the years (other than to keep tabs on how they frame certain stories). This is primarily because I think a lot of them present issues unfairly. Too many in the industry come across as activists rather than journalists, with varying degrees of subtlety.
In recent years, I’ve felt the same way about many right-of-center media sources (though there are far fewer of them out there), most of which I’ve frustratingly watched transition from having a generally conservative perspective (that once served as an ideological counter-balance in the media) to a hard-edged, hopelessly sycophantic and partisan one.
And though the ratings and click-rates for these outlets are through the roof (and have been for some time), I’ve been hearing from more and more people who are totally fed up with the nonsense, and are starved for news and commentary that’s presented in a fair, honest, and informed manner.
These people don’t necessarily need their news and views right down the center, or covering a wide range of topics. After all, each person has issues that are of particular importance to them, and others that aren’t.
But they do want those they get their news and analysis from to have integrity. They want them to be authentic. They want them free of hidden agendas. They also want them to apply single-standards and proper context to the stories they cover.
These things are certainly important to me. So, I’ve evaluated quite a few sources of news and commentary over time, in search of ones that are credible and don’t leave me feeling like I need to take a shower. I’ve found some that I trust and respect, and I’m here to offer a few recommendations (links are in the titles).
Keep in mind, as I said, that I have right-of-center sensibilities (though I always make an honest attempt to understand where those with opposing views are coming from). That might factor into whether or not you want to place any stock in what I have to say on this topic.
The Dispatch is an online news publication whose management and staff are mostly made up of former talent from National Review and The Weekly Standard, including Jonah Goldberg, Stephen Hayes, and David French. It bills itself as “providing engaged citizens with fact-based reporting and commentary on politics, policy and culture—informed by conservative principles.”
It’s an accurate description, and while some of you may be turned off by the “conservative” part, it’s important to understand that The Dispatch is not a partisan outfit. They’re highly respected among many in the mainstream media, their reporting is thorough and largely objective, they hold both sides of the political divide accountable, the knowledge and thoughtfulness of their commentators is first-rate, and — perhaps most importantly — they’re honest and fair.
No, I’m not a paid spokesman for The Dispatch. In fact, I pay them. Though they feature a good amount of free content, they’re primarily a subscription-based platform. They don’t run online ads (which eliminates click-bait and junk stories), and are instead funded off their reasonably-priced memberships. And frankly, you get way more than your money’s worth.
Axios is mostly a hard-news website, known for its matter-of-fact, breaking news stories out of Washington. They pride themselves on their deep access to top government officials, and they have a strong reputation for not only getting stories right… but also getting them out first.
Some of you may be familiar with Jonathan Swan, their breakout journalist, for his rather animated (and impressive) interview of President Trump a few months back:
Amy is the National Editor of The Cook Political Report. She works the DC beat, and puts forth some great data and trend based, non-partisan analysis.
Jonah is one of today’s most brilliant and insightful political writers. He’s also one of the funniest. In a political era in which many in his field have sold out to partisanship and tribal pandering, Goldberg has remained a principled truth-teller and voice of reason. He also has a fantastic podcast appropriately called The Remnant, which I never miss.
I met Real Clear Politics’ A.B. Stoddard at an event a couple years ago, and I told her something I truly admired about her appearances on various news networks over the years: “I still don’t know what your personal politics are.”
That’s not to say she doesn’t express her opinions. She does, and they’re highly informed, but her views aren’t dictated by partisan interests, and she holds both sides to the same standard. She’s also a great writer.
On issues of personal integrity, ethics, and moral clarity, I trust few commentators (if any) more than David French. He’s a brilliant writer and an incredibly thoughtful individual who always has interesting things to say on topics including politics, religion, and legal matters.
Full disclosure: For those of you who don’t already know, I work for journalist Bernie Goldberg (formerly with CBS News, Fox News, and Real Sports HBO), and write for his website; it’s one of my many gigs. But I assure you that my recommendation of his news commentary isn’t for my own benefit, but rather yours.
I’ve long admired Bernie for his unapologetic honesty, independent thinking, and great insight on matters mostly related to the news media and American culture. Though there’s some free content on Bernie’s website (including my work), his very reasonably priced Patreon membership (which includes weekly columns, audio commentaries, and Q&A sessions) includes some very thought-provoking content.
Jay is the managing editor at the Washington Examiner, and like Jonah Goldberg, he has established himself as a voice of honesty and integrity in a profession that doesn’t always do a good job of representing such things. While his work for multiple publications is strong, I particularly like his weekly newsletter, The Monday Notice. It’s always a frank, refreshing look at interesting stories.
Well, hopefully you’ll find some value in those recommendations. If not, I tried.
Do you have some favorite sources of news and commentary that you find reliable and insightful? If so, let me know what they are. I’d love to check them out.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Baby monkey clinging to his mother in the jungle. Or maybe just my dogs.
I admit that I was a very late adopter to folk singer, Tracy Chapman. She hit it big in 1988 with her single “Fast Car,” and though it was a great song, I don’t think my music tastes were refined enough at the time to appreciate it as such.
Well, that eventually changed, and I became a fan. Chapman’s debut album, which also includes the hits “Talkin' 'bout a Revolution" and “Baby Can I Hold You,” is a soulful, blusey experience. Plus, it sounds particularly good on vinyl.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!