Credible information sources: One man's guide

Struggling print and online media often skip the substance. That leaves information consumers struggling to assemble our own sources of reliable reporting and analysis.
Crosscut archive image.

The Newstand in Bellingham. (Bob Simmons)

Struggling print and online media often skip the substance. That leaves information consumers struggling to assemble our own sources of reliable reporting and analysis.

President Obama is disclosing his end-game strategy for his health-care legislative proposals. Like so many political events, his announcement is provoking a flood of analysis and commentary by media and think-tank types who both know and don't know what they are talking about.

This raises questions about the information sources to which we refer and trust.

As a lifelong Democrat and periodic campaign contributor, I receive perhaps a dozen e-mails daily from Democratic leaders and organizations seeking money or action. Sometimes I send a check. I always absorb the information being offered; mostly, though, it interprets events through a highly partisan lens. The same is true for communications emanating from the other end of the political spectrum. I don't receive Republican or conservative communications often but regularly log in to see what they are saying. No surprise: They also offer a partisan spin. If you seek objective, serious analysis of policy or events, it is best to avoid sources with a hard partisan or ideological basis.

Whom can you believe?

I start my day online with Crosscut (of course), The Seattle Times, online P-I, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Hill, and The Economist. I check for incoming e-mails from organizations and think tanks I trust. Among electronic media, I most rely on National Public Radio and PBS' hour-long nightly news summary.

Now to individuals and specific, credible organizational information sources.

If you want serious, balanced political and policy analysis, I recommend especially the following: Michael Barone, editor of the Almanac of American Politics; pollster Peter Hart; analyst Charlie Cook; CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield; NBC analyst Chuck Todd; CNN's Candy Crowley and John King; the New York Times' David Brooks and Tom Friedman; the Washington Post's David Broder, David Ignatius, Anne Applebaum and Bob Samuelson; U.S. News & World Report publisher/columnist Mort Zuckerman; PBS' Margaret Warner and Paul Solman; and political blogs and The Daily Beast. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages are the most solidly grounded nationally — although both take predictable liberal and conservative positions, respectively. The once august New York Times editorial page has become a bastion of almost laughable political correctitude. Correspondents who serve as credible media watchers are Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and Ken Auletta of the New Yorker.

With so much of our dialogue concerning financial and economic issues, I turn regularly to information from the Concord Coalition, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Institute for International Economics, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and the websites of the Federal Reserve, Office of Management and Budget, and Congressional Budget Office. On these and other issues I also look to The Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Council on Foreign Relations, and Pew Charitable Trusts.

Most of the people and institutions, listed above, could be characterized as moderate to liberal — reflecting, no doubt, my own biases. Most of the institutions have bipartisan leadership and funding. I shy from those with a hard ideological approach, left or right. Those I use and respect have one thing in common: intellectual integrity in their analysis.

The Crosscut family aside, we have fewer local choices falling into the informed-and-also-balanced category. I miss the work of Bill Virgin, economics columnist of the late print P-I. The Times' Jon Talton's economics copy is not yet up to the quality of Virgin's, but it is based in objectivity. I find the Times' Bruce Ramsey and Joni Balter the most consistent purveyors of unbiased, substantive political and policy commentary, although both get less exposure at the Times than several less knowledgeable columnists and correspondents.

Perhaps the city's best journalist is Art Thiel, who regularly writes for the P-I. We could use copy meeting Thiel's high sports-coverage standards in our policy and political coverage. I look to the Times' Mike Lindblom for coverage of important regional transportation issues. I check periodically several local political and policy blogs but, as most such blogs everywhere, find them too often angry and ranting, too thinly informed about the subjects they cover.

As has frequently been observed, we have dumbed down in America. Part of this is due to a failing public-education system. Part of it flows from a coarsened and more shallow popular culture. But part of it also is due to the lowered performance standards of public media, which once were a cornerstone of our democracy.

Print and network TV media are failing economically and, as they fail, often have sacrificed quality and substance in their news coverage. We information consumers often must work hard to find source material we can trust. I've listed above those which I do. You no doubt have your own list and, no doubt, will take issue with mine. The important thing is to seek information you believe to be reliable.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of