Nelson Mandela once remarked, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” While this Nobel Laureate’s words ring true, it is important to remember that the definition of “education” is two-fold. Not only does it encompass knowledge of social history, the sciences, and economics, but also an understanding of the pervasive issues facing our world today. It is our responsibility, as citizens of a democratic nation, to make informed decisions when we cast votes for representative officials. But perhaps of even greater consequence is the cultural progress that we can all influence—individually as well as collectively—when we are well-versed in the matters at hand.
So the question necessarily arises: where should we turn to educate ourselves? What sources can we trust to present factual, balanced news?
It is essential to stay up to date with current events, but I prefer not to invest most of my time in raw news accounts, regardless of the newspaper or media outlet from which they come. It is undoubtedly important to skim the headlines and to delve deeper into stories of significance; however, aside from presenting factual news, most articles offer scant analysis. Your time would be better spent reading relevant op-eds (an abbreviation of ‘opposite the editorial pages, although often confused for ‘opinion-editorial’). Such articles offer both insight and analysis, presenting the writer’s perspective on a given issue. I suggest that you read columns of both conservative and liberal persuasions in order to better acquaint yourself with arguments of both political persuasions. Read these articles critically: consider the arguments they make, the evidence they cite, and the tone in which their opinion is presented.
One caveat: make sure that the article stems from a respectable source. A brief Google or Wikipedia search of the author can provide invaluable information about his/her reliability, background and experience with the topic.
My favorite Website is RealClearPolitics.com, an non-partisan U.S. political news website that aggregates the best articles, polling data, speeches, blogs and think tank-based research available. The site is updated twice a day and sports both morning and afternoon editions. For those whose interest lies primarily in foreign affairs, there is a complementary site called RealClearWorld.com. Both do a terrific job of amassing well-written articles that fall on both ends of the political spectrum.
Of the media outlets that RealClearPolitics draws from, my favorite domestic ones are the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Foreign Policy. Although all of these sources are fantastic, they simply aren’t enough. It is crucial to peer at every issue through a foreign lens – one that is removes your particular political perspective and offers a different point of view. I love reading articles from the Economist, Financial Times, the Guardian and the Times; in many cases I actually prefer them to national news sources. All of RealClear’s sources are fantastic, and I promise you that wading through any of them would provide a most rewarding experience.
As far as individual writers are concerned, I’m a particularly big fan of Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times, who produces some great work and also keeps an interesting little blog that he updates regularly. Luigi Zingales is a young economist at the University of Chicago who also serves as a correspondent to the Financial Times. He is knowledgeable and articulate on all things economic. At the risk of parroting popular opinion, I’ll admit that I appreciate the perspectives of Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria. Both are incredibly well-informed and persuasive. Although these next two persons are not recurrent contributors to any publication, lawyer Theodore Olson and business executive David Goldhill have penned articles that I would encourage everybody to read. Olson, a lifelong conservative and prominent legal practitioner, recently wrote a compelling piece in defense of same-sex marriage. Goldhill, on the other hand, published a comprehensive exposé of the American healthcare system that not only offered a descriptive and thorough critique, but provided realistic policy solutions.
Remember – it is not important for a piece to be impartial. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the best ones usually aren’t. Though I said this once already, it merits repeating: we should expose ourselves to articles of every political persuasion and then come to an educated and well-informed conclusion on our own. In so doing, we take a critical step toward realizing Mandela’s insightful aphorism.
(Article by Michael Brodsky. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)