This is going to be a Being John Malkovich-type column, where I walk you through the mind of a political science major whose job it is to cover politics. My expertise on this topic comes from the fact that what I’m about to detail below is how I have kept myself properly informed year-round. What follows is a tried and true method for following the midterm elections tonight.
Under normal circumstances, I’d tell you to turn off the TV and throw it in the river if you’re looking to keep yourself informed. It’s not just Fox News—all TV news is poison. On the whole, baby boomers have a more difficult time telling fact from opinion, and it’s almost surely thanks to the fact that they are the most voracious consumers of TV news.
Plus, those supposedly super serious Sunday shows that so many people love? Those are infinitely more effective at spreading conservative disinformation than some Kremlin shitposting shop in Macedonia.
The problem with TV news is that it’s on TV, therefore its primary objective is to entertain you, not inform you. Most days out of the year, information takes a back seat to entertainment, but on a night like this where there are a bazillion different races to track, the cable news model is actually a very effective one to keep you informed. Cable news is utterly useless until there’s a ton of news to break.
I’d recommend sticking with CNN tonight, as MSNBC still tries to pass Brian “I got shot down in Iraq but actually never mind, I didn’t” Williams off as a serious journalist, and they have turned Rachel Maddow, who used to be known as the best national journalist at highlighting local issues, into a full-time Russia conspiracy theorist. CNN may employ a dullard like Chris Cillizza, but remember that MSNBC gave walking conservative galaxy brain, Hugh Hewitt, his own show—so the DNC-backed cable channel isn’t as liberal as its most ardent acolytes believe it to be.
The New York Times election needle seems to have legitimately given some people PTSD from election night 2016, but their analytics blog, The Upshot is still one of the best sources to reference in real time as results are pouring in, regardless of what graphic they choose to express their data crunching in. Along those same lines, NYT alum Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight live coverage should be open in a tab as well. CNN’s website has a simple exit polling interface that is really handy when contrasting demographics of past elections to present. If you take this route, remember to compare 2018’s results with 2014, not 2016. Midterm elections have very different turnout figures than presidential elections, so it’s not an equal comparison to look at tonight’s results versus what happened two years ago.
Ultimately, this is your best resource if you really want to figure out what’s going on. Twitter has a reputation as a cesspool of Nazis, and it’s an extremely earned reputation, but it’s also a remarkable resource to find expert opinions on pretty much any topic you want. For example, I can hop over to historian Kevin M. Kruse’s feed to help contrast things like the modern struggle for voting rights to America’s sordid history. While tonight is one vastly important event, to truly get a sense of what is going on, you must look at today’s elections as one momentous battle among many. Kruse is one of the best people to follow on that subject.
Then I can click on Daniel Nichanian’s timeline to find out the important election developments at every level of our government. He put together an incredible spreadsheet tracking all the important elections that I have used as a reference for my election previews and that Paste politics editor Shane Ryan wrote a quick summary of. Without Twitter, I never would have discovered his expertise to use as a resource for my own work.
After scrolling through the big races highlighted by Nichanian, I can then swing over to the Daily Kos’ Carolyn Fiddler’s feed to see what’s going on at the state level. I link to this list of eight examples of how Republicans have actively worked to undermine democracy all the time, and it was inspired by a thread she put together with links to all the relevant sources on these undemocratic events happening in our public sphere. Again, without Twitter, I never would have come across her work, and I am a more informed person because of it.
Keep in mind, too, that no matter what happens tonight, there is a political life to be lived in America after the election. There are an infinite number of Carolyn Fiddler’s, Daniel Nichanian’s and Kevin M. Kruse’s out there. I follow over 2,500 accounts on Twitter (I know, I know, I have a problem), and I couldn’t do my job of summarizing and explaining the news without leaning on these experts’ expertise. Ultimately, if you want to stay informed under normal circumstances, I would recommend that you turn off the TV altogether, and start reading (at the very least, stop watching pundits spout opinions on panels, Paste and a ton of other political commentary sites like us have infinitely better punditry than any of the vapid centrism you’ll see on TV).
Read your local paper. Support your local paper by subscribing to it. Without local journalism, a lot of this information that bubbles to the top of the news cycle wouldn’t be possible. So first and foremost: read your local newspaper. I cannot stress that point enough.
Then, keep up with the New York Times and The Washington Post, who, despite their failures to properly document things that the D.C. consulting class refuses to look at honestly—like the rise of fascism in America (although that’s a problem that applies far more to the Times than the Post)—or climate change, they invest a ton of resources into journalism, and they produce staggering scoops (like the Times’ Pulitzer-worthy detailing of Trump’s finances) that drive the news cycle. The Wall Street Journal is also an incredible journalistic outlet, despite its opinion page being completely indistinguishable from Breitbart.
Lastly, for opinion journalism, stay the hell away from the mainstream media. All of it. Chris Cillizza will never tell you anything that you don’t already know, and he will actively make you dumber. Read Paste. Read Splinter. Read The Outline. Read Daily Kos. Read Jacobin. There’s a ton of great liberal writing out there—it just largely doesn’t come from any of the 90% of media outlets owned by six conglomerates (that said, for a good opinion columnist in mainstream media, check out WaPo’s Elizabeth Bruenig).
As far as conservative opinion goes, a few years ago I would have recommended The Weekly Standard or parts of The American Conservative (although a significant chunk of it has always been good old fashioned crazypants), but the Age of Trump has proven that Trump is the GOP, and the GOP is Trump. Conservatism must be defeated at the ballot box so as to demonstrate their failure in the war of ideas. Individual conservatives like Ken White (known on Twitter as Popehat) are good follows who are informative, but it’s more thanks to White’s expertise as a defense lawyer who is intimately familiar with the rigged game that is the American justice system. You wouldn’t recognize his views on the law in America amongst any iteration of conservatism in America’s history.
Ultimately, keeping yourself informed comes down to self-discipline. Of course we all want to believe that meme on Facebook asserting that the Trump children are beneficiaries of birthright citizenship, but think about it for a second: Donald is also their legal guardian, and unlike Melania, he was a U.S. citizen before Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka were born. Facebook is the largest disinformation outlet in the world (that or YouTube), and relying on your uncle’s shared links from PatriotEagle.gun is sure to inject you with bad information.
Look, anyone can practice journalism: you just need to find two independent sources to say something is true. Vet the sources by looking at other things they have posted, and possibly fact-check those items if it’s still not clear. Google is a tremendous resource, as is Twitter. Just type in the keywords from any given story, and Google will produce (mostly) valid results. If you’re familiar with various personalities on Twitter, you can find a ton of helpful links by navigating certain experts’ timelines.
We live in an age where the average person has more information at their fingertips than most Kings have had throughout history, and if we can figure out how to sort through it (which is far easier said than done—even following everything I laid out above will inevitably lead you to bad info at some point), then we will have all the information we need to solve America’s biggest challenges.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.