How I Keep Up on Foreign Relations…

Ever feel overwhelmed by the number of outlets to receive information, news, and analysis?  Not to mention that it’s so easy just to have information ala carte these days; that is, picking and choosing sources and information that appeals to one’s preconceived ideas and understanding.

It’s first important to begin from the premise that the majority of the mainstream news media does not, in fact, have a large bias toward more liberal domestic politics that is evident in their reporting.  In fact, the organizations and individuals that espouse these claims are generally the ones who more blatantly take a pre-determined position in their works.

Having understood the premise that the general media mostly are, in fact, reliable and responsible sources, I list below some of the ways I try to keep up on foreign relations in an otherwise busy and chaotic work and family life that is not always zeroed-in on the international realm.

  1. I get most of my understanding of what is occurring in the world from print sources.  Of course, the standard bearers for news remain: The New York Times (NYT) and The Washington Post (WP) as daily news platforms; The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker as periodicals; and Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy as some strong journals.  Some specific journalists are key to what I look for: David Sanger, Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, and Scott Shane (NYT); Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung (WP); Edward Luce (Financial Times); and Susan Page (USA Today), just to name a few.  Some other writers (many of whom have written books and are at think tanks as well) that I look for are Steve Coll, Elliott Abrams, Shadi Hamid, Vali Nasr, Robin Wright, Robert Kaplan, and more.  If they have previous government service, if they work at one of the major think tanks, if they have a history of sound writing on the subjects, then they are most likely strong candidates.  (And there is a difference between knowing who is credible and in whom to entrust your understanding of the world and, on the other end of the spectrum, to read only those that espouse your particular viewpoint.  These individuals are members of the former.)
    1. Having a quick method to skim these outlets for information in the morning is helpful.  For me, I have some rules set on my iPhone’s “News” application that help already identify what I am looking for.  I also receive some of the periodicals as well that are not necessarily daily-updated content.
  2. I spend a lot of time in the car, so for deeper analysis, I turn to podcasts.  NPR previously was my preferred service, but with podcasts I can listen to the shows (including NPR programming) on demand and on my schedule, not having to wait until the 5 o’clock hour for “All Things Considered.”  Some important podcasts are:
    1. Rational Security (featuring members of “Lawfare”, another great source for analysis).
    2. Bombshell
    3. Deep State Radio
    4. The Global Politico
    5. Global Dispatches
    6. The President’s Inbox from the Council on Foreign Relations
    7. The World Next Week from the Council on Foreign Relations
    8. Foreign Policy’s “The Editor’s Roundtable” or “The E.R.”
    9. War on the Rocks podcast (also a great site to add to your daily “skim”)
  3. As a general rule, I do not watch television news.  I rarely have it on and when I do I am almost always disappointed at the lack of depth and the poor attempt to summarize complex events and interactions into 3 minute entertainment slots.  Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid television news altogether, and when there is a real-time event that is occurring, television news may be the only way to fully keep track.  Yet, I really only have a few shows that I will lend my eyes, ears, and brain:
    1. CBS This Morning for any morning news coverage.  With Charlie Rose at the helm, the experts do make appearances on this program, even if it is for the short segments.
    2. The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer for any evening news coverage.  Although Wolf talks as if every waking second is a critical apocalyptic event, his coverage is much more fair and his guests provide great insight.  (And if there is a news channel that needs to be on, CNN generally is that channel for me.)
    3. Sunday content:  Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. I’ve always liked Fareed and find him a very intriguing thinker.  He usually has a very well-rounded show covering more than just international affairs.  CBS’s 60 Minutes.  An ancient show that still has “damn fine reporting,” as quoted from the movie State of Play.
  4. Lastly, book-length writings provide the most depth of analysis and material for reference.  It may take longer to publish and release, but in some ways we’ve lost the art of book writing and reading and replaced it with anything that fits into 140 characters or less.

What is written above is the beginning of the process of information gathering, source vetting, and mastering the art of discerning credibility.  As I’ve told many friends and/or family members before, if you have questions, post a comment, and I can help direct you to where you may want to begin searching in your research if you’re lost.  Or, if you have a source, let me know and I can provide some insight into the credibility.

One thought on “How I Keep Up on Foreign Relations…

  1. Really impressive! I don’t think I read a tenth of what you do. I’ve heard that when interviewing at State or think tanks or similar organizations, you have to be able to say what you read and digest, and they expect an answer like this.

    You are the one who got me hooked on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, but I don’t watch it faithfully every week. We canceled our cable subscription, so if it’s not on youtube, we can’t watch it. Cable news is awful…

    When school started I canceled my subscription to the Economist, giving myself time to read 100-200 pages of textbook material each week. When school’s done I’ll resubscribe.

    In the meantime we listen to NPR at home, and I’ll read Washington Post and NYT during my commute. It’s really not much compared to what you do.

    Lastly I should mention Reddit, where I go to read reactions to headlines. Simultaneously, Rui tells me about headlines and reactions from the other side of the world on WeChat and Weibo. Sometimes the different spin on the same story is stark.


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