Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Critical Thinking Applied to Politics

So you believe everything politicians tell you?  How about the media?
The fact is many people lie, and even more spin things so they only tell us part of the truth. Its frustrating and people lose confidence and do not know who to trust or what to do about it.  However there are things we can all do to improve things.

Pay Attention to Agendas

Everyone has one, often more than one. If you understand someones agenda or the bias they have you can more easily spot the spin or half truths they tell you.
  • Politicians want to get elected or reelected so will tell you things that he that goal. They are vey unlikely to tell you anything bad about them, many wont even own up to it when they are caught. Likewise they will tell you things to hurt their opponent, even if its not true or certain details are left out.
  • Politicians have donors and often put those donors ahead of everything else, after all donor money pays for ads and other campaign expenses to get them elected or keep them in office. Sometimes a politician gets personal favors or expects a job from the donor after they leave office.  Many politicians get very cushy jobs as lobbyists or otherwise working for industries they helped while in office.
  • News and political media have advertisers, donors, or subscribers they need to stay in business. Legitimate news organizations have legal and ethical standards so wont lie to their audience, but they will spin and slant stories certain ways.
  • Political media is subject to far fewer restrictions and sometimes outright lies to their viewers. How do you know the difference? These are the talking heads who give opinions rather than simply report facts. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and in America allowed to share it. The trouble is when they express their opinions as facts, so watch for that.
  • Mixed media is a blending of both, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc all have legitimate news and talking heads so mix it up. We need to pay close attention to who is reporting the news and who is trying to make or change the news.

Follow the Money

For media look at the advertisers, they will tend to favor stories that help their advertisers. After all if you put out stories that make your advertisers look bad they will stop advertising. They don't give the money for charity, especially to for profit companies. So look for that bias.  Also this means boycotts are powerful as the advertisers are effectively pushing the stories and do not want to be associated with bad images that may hurt them.
Also look at donors and subscribers. If the owner is a Conservative they will be more likely to hire conservatives and push a conservative agenda, similarly expect liberal owners to push liberal agenda.  However most media push an establishment agenda and that is often not talked about and overlooked. Whats an establishment bias? The idea here is that the media and advertisers are making a lot of money so want things to stay as they are and fear change to the status quo.

Whats the Bias?

  • CNN and MSNBC are primarily an establishment bias. They are making money off the current system and Fox has the Conservative side locked down so they are pro-establishment and sometimes tend liberal to differentiate themselves from the competition.
  • FOX News is heavily conservative, relying heavily on drug manufacturers and advertisers aimed at older demographics. The company was founded for the purpose of helping the Republican party recover from the Nixon debacle.
  • The Young Turks is an online Progressive company so has a left wing agenda.
  • Print and web based media are mostly donor or subscriber based. They often cater to specific audiences or demographics. Subscriber based will tell their audience what they want to hear and donor based will support the agenda the donors want.

How do I Find Out the Bias?

  • The money is key here.  Find out who is paying the bills and you find out who they are most likely really working for.
  • Politicians have to list their donors with the FEC, its a bit hard to read but you can get very detailed information here. Open Secrets gets its info from the FEC and lays it out in an easy to read manner, though it skips a lot of the details. Follow The Money does the same thing but goes into more detail. These sites are used by news media and politicians for opposition research but are also available to any voter. We can see donors based on industries, special interests, or individuals.
  • This is Important! Ideally a politician gets most of their money from voters and small donors (usually listed as under $200). If they get most of their money from companies or large donors they will work harder for them than they will voters. Often you will see groups of companies in specific industries and often based on committee assignments.
  • Media is harder but pay attention to their primary advertisers and owners can be looked up.


Polling is often used to push an agenda but works the same way. While a reputable poll wont lie, they can spin things. What questions are asked, how they are phrased, and whom they ask all can affect the answers. So Conservative organizations will phrase things to encourage answers that favor their agenda, same with liberals. Note however that most polls have an establishment or conservative bias, this is because they are run by companies. Entrepreneurs and young companies tend to be more liberal and willing to take risks, bigger established companies tend to favor deregulation (conservative) because that saves money and fewer rules favor the big guys over the little guys. As for the establishment bias obviously if they are successful the way things are they tend to want things to stay that way. Also big companies are often less nimble and able to adjust as quickly as smaller companies.
So pay attention to who made the poll.
Real Clear Politics has aggregate polls so you can filter out the bias, further since the sources are named you can see who is biased for or against a candidate or issue.


By figuring out the agenda and who is financing someone we can usually spot their agenda and more easily know when they are trying to put one over on us. It can take a lot of work but if more people did it America would be a lot better for it, regardless of your political leaning try to see the bias of those talking to you.
At the very least use Open Secrets to see the main income for your politicians,

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