Hey Elderly Aunt — if I want to weigh in on politics, how do I find information I can trust?

Hi Elderly Aunt, I hate talking with my friends about politics because they don’t all agree, and it ends up turning into a stressful shouting match. So my approach has been to avoid political news so I can plead ignorance. But now that this impeachment stuff has begun, and I feel like I should know what’s going on. But where do I start? How do I find information I can trust about it so I can make an informed decision and coherent statements about it? Help, please. 

Ah yes, the nonsensical din of our current political discourse. How to cope with all the heated rhetoric? 

First of all, dear reader, you have the Elderly Aunt’s deepest empathy for your wish to avoid the stress engendered by political discussion, but not her sympathy. It’s time for you to suit up and show up. In words of the fabulous Martha GellhornCitizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it.

The Elderly Aunt suggests you start by assuring yourself that despite what Kellyanne Conway maintains—(did she, the Elderly Aunt wonders, mean to paraphrase George Orwell or was it just dumb luck?) —there is no such thing as factual “alternative facts.” A fact is a fact is a fact. 

And what you are after, dear reader, is straight-forward, fact-based information. What you are not after is someone else telling you what to think or how to feel about that information.

Last year MarketWatch published a handy-dandy chart of the biases of the world’s major news organizations. It is the Elderly Aunt’s opinion that bias in reporting is inevitable as it involves choosing what to report on. You only have to compare coverage from a conservative-skewing news source with that of a liberal-skewing news source to see this kind of inevitable bias in action. So she advises you to stick with sources in the neutral range which show “minimal partisan bias or balance of biases.” 

If you read opinion pieces (only well-sourced ones, she hopes—i.e. based on real facts as opposed to alternative ones), the Elderly Aunt encourages you to read at least some opinion pieces you don’t agree with. She also encourages you to avoid altogether pundits who apparently see their mission as keeping readers, viewers and/or listeners in a permanently reactive state of eekiess. Or any “pundit” promoting any kind of unsourced conspiracy theory.

As far as achieving a clear understanding of “this impeachment stuff,” the Elderly Aunt suggests you begin by understanding how the impeachment process works. Next she suggests wading through a reliably sourced time-line of events involved in the current impeachment. The Elderly Aunt’s own go-to timeline came from NPR/PBS’s Tamara Keith.  But any partisan-neutral news source timeline will do you fine. 

As you read through the impeachment timeline of your choices, note who uses verifiable information from named sources and who tries to dress up “somebody told me something” as actual information. And don’t you dare scoff, no matter how much you want to! You’re not reading about impeachment to get an adrenalin-charged hit of outrage. You are doing it to become informed. 

In the Elderly Aunt’s experience, emotional reaction to unpleasant information severely limits our ability to think. Which is what we all need to do more of when it comes to politics.

Once you’ve done your background homework, the Elderly Aunt suggests you check in daily with what’s going on—again from a couple of neutral sources. She sees this as her responsibility as an American citizen, and so if you will allow her a couple of hectoring shakes of her pointer finger, she sees it as your responsibility as well.

The Elderly Aunt encourages you to put on your big-person pants, listen, ask questions and jump into political discussions with your own fact-based opinions using civil language. If someone scoffs at what you say, cite your sources to back up your point, and ask the scoffer for sources. Be curious, not combative. 

Even the Elderly Aunt doesn’t know everything, so she welcomes the mind-stretching opportunity of informed debate. As should you, dear reader. Yes, political discussions often get heated, but your mission should you decide to accept it, is to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…  

A word about one-issue screamers —those folks who when pressed to explain anything fall back on either alternative facts, or belligerent and simplistic statements. You’re a Democrat! All you people want to do is kill babies!  You’re a Republican! You people always put profits before people! There are screamers across the political spectrum, and it is the Elderly Aunt’s observation that they would rather bully others than think themselves or—heaven forbid—face facts. 

The Elderly Aunt is firmly of the opinion of such braying idiots are not worth the energy it takes to get het up about their nonsense.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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