The Hawthorne Rules for Effective Media Consumption

Tonight is the first of the Democratic Debates. While we’re still very early in the election process (election day is only 55 weeks away!), it’s helpful to think about how we cover politics in America.

For a Sunday School class this past week, I put together my own rules regarding the media world. I hope you find them helpful.

Cable News


  1. Have a trusted national news source but watch its biases
  2. Websites from centrist think tanks can provide good background if you know how they lean (e.g., American Enterprise Institute and Brookings).
  3. Trust a handful of editorial writers who aren’t angry all the time
  4. Use Snopes, Politifact, and other Fact-checkers

Cable News

  1. Local issues are never national trends
  2. Increased media attention does not mean that the issue in question has increased
  3. Just because the media thinks it’s a crisis doesn’t make it a crisis.
  4. Discussions of polls are useless without context
  5. Isolated cases of bad behavior don’t reflect a cultural shift
  6. “Gaggle shows” (a group of pundits chatting amiably about topics) are generally inflammatory and not educational
  7. For some sources, their business model depends upon your outrage
  8. Conspiracies are hard work involving lots of people and so rarely occur (in spite of what gaggles claim)

Reading Politicians

  1. When a politician starts a response with “look”, he’s about to dodge the question
  2. When a politician starts a response with “What the American people want” he’s describing what his closest constituents want.
  3. Politicians are not acting simply out of personal interest
  4. A gaffe by a politician is usually an unimportant distraction
  5. Candidates will do well early due to name recognition and fade as negatives erode positives


  1. Don’t watch debates for the zingers
  2. Watch debates to look for grasp on actual policy ideas that could become law
  3. Never watch the debate post-game
  4. In the end, evidence of ability to govern trumps rhetoric


  1. Data without context on Facebook is almost always cherry-picked
  2. Current problems have long histories that cannot be ignored
  3. Easy solutions have complicated unintended consequences
  4. The stories that aren’t told are the most important of all.

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