Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ConsumerPla.net's Best 34 Political Sites

What are the 34 best political web sites on the net? The 2012 political campaigns are starting to organize - where do you go to stay informed and make up your mind? ConsumerPla.net has put together a guide of the best political sites on the web for the ramp-up to the 2012 elections.

In the following selections, we use "non partisan" to label sites which declare themselves non partisan, and which we found out to be non partisan. We use "left of center" and "right of center" to label sites with liberal or conservative leanings, but which retain  reasonable objectivity and which are not, in general, advocates -as an average- across their many writers. We use "liberal" or "conservative" to label sites which we believe are significantly partisan or advocates for a side.

Best Site to Figure Out Where You Stand

Political labels are harder to use than ever. When you are a liberal, are you a social or a fiscal liberal? When you are a conservative, are you a social or a fiscal conservative? Where do you fit if you are a libertarian? Do you believe in strong or weak government? Where do your beliefs slot you?
  • Political Compass gives you a questionnaire of basic questions, and interprets your answer to give you a better graphical understanding of where you stand in several dimensions. For many of us at ConsumerPla.net, the outcome of the analysis from Political Compass was at first surprising, yet, in the end, made very good sense. 

Best Political Fact Checking Sites

Do you trust political ad campaigns to get to the truth? We have all become jaded, and sometimes cynical, about facts, truth, and politics. Our research has uncovered several outstanding sites to fact check political assertions, and figure out where your candidates stand.
  • Politifact.com is our #1 pick, and an outstanding site. A Pulitzer Prize winner, and a non partisan project of the St Petersburg Times, it looks at the big national picture, as well at specific stories. It rates how true political assertions are, and whether campaign promises are being met. It specifically tracks the fulfillment of  presidential election promises. Politifact is an outstanding site, which you will find interesting regardless of where you live.
  • FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the recipient of  several Webby Awards, is another excellent non partisan project. Like Politifact, it looks at significant stories and evaluates the truth of political assertions. A neat feature: you can ask FactCheck about specific assertions. 
  • VoteSmart.org aims to provide you with specific local information you can use. Another non partisan project which relies on many volunteers, it gives you the lists of candidates you will vote on, depending upon your address, and their positions on significant issues when they are known. One major way in which it obtains information is by asking candidates' organizations to fill questionnaires on major issues. Many organizations are not ready to openly discuss their positions on difficult issues, so, as a result, you do not always get the information you need (these candidates are downgraded by VoteSmart).

    Best Campaign/ Ad Funding Source Analysis

    Following a recent Supreme Court decision, interest groups can now significantly influence election outcomes by funding ads in a campaign without disclosing the origin of their funding. As a result, some races see third party interests actually outspending the candidates themselves.
    • Open Secrets, a non partisan organization, gathers, analyzes and publishes information about which organizations fund what political campaigns or directly finance "independent" ad campaigns. Open Secrets uses volunteers and paid staff, and is the best at what it does, but cannot, of course, be expected to unearth all of  of the significant players, in an election which may end up costing $4B across all candidates and influence organizations.

    Best Spin Control Watch

    The origin of information in a political campaign is often as important as the information itself, and camouflaging this origin often is a part of the game. How do you figure out whether the source of an information is credible?
    •  SourceWatch, a left of center organization, focuses on identifying the source of critical campaign stories, along with the possible bias of the source.  It attempts to remain reasonably objective in its analysis, and does track stories from both sides. On the whole, however, it should be counterbalanced by a right of center organization. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a credible organization with equivalent strengths right of center. We find the two big spin analysis players on on the right, Accuracy in Media and Media Research Center, to play too much of an advocacy role to be truly credible organizations when truth in politics is concerned.

    Best Political News Flashes
    • Political Wire provides brief news flashes - many of them every day - and links to reference posts or raw data.

    Best Vote Projections
    • FiveThirtyEight, named for the presidential electors, is part of the New York Times, and tracks the progress of voting projections throughout the campaign.
    • Electoral Vote, funded and staffed by the same organization as The Political Wire, also provides real time tracking of all country polls, and publishes non-stop large numbers of stories that are related to election projections.

    Best Political Coverage Sites (excluding major newspapers)

    Where should you get your political news? In this section, we feel that it is better to classify from the get go all sites with their political affiliation, overt or implied. We made the final determination as to what political affiliation should be assigned to each site.
    • Politico, a non partisan site, is a stellar example of what new media can be. It represents in 2011 what good newspapers must have been at the turn of the 1900s, a vibrant new media full of excitement and value, where the man on the street got the latest information. 
    • The Hill is a non partisan newspaper with an excellent site, unaffiliated with the major news organizations, and largely focused on federal politics.  Somehow it never gets mentioned in any of the lists we have seen - good writers, timely info, excellent coverage - worth being a lot better known. 
    • CNN: Politics, non partisan to slightly left of center: one cannot discuss political coverage without mentioning CNN. They have the largest organization, always up to date, well organized and well presented. Their analysis does not match their information coverage.
    • Slate: News and Politics, slightly left of center, is of Politico quality but with less breadth, a great example of new media in the 2010s, lively, interesting, up to date, good analysis.
    • The Atlantic: Politics, part of a left of center site, could also be classified under the "thinking person" category. The site has decent coverage, but also provides stories, and probably as much analysis as coverage.
    • RealClearPolitics, right of center, another excellent example of new media for the 2010s, aggregates stories but also carries its own. A lot of information, moves fast, dense presentation, conservative sympathies but overall tries to keep a neutral tone.

    Best Liberal Blogs and Commentaries

    There are many excellent and opinionated blogs on both sides - but we decided to focus on sites rather than individual blogs. When we talk about blogs, we mean blog sites covering multiple authors and streams.
    • The Huffington Post, with an outstanding set of bloggers and a large audience, started with a strong liberal leanings, but has now moved much closer to the center. It is seen as a center organization by liberals, and as left of center by conservatives. Highly recommended for the quality of the bloggers and the spirited tone of the publication. 
    • Talking Points Memo started with a single blogger. It has become, over the past 10 years, a major site of broad political coverage. It started left of center but has moved closer to a neutral point in the political spectrum. Famed for deep investigative reporting.
    • The Daily Kos, a strongly liberal site, is a traditional flag bearer for its side, and provides unashamed liberal opinions and commentaries. Fun and opinionated.
    • TruthDig, openly liberal, gathered a large handful of awards at the last Webbies. Excellent stories, a lot of new content all the time, interesting look - altogether a great package if you want to read people who think like you (if you are on the left) and are not afraid to be advocates. 
    • Daily Beast: Politic left of center, softer tone, more neutral coverage, interesting opinions and articles.

    Best Conservative Blogs and Commentaries

    Again, when we talk about blogs, we mean blog sites covering multiple authors and streams.
    • Townhall is the right wing counterpart to the Huffington Post, with an strong stable of bloggers, large amounts of content, influential and interesting voices. 
    • Human Events is the old man on the block. Around since the 2nd World War, it has steadily maintained its conservative orientation. Its tone might have sounded a touch strident in the 80s, but now it seems to be the wise old man of the right wing, with strong advocacy and, occasionally, sound analysis as well.
    • Newsmax is really a conservative news site with a strong advocacy voice. We had originally classified it as a news site, but it carries such a partisan voice that we ended up moving it to the commentary section.Wide breadth of reporting, good entertainment value.
    • The Drudge Report  is in your face. A flag bearer for the right wing, awful presentation, aggressive content, it is never afraid to shock, and no stranger to hyperbole. 
    • Hot Air entertains as much as it informs, a la MTV. It combines aggregation with its own stable of bloggers, and never hesitates before using screaming headlines. Highly partisan and proud of it. 

    Best Thinking Man's Political Sites

    These sites provide deep analysis and provocative thoughts. They represent the best of the best in political reporting, although not always so in news coverage. To them we could add Slate and The Atlantic, already listed in different categories.
    • The New Republic, also a print publication, used to be left leaning, but has moved to the center, and is not considered by the left to be a liberal site any more. Outstanding analysis, deep thinking, provocative writers.
    • The Nation is the traditional flag bearer for the left, and has been for the past 40 years. While it used to be, many years ago, in competition with The New Republic in this role, the latter's move to the center has left The Nation as sole proprietor of the nation's left leaning soul. Excellent writers, strong voices, thoughtful but partisan writing.
    • The Weekly Standard, also a print publication, comes with a strong conservative bent. It was started by William Kristol, and has gathered a small number of very influential voices on the right. Excellent opinion papers.
    • The National Review wants to speak for the right where The Nation wants to speak for the left. Neither of them, of course, can speak for whole political wings which have, in the past few years, become more fractured than ever. The National Review speaks for the traditional right and gives it a strong voice.  

    Best Traditional Newspaper Sites in Political Reporting

    These entries do not need to be introduced:-)
    • The Christian Science Monitor, a non partisan online-only paper, represents what is best about objective American journalism, with good news coverage, strong analysis. and excellent writers and newsmen.
    • The Wall Street Journal, the preeminent conservative organ in journalism, is the traditional voice of business. While the bulk of the paper focuses on business issues, the very strong Opinions section focuses primarily on politics, and has free range to engage the enemy. Its writers are  influential, and carry strong ties with the most powerful conservative think tanks. 
    • The New York Times: Politics, left of center, is possibly the most influential newspaper in the world. Its site provides excellent, up to date coverage, with deep analysis and remarkable opinion pieces from major players in the political life of our country.
    • The Washington Post, also left of center, is the primary rival of the NYT as the representative of the liberal elites, and manages to play equally with it in almost all domains. The Washington Post has an outstanding stable of top notch writers, great daily coverage, and penetrating analyses.
    • The National Journal, a non partisan site, paper and magazine, focuses on Beltway issues. With less breadth on national news than the entries above, its focus on Washington politics is insightful, with frequent pieces of deep analysis.

    Some Good Sources of Data on Political Sites

    Beyond the present article in ConsumerPla.net, a few sources have published, in the past few years, relevant and interesting data, some of which has made its way into this presentation. The most influential is PC Magazine's top 20 political web sites (2008). CNET/ Webware published an excellent top 10 report in 2009 on the top 10 political sites of the time. The PD Report blog published, in 2008, a top 10 list. As usual, XMarks, with its  top 10 fact checking sites, is the king of the hill. Top Political Sites keeps track of political sites demographics, while Right Wing News published, in 2009 its top 100  list of right and left wing sites. eBiz also keeps tracks, every month, of the best top political sites. The NYT published, in January 2011, an article on political blogs and the 2012 campaign trail. And, of course, the Webby Awards always bring in the yearly share of interesting, and sometimes surprising, sites.

    This post is an updated version of a previous analysis.


    Bryan White said...

    Consider rethinking your assessment of PolitiFact. The Pulitzer was probably awarded primarily because of the ground-breaking format, and the Pulitzer juries apparently take for granted the high standards of mainstream newspaper organizations. PolitiFact routinely makes errors and doesn't even do an adequate job of correcting them. Beyond that, the grading system makes it a practical impossibility to avoid the interjection of opinion. Consider, for example, the grades "False" versus "Pants On Fire." The difference between the two? One is ridiculous while the other isn't, or the latter is more ridiculous than the other (depending on which PolitiFact explanation you read). Can anyone can tell me how to objectively determine "ridiculous" as a demarcation criterion? The project is ill-conceived and ill-executed.

    George Gear said...

    Brian - thanks for your comment! It is apparent, when reading over your blogs, that you are passionate about the subject of Politifact.

    We agree with you that there may be some bias inherent to the selection process at Politifact. We also agree with you that the ruling grades have fuzzy boundaries. On the other hand, when investigating Politifact, we recorded a large number of kudos given to Politifact by both sides of the electorate, and felt that, despite the potential source of selection bias, it appeared to provide balanced coverage.

    After reading your comments and blogs, however, we decided to review the last 10 "rulings" of Politifact (ending with the Planned Parenthood post), along with your last critical post of Politifact on SubBlov, April 12.

    We conducted a quick and dirty test (although obviously not conclusive) on the rulings. We asked two of our staff members, evenly divided between Blue and Red (...) to rate their agreement with the rulings. In 8 of the cases, they both "basically or totally agreed." In one of the cases, they both "mostly agreed." In one of the cases, the Red "mostly agreed" while the Blue "basically or totally agreed." While this does not constitute in any way a definitive test, we feel that our common sense met with what we found to be the general consensus.

    Finally, we reviewed in depth your post on the Planned Parenthood ruling, along with the original ruling. Your numerical analysis made worst case assumptions that tended to maximally favor your criticism, and which we felt were not justified. But, more important than that (after all, some could argue that you are justified in showing the possibility of error), given the fact that we are all scientists and engineers here at ConsumerPla.net, we have a hard time agreeing with you that a numerical statement ("90%") can be considered acceptable hyperbole when it is incorrect. In our view, if you give a number and don't qualify it, you had better be right:-) On that basis, while we agreed with Politifact's own caveats on its ruling (PP's self reporting), we also felt that the ruling was a reasonable one.

    In the end, we feel that there are some limits to Politifact's ultimate non-partisanship. But we consider that, overall, the outstanding service rendered by the site (answering the question: "is this political statement true?") is significant enough to largely outweigh considerations of marginal bias. We understand and accept the fact that you may not agree with us. Hope this makes sense to you!

    Bryan White said...


    "Your numerical analysis made worst case assumptions that tended to maximally favor your criticism, and which we felt were not justified."

    My evaluation of the Planned Parenthood numbers? You apparently missed the point, which I emphasized by suggesting that the data ought to have prompted questions instead of faith. I don't know what service is represented by "no method" and I don't pretend to know. But I'd love to hear the explanation. The point was not to attempt to justify Kyl's percentage but to emphasize PolitiFact's credulity.

    "we have a hard time agreeing with you that a numerical statement ("90%") can be considered acceptable hyperbole when it is incorrect."


    You scientists and engineers need to get out more. Hyperbole is usually incorrect by intent. "She's as big as a house!" is hyperbole. It conveys a true message (she's big) regardless of whether it is false that she is literally as big as a house. If PolitiFact grades that statement as "False" or "Pants on Fire" because she isn't really as big as a house then they're idiots.

    Perhaps you'll appreciate the opinion of one of your own:

    "We understand and accept the fact that you may not agree with us. Hope this makes sense to you!"

    I dunno--It's awfully dense with engineering jargon and the like. ;-)

    I have trouble understanding why people (even engineers who might not be learned in the ways of literature) don't seem to understand the legitimacy of hyperbole. There's no good reason why numbers can't be used perfectly well to express hyperbole ("She weighs a billion kilos!").

    "you are passionate about the subject of Politifact."

    You're passionate about it, too, otherwise it would not have topped your list. But I'll never use a statement about your passion for PolitiFact to subtly suggest that your reasoning is thereby affected (apologies if that wasn't your intent, but I've seen it a few too many times). If we stick to the facts, Annenberg Fact Check is a full head and shoulders above PolitiFact.

    I don't think I've ever subjected PolitiFact to a test as subjective as your red/blue procedure, by the way. :-)

    Meg DeJong said...

    "I don't think I've ever subjected PolitiFact to a test as subjective as your red/blue procedure, by the way. :-)" Touche, Bryan, that was a nice repartie!

    You are right, it was simply a smell test, and not intended to be anything more: "extraordinary claims etc." We simply validated to our satisfaction that there was no gross misconduct on the part of Politifact. We rate it ahead of FactCheck.org simply because it covers a lot more assertions than FactCheck (an order of magnitude or more), and because it has a strong local component as well.

    You made a good point about hyperbole: if the Senator had said 2,000%, it would totally have been a hyperbole, and should have been passed as a ruling opportunity by PF. But he said 90%, which was totally believable. To go back to definitions, per dictionary.com: "hyperbole: 1. obvious and intentional exaggeration. 2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as 'to wait an eternity.'" So, "1 Billion kilos" = "2,000%" = clear hyperbole which nobody would take literally, while "90%" = totally believable by the audience = lie.

    We totally respect your passion about PF - in fact, it is because of your strong conviction on the topic that we decided to take some time to do a bit of validation, and to do dig through one of your posts as well. We mastheaded it as an intro to our little "red/blue procedure":-) We are not a political site and this is only our second post on political and electoral sites. We did rate PF highly, but we are no more passionate about it than we are about the winner of our toilet paper comparative review coming out next week (hope you will check back in!). OK - so, maybe we are a little more passionate about it, but not that much:-)

    We tried to make the present review as balanced as we could. You obviously did not agree with our #1 pick, but I really hope that you enjoyed the others. Thanks for challenging our views and helping us get better!

    Bryan White said...


    I'll accept your assurance that the comment about my passion on the issue of PolitiFact was not intended as a circumstantial ad hominem, and I'm relieved to see acceptance of my point about hyperbole.

    You may have noted that I did not seek to acquit Kyl by totally accepting that his comment was hyperbolic. My point, as usual, was that PolitiFact's approach completely ignored hyperbole as an explanation even after Kyl's office had offered something much akin to the definition of hyperbole in explanation of his remarks. And I noted that Kyl's statement was "maladroit" when taken as hyperbole.

    It isn't fact checking to simply ignore what is probably the best explanation for a set of facts. And the fact is that sometimes people use hyperbole poorly. A poor attempt at exaggeration for emphasis does not necessarily equate with the intent to mislead, though the statement may well be misleading (also noted in my analysis).

    My main problem with recommendations like yours is that it encourages PolitiFact to accept the status quo. But the status quo includes (as the engineer at Engineering Thinking noted) a set of subjective standards. Add to that a misleading graphic approach (the "Truth-O-Meter"), an indefensible grading criterion (burden of proof, wielded hypocritically in the form of the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam), a method of presenting data that unscientifically encourages readers to draw general conclusions about individuals and groups based on their PolitiFact ratings (look up Eric Ostermeier), and a pedestrian level of reporting skill.

    Labeling journalism as a fact check heightens the responsibility for accuracy. PolitiFact ought to tear down and rebuild more along the lines of Annenberg (better research, lose the snark, dump the present graphics and grading system).

    Thanks for welcoming my comments. Carry on.

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