Seeking Balance

Intelligence Squared debate, John Donovan moderates

Intelligence Squared debate, John Donovan moderates

I like my news balanced. In this day and age of polarized, agenda-riddled commentary, balance is not always an easy thing to come by. Ferreting out intelligent, even-handed perspectives on matters of importance can turn into a full time endeavor, when soundbites, hidden and not-so-hidden bias rule the day. Which is why, over the last few years, I've turned more and more to sources that feature in-depth, moderated, across-the-aisle conversation--or full on debate--to provide me with exposure to all sides on the issues.

Two of my favorites are the live--and lively--Oxford-style debate series Intelligence Squared and KCRW's radio show and podcast Left, Right & Center.  Intelligence Squared is modeled on a London program of the same name. A good friend is an Advisory Board member, so I had the fortune of attending their very first New York event, held at the Asia Society back in 2006. Since then they've grown, moved to NYU's high-tech Skirball Center, are simulcast on NPR and re-broadcast on Bloomberg Television. They're great.

Moderated by ABC's John Donovan, who brings just the right touch of humor to his role, they feature headline participants--such as Fareed Zakaria, Elliot Spitzer and Nouriel Roubini, American Idol-style audience engagement, and succinct, challenging topics: Afghanistan is a Lost Cause, US Airports Should Use Racial and Religious Profiling, Big Government is Stifling American Spirit, for example. I've attended several since that first one, and in every instance I've been entertained and found my perspectives on the topic at hand challenged and broadened.

Left, Right & Center I've been listening to off and on for a number of years now. Hosted by political commentator Matt Miller, it features three regular guests in conversation: Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington (subject of last week's post, Girl Power), Robert Scheer founder of Truthdig.org and Tony Blankley, former Press Secretary for Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and columnist for the Washington Times. Broadcast on Fridays, Matt introduces the 30 minute weekly show as a "civilized yet provocative antidote to the screaming talking heads that dominate political debate." And it is.

Robert Scheer and Tony Blankley have both been around a while. They're old school. No Clinton Democrats or Tea Partiers here--they're dyed-in-the-wool liberal and conservative. Matt and Arianna hold down the center and center-left, and it makes for good--and sometimes heated--exchanges on a very broad spectrum of subjects, economic and social policy, foreign and domestic. Since they've been doing this together for some time, often if feels as though you're listening to a family's dinner table banter. A well-informed family. I always enjoy it when I make time for it--and when I'm done listening I feel a whole lot smarter on subjects I care about.

I like to make up my own mind. Many news resources these days don't trust their audience to do that. As a result, engaging with those that do encourage and challenge their audiences to think, question, decide on their own--and are spirited and interesting in the process--feels a little bit rebellious, a little bit clever--and very balanced.

Tomorrow evening at the Skirball center David Brooks and Arianna Huffington (she's everywhere!) speak for the motion The Two Party System is Making America Ungovernable. They face off against Zev Chafets and P.J. O'Rourke speaking against. The debate is sold out, but you can sometimes get tickets at the door.