When in Doubt, Go to the Source
When I was in graduate school one thing they hammered into me that actually made sense was that if you want to build a viable thesis you should look to primary sources for your supporting data. That means don’t go look it up in a book about the subject, but instead go and find the original documents relating to the subject you are studying and analyze them yourself.
The same principle applies in politics. When you’re faced with a difficult issue, don’t make your decisions based on what the media or your uncle or some website is telling you. Try to go straight to the source. This may mean filtering through the accessible information sources to find the nuggets of pure fact buried in their stories. Doing this requires a well developed ability to tell real fact from half-truths or selected facts or clever distortions. It may mean going beyond those common news sources and looking for where they get their information and looking at that information in its raw form.
Doing this allows you to form your own opinion, and when challenged you can point to factual sources rather than saying Bill O’Reilly told me this or I read it in the New York Times. It also means that by the time you’re done you’re likely to understand the issues which concern you a lot better than others around you. Think about it this way. If your house were broken into and you went to court over it, would you call an eyewitness to identify the burglar or call an expert on burglary to explain why burglary is bad?
For example, if you’re concerned about the war in Iraq and what it’s doing to our soldiers and to the people of Iraq, why rely on what the media or the president or anyone else is telling you? One of our accomplishments in Iraq is that we have the internet up and running there, both for Iraqi citizens and for US Soldiers. Rather than letting Peter Jennings or Sean Hannity tell you how the people of Iraq feel about America or how the soldiers feel about their role in the war, you can go direct to the source and find out for yourself. An excellent resource for this is the web network Blogs of War, which links together sites related to the war from miltary families to serving soldiers to Iraqi expatriats to Iraqis on the ground in Baghdad and elsewhere. It’s a mixed bag, but a great way to gain insight into the war which is a lot fresher and more reliable than you’ll get from the idiot box. I particularly recommend some of the Iraqi sites like The Messopotamian.