Ten Podcasts that Can Challenge You, Irritate You & Deepen Your Understanding of Current Events

The Trouble with The Truth

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” — Gloria Steinem

Yes, the truth can most certainly piss you off. And, according to my experience, it can do so in two very different ways. First, and most painfully, the truth that you finally discover isn’t always what you had hoped to find. Sometimes that hero you admire or that deeply held belief turns out, upon further research, to be fraudulent or incorrect. Then you’re forced to make that most difficult of shifts: You have to admit you have been wrong. Aaarrgh!

The second way the truth can piss you off is that it is often time-consuming and difficult to pursue! Let’s face it: Paying attention to long, drawn-out discussions of complex issues can be challenging or even downright irritating. But here’s what your head knows and your heart despises: Truth sometimes comes wrapped in complexity. It shows up as a messy amalgam of nuanced cause-effect chains, educated guesses, bits of evidence, collections of dimly recalled events and seemingly unrelated threads that have to be fastidiously plucked and traced and squinted at until your patience is strained to the max. But despite what the sound-byte-driven politicians and cable news ranters try to tell us, there is frequently no “simple truth!” There is, instead, only a deeply layered conceptual lasagna that takes time to assemble, bake, consume and digest.

Who’s Got the Time to Search for Truth?

And who has the time to search for ingredients and then assemble and bake those layers of that truth-as-lasagna? Researching the truth, in all its nuanced glory, can be a full-time job. The good news is that there are some big-brained, highly-trained and patient journalists and investigative reporters who are willing and eager to put in the hours for us. They dig up, sift through and distill disparate facts into well-supported sets of conclusions. All we have to do is find these people and connect with their work. And that’s what the podcasts listed below can help you do.

Ten Podcasts for Truth Seekers

Here’s my top ten list of podcasts that help me understand the truths about important issues. These typically present clear, in-depth overviews of the issue, nuanced arguments, defensible (and often conflicting!) conclusions and challenging, deep-mined bits of evidence. And they go to great lengths to make sure both (and frequently, all) sides of an issue are explored in depth.

Here are my criteria for including podcasts in this list:

  • The podcast has challenged my thinking, irritated me or otherwise pushed me to see something in a completely new light. (Yes… The podcast has, at one time or another, pissed me off!)
  • Commentators and contributors to the podcast are authoritative. They have a solid track record not as political or partisan hacks, but as critical-thinking people who have deep experience engaging the topics as truth seekers.
  • The ideas presented in the podcast are frequently subtle, nuanced and intellectually challenging. They “go deep” and take me with them. In fact, the conceptual density of the podcast sometimes causes me to rewind and replay parts of it in order to fully comprehend the assertions.
  • Advertisers or sponsors of the podcast are neutral. It doesn’t seem likely that they influence the contributors or benefit when commentators assert their points of view.
  • The podcast’s publishers are neutral. They don’t appear to influence the contributors or commentators to present any particular agenda or viewpoint.

Left, Right & Center[approx. 30 min.] This weekly podcast is totally balanced! And it lives up to it’s tag line as “your civilized, yet provocative antidote to the self-contained opinion bubbles that dominate political debate.” Contributors regularly irritate me by challenging my beliefs.

On the Media* [lengths vary: 30 – 60 min.]  This weekly podcast digs deep and goes behind the scenes to explore the media spin, distortions and biases that have shaped how the news outlets have reported the week’s most important stories.

To the Point[approx. 45 min.] On this daily podcast, veteran truth-seeker Warren Olney assembles a sometimes-combative group of smart (and always highly-qualified) guests who provide “… informative and thought-provoking discussion of major news stories and front-page issues.”

PBS News Hour* [lengths vary: 5 – 50 min.] The award-winning PBS News Hour is now available via YouTube and through your favorite podcast app! If you’ve ever watched the show, you know they go to great lengths to make sure topics are explored in depth and in a balanced way.  And here’s some good news: You can watch the whole daily show or simply download a single 5 to 15 minute segment and ignore the rest!

Shields & Brooks* [approx. 10 minutes] This is a weekly segment from the PBS News Hour in which “Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news.” Mark & David are smart, veteran political observers who provide loads of insight without a bunch of drama. It’s civilized and insightful commentary! (And if you like this, you might also like the News Hour’s “Politics Monday” segment.)

Make Me Smart* [approx. 45 min.] This weekly podcast is a spin-off of the popular business podcast, Marketplace. It’s about the economy, technology and culture. It can be fun and irreverent, but it’s always insightful.

BBC Newshour[approx. 50 min.] This is BBC’s collection of “interviews, news and analysis of the day’s global events.” I especially like the podcast’s world perspective (as opposed to simply a U.S. point of view). The interviewers clearly do their homework on the issues, gently challenging their international guests with polite yet tough questions that produce revealing responses. I’ve learned much from this podcast!

The Economist Radio* [lengths vary: 25 – 50 min.] This podcast is NOT just about the economy! It does deep dives into topics as diverse as the French election, flying cars, how to improve our deaths and Donald Trump’s presidency.

Freakonomics Radio* [lengths vary: 35 – 50 min.] This is a weekly public radio program that discusses all sorts of socioeconomic issues. The program covers some surprising topics and often views them from wildly differing perspectives. It manages to be irreverent and fun while tackling serious topics and enlightening and (sometimes) irritating its listeners.

TED Radio Hour* [lengths vary: 5 – 50 min.] This weekly podcast is “a journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions and new ways to think and create. Based on riveting TED talks from the world’s most remarkable minds.” Each one-hour show tackles a particular theme, interviewing people who have been TED talk presenters, then interweaving these interviews with highlights from their talks. These podcasts are likely to knock you out of your comfort zone!

* NOTE:  This link is to the podcast’s website. However, you could simply search for the podcast by name using your favorite podcast player’s search function and then click “subscribe.”  FYI: My favorite podcast player is Podcast & Radio Addict, which also allows me to live stream radio stations from all over the world. (Screenshots above are from this app.) 

Conclusion

If you really want to know the truth, you have to pursue it actively. You can’t just sit on the shoreline and wave at it like a passing sailboat. No. You have to wade into some deep, sometimes fascinating, sometimes challenging waters. The podcasts above can guide you through these waters and help you find what we’re all looking for: a deeper understanding of what’s really, truly going on around us.


(P.S. – Here’s a practical suggestion and a challenge:  Why not download podcast episodes and take them with you when you exercise, commute, or wait in line while shopping, banking, etc.? I often listen to a few through a little bluetooth speaker while I’m showering and shaving! It’s a great way to take advantage of “down time!”)


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