The Centrist Podcast Diet, 1st Edition

Update: The second edition is out.

If you’ve grown dizzy from the constant spin in your media diet, you probably have a tough time finding any decent alternatives. I’ve definitely struggled with this myself. Still do. To that end, I’ve curated a small list of the best podcasts for those of us looking for some fresh perspectives.

The first edition has seven different shows, one true centrist podcast and then three each from the left and right. But don’t dismiss the partisan podcasts just because they have an obvious political slant; they all do solid work and try to contend with their own partisan leanings from time to time. They may frustrate you in what they choose to talk about and how they frame things, but in my opinion that makes it all the more critical to listen and learn to understand. The goal is not to avoid partisanship, but to find a way to work within a partisan system.

I plan to update this from time to time, so don’t hesitate to send any recommendations my way. I’ll give anything a listen so long as it’s not pure vitriol and hyperbole. If it meets my own vague and arbitrary standards, I’ll add it to the list.

KCRW’s Left, Right and Center (Centrist)

  • This is the only true centrist podcast on the list, by my judgment at least. Each episode features a balanced panel and the speakers actually engage with each other and work to find common ground. Crazy, I know. They mostly cover that week’s partisan news, with the occasional foray into wonk/policy territory. My highest recommendation.

FiveThirtyEight Politics (Liberal)

  • A personal favorite, but admittedly left-leaning. Slanted or not, the participants tend to acknowledge their biases and the data-driven perspective helps even things out with a firm foundation. This team does their homework. You will learn a lot about the intricacies of polling and public opinion from this show, but things can get very wonky very fast. If that’s not your style, I won’t be offended.

Commentary Magazine Podcast (Conservative)

  • If you can tolerate the morose sense of humor, this show has some of the best conservative critics around. They are rigorous in their approach as principled conservatives, but also unafraid to call out their own side when they deem it necessary. They tend to strike a good balance between politics and policy, and like to frame things in terms of what it means for the conservative movement.

WNYC’s On The Media (Liberal)

  • We’re in very liberal territory now, but OTM is still an excellent listening choice. Unlike the rest of the list, this is not a pure roundtable-style discussion. It’s less podcast, more radio show, with a variety of in-depth stories and interviews. They do superb work, placing a critical lens on the general media landscape and doing tons of high-quality original reporting. Definitely worth a listen.

WSJ: Potomac Watch (Conservative)

  • This show comes out of the editorial side of the Wall Street Journal and offers a consistent, fiscally conservative point of view. Potomac Watch is probably the best example on this list of your classical Republican worldview. The positions taken can sometimes be a bit predictable, but they are always thoughtfully constructed and never baseless. They also release multiple shows per week in smaller chunks (twenty minutes or so), which can make things a little easier on the typical news consumer.

Slate’s Political Gabfest (Liberal)

  • Conservatives might take offense at this one, since Slate is known for being a thoroughly progressive outlet. But John Dickerson holds down the center, Emily Bazelon is brilliant and all-knowing, and David Plotz has a strange obsession with playing devil’s advocate, which all together leads to plenty of constructive discussion, despite the clear liberal bias. There’s more than enough substance to make it worth your time, especially for conservatives looking for a different point of view.

The Ben Shapiro Show (Conservative)

  • If conservatives balked at my last suggestion, liberals will be equally annoyed by this one. Ben Shapiro is very conservative, to be sure, and he has a tendency of oversimplifying dramatically when talking about “The Left” or “Democrats.” That said, he is sharp on the issues and generally knows what he’s talking about. He’s also quite popular and does an astonishing five shows a week, so if you have tons of time to kill, Ben can help you with that.

Honorable Mentions

The Fifth Estate Show (Conservative)

  • This is an interview-style weekly podcast hosted by Jay Caruso and Neal Dewing. Each episode has a featured guest with serious expertise on a given subject, interviewed at length in a nuanced back-and-forth. Jay and Neil offer a principled conservative perspective, but the guests range from across the spectrum and give the show a solid centrist lean. I kept this show off the official list only because they tend to focus on deep-dives, so you might miss trending issues here and there if it’s the only podcast in your diet.

Planet Money (Non-political)

  • I love this show, but since it’s non-political it doesn’t really belong here, strictly speaking. You could probably tease out a liberal lean if you try hard enough, given that it’s an NPR show, but the economics and pragmatic mindset tends to keep things grounded in reality, not politics. It is a market-focused show that highlights the quirks and curiosities of living in a global economy, and liberals and conservatives will both find plenty of things to be surprised about. It provides fantastic tutorials on the law of unintended consequences and how you can’t always trust your biases.

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