The news is polarizing us. Can Tangle News help?

A talk with journalist Isaac Saul, founder of Tangle News (, which shares takes on current events from across the political spectrum and which I think is great, from a depolarization perspective. Here’s what Isaac said about why he started Tangle:

“I started Tangle because I recognized that the news industry was broken. My work was getting published in a lot of different places, and I realized people trusted it not based on what I was saying — but based on where I was saying it. Readers on the left would trust nothing I wrote if it showed up in a conservative-leaning news outlet, and vice versa. This is how I realized just how strong the information bubble was. So I had a concept I wanted to execute: A newsletter where no matter who you were you would encounter political opinions that you did not agree with.”

About his readership, Isaac says, “Roughly 40% of our readers self-identify as liberal, 30% self-identify as conservative, and the rest say they are independent or outside the left-right binary.”

I think Tangle is doing amazing work, from a polarization-reduction perspectives. I think the more Americans there are who read Tangle, the less toxically polarized we’ll be. Topics we discuss include: aspects of Tangle News that make it depolarizing and anger-reducing; how Isaac conceives of the problem of political polarization; his work debunking “the election was stolen” narratives in 2020, and more.

Transcript is below.

Episode links:

Resources related to or mentioned in this talk:


Zach Elwood: Hello and welcome to the People Who Read People podcast. I’m Zachary Elwood. This is a podcast about understanding people better, and understanding ourselves better — and sometimes it focuses on political polarization. You can learn more about this podcast at

A note for anyone listening to the audio version of this; this was recorded as a video talk and you can find that video on the youtube channel for my podcast. 

On this episode, I talk to Isaac Saul, a journalist and the creator of Tangle News – you can subscribe to Tangle and learn more about it at Why Isaac created Tangle, and the work they do, is very much related to toxic polarization. 

I’ll read some things Isaac wrote about why he started Tangle: 

I started Tangle because I recognized that the news industry was broken. My work was getting published in a lot of different places, and I realized people trusted it not based on what I was saying — but based on where I was saying it. Readers on the left would trust nothing I wrote if it showed up in a conservative-leaning news outlet, and vice versa. This is how I realized just how strong the information bubble was. So I had a concept I wanted to execute: A newsletter where no matter who you were you would encounter political opinions that you did not agree with. That seemed healthy to me. Then I launched Tangle as a side project, and as it grew I decided to quit my job and go “all-in” on building it out.

Today, our readers span the political spectrum: Roughly 40% of our readers self-identify as liberal, 30% self-identify as conservative, and the rest say they are independent or outside the left-right binary.

And again, that was Isaac Saul writing about Tangle News. 

One review on his site from a reader says ““Tangle is the best discovery I’ve made in the last month. Isaac Saul has the remarkably unique ability to summarize what both sides of the political aisle are saying in his own words, in a fair and charitable way. Tangle is a daily read for me because it helps me avoid the confirmation bias of just listening to what ‘my side’ is saying, helping me to draw my own conclusions in a more informed way.” end quote

If you haven’t yet checked out Tangle, I highly recommend signing up for it. I really do believe the more Americans read Tangle, the less toxically polarized we’d be, so reading Tangle and sharing it with others is one small and easy thing you can do to combat toxic polarization and team-based thinking. 

Okay here’s the talk with Isaac Saul, of Tangle News…

Zach: Hey, Isaac, thanks for joining me.

Isaac Saul: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here, Zach.

Zach: I just want to say I’m a huge fan of your work. I often promote your work to people. I often say that the more Americans that read Tangle, the less divided and less toxically divided we’ll be, so I just wanted to say that first. And I’m a big fan. I’m curious to ask, too, how do you see the work that Tangle does relating to our toxic polarization problem?

Isaac: Yeah, it’s a really good question. First of all, what’s kind of interesting about my story is I didn’t really get into this work from a mission-oriented perspective, I would say. I created Tangle because I wanted a product like it that didn’t exist anywhere. I found myself feeling like I couldn’t understand what was happening in the news unless I went and read the Wall Street Journal, read the New York Times, read the Huffington Post, read Fox News, read their opinion sections, watched Fox News, watched CNN, listened to a couple of podcasts, and be like, “Oh, now I’ve heard all the perspectives there are about this debate on this one issue, it would be really convenient if this all existed in one place.” And that was kind of the fundamental idea for Tangle. It was explaining an issue and then the debate and why people were divided about it, and then sharing a few views from the Left and sharing a few views from the Right.

What’s happened since we started it is that I’ve seen the effect it’s had on people and I’ve seen the responses when we ask our readers and listeners the impact it’s had on them in surveys that we do at the end of the year in our newsletter. And I felt the experience of consuming the news through the lens of Tangle as the author of Tangle and how it’s changed my own worldviews and my own perspectives about issues and the divisiveness and all those things, and what I’ve seen is that fundamentally, I’m much more open-minded. And I’m much more skeptical and I’m much more respectful of the people who I disagree with because I see the best versions of their arguments and their perspectives out there, and it gives me a way to understand and respect what they think and what they feel. Politics are personal, obviously, but we’re also all products of the experiences we’ve had, the media bubbles we live in, the friend groups we are in. And just as you look at somebody who you might disagree with politically, whether they’re a far Right Trump voter or a far Left Bernie lover or whatever and you think they’re disgusting or wrong or stupid for whatever reason, they feel that way about you too in a lot of ways. And I think it’s important to kind of recognize that fundamentally and start from there with a little humility about your position.

I want Tango to be a place where people from across the political spectrum can gather and trust the news they’re getting and have a sort of starting common ground to jump off from. But as an added bonus, I think I’m seeing that we’re helping people moderate their views a little bit, or just become more respectful or understanding of the other side, which certainly our country needs desperately right now given how divided we are.

Zach: Yeah, that’s the interesting thing about your work, I think, is there’s these meta-level things that are happening with the way you’ve approached it where, for example, like you said, I think the way you’ve done the work makes it easier for people to see how easy it is for people to reach different conclusions on things. For example, your take on Trump being removed from the ballot in Colorado. I think it would help people who their initial reaction– for a lot of people on the Left– was like that was a good decision for a lot of people. But seeing your take on it, even if someone ends up disagreeing with it, helps them see… And including the takes from other sources, too. It just helps people see the range of ideas that one can have. And to me, that’s kind of the fundamental problem of toxic polarization. The contempt that’s involved is because with our narratives becoming more and more diverged, it becomes harder to see the more rational ways that somebody has built their narratives because we’re all filtering the way we want to filter. So, I think that’s a really interesting meta-level aspect of your work. Yeah.

Isaac: Yeah. One of the things I would just say about that is there’s a reason Marjorie Taylor Greene is a household name and other lesser-known representatives or senators are not. And it’s because the Left wants to make her the face of the Republican Party. They want her to be representative of Republican thought because she has views that are further out on the fringe. And that’s kind of the game both sides play. They elevate the worst arguments and the worst people from one side of the aisle and try and do their best to make them representative of the party as a whole or of the thought line as a whole.

Zach: Unintentionally. It’s unconsciously and sometimes consciously. Yeah.

Isaac: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s just something important for people to remember. It’s that if you’re a partisan at all or you have strong partisan preferences, you’re not getting the best representation of the other side, typically, and of their arguments. And that’s something we try and do. We show you the fringe, but also show you the really strong more compelling arguments from our estimation as an editorial team, the stuff that we find really compelling. And I think it’s working for a lot of people in that structure.

Zach: The other meta-level thing I think your work does is by giving your take, it actually makes people trust you more. Because especially when we’re more polarized and more divided, there’s often a suspicion of what someone’s biases are or what they think. Because we all have our own opinions, our own takes, our own biases, journalists have theirs, especially when we’re more polarised. But I think giving your take sets people at ease. They know that you’re striving towards the truth. You’re struggling with these ideas that it helps them kind of see behind the process, and I think that vulnerability is hugely important. I’m curious if you’ve seen… Do you see things that way? The benefit there, the strength there.

Isaac: Yeah. When I first started this, including my own personal perspective wasn’t something that I was keen to do. But a lot of people when I was first testing the newsletter format and sending it out to people, the response that I got from tonnes of people was like, “Well, what do you think? You’re the politics reporter.” My friends and family and stuff, they’re like, “I’ve read all these arguments and now I just feel like I’m left with no sort of conclusion..”

Zach: “Guide me.”

Isaac: Yeah. Yeah. And I think what’s been really interesting for me is some people really object to that. I get emails sometimes from new subscribers who are like, “I would love this if your opinion wasn’t in it, but your opinion ruins it because you tip the scales one way or another.” And the way I’ve come to think about it is this is an act of transparency. My promise to you is I’m going to be honest about my view. I include these disclaimers before and after that’s like, “You don’t have to agree with me. This is not supposed to be the end all be all. But I think you’re consuming information that I’m collecting, perspectives I’m collecting, you’re consuming the work of a team that I’ve built. And it’s important for you to know what my views are and it’s probably helpful for you to know. And if my take can offer an original perspective or lens or criticism– which I hope it does sometimes, and I think it does sometimes– then that’s adding something to the conversation.” And when I don’t feel like I know or I don’t have a strong opinion, I just say that. I’ve gotten really good at just saying I actually don’t know where I land on this position because I find both sides’ arguments really compelling, and that’s my take for the day. And sometimes I feel really strongly and yeah, I want to try and convince people of my view, but I give myself that space to do that so elsewhere in the newsletter, we can shoot as straight and down the middle as possible.

Zach: It’s kind of related to an instinct I had when I was writing my “Defusing American Anger” book, which is depolarization-related. I had a similar kind of instinct not just to guide people– because actually in that case, it wasn’t to guide people. Specifically, it was to say… Because people will inevitably assume you have biases, so to make them clear, actually, is by showing that vulnerability and that transparency. I think it makes people trust you more, even if they don’t disagree with you. For example, I’ve disagreed with you on some things, but I know that you’re, like me, striving towards the truth, and we’re all going to disagree on various things. I think that’s the meta-level point. Another meta-level thing you do is you’ve shared the criticisms you get from people on the Left and the Right who say, in a very amusing way, it’s like your share of people being like you obviously have a Republican bias so you obviously have a Democrat slash liberal bias. I think there’s also a meta-level value there, too, of showing how easy it is for us to see other people as biased or other people as having an agenda. So, do you see that the same way of highlighting that complexity there?

Isaac: Yeah, totally. First of all, I do find it amusing. I often get emails that come in five minutes apart of somebody accusing me of being a closet Trumper or being a closet liberal or whatever. So, sometimes it’s kind of a cathartic response to that. Instead of responding to them in a frustrating way, I just share those responses with my readers. But I also think it’s important because it illustrates that not just that different media organizations can be biased or different perspectives might be biased, but that that bias is very much in the eye of the beholder. And our view of what’s bias or our view of what’s tilted one way or the other is informed by our own personal biases. I mean, most of the people who accuse me of being Conservative are Liberal, and most of the people who accuse me of being Liberal are Conservative. It’s not center Left people writing in saying, “I can tell you’re also center Left,” because they might see an article where they feel like their views or my takes are represented and that’s not objectionable to them or whatever. It’s always coming from the other side, which I think has just taught me that that perspective is from the partisan lens. And that’s okay, I just have to be okay with that. And I try and communicate that to people. I say, “You might think my view here or my position here is really right, but guess what? It’s in line with 60% of the country. So, is 60% of the country right? I don’t think so. I think I’m just having a kind of moderate perspective here that’s maybe a pretty commonly held view and this is where I fall.” Sometimes I have really radical views and I know they’re radical. Like, I’ve written about my really extreme political positions. One of my views that I don’t think is political or related to any politics is I’m vehemently anti-prison. A lot of people think I’m very Left because of that. I think that’s ridiculous. A lot of libertarians are also really vehemently anti-prison in a small government perspective, which is part of my worldview too. And so I write about that and it’s like, I know that’s a fringe extreme position and I’m acknowledging that. But it’s fascinating for me when I share a view that I think is pretty down the middle and it brings out all the people sort of accusing me of being one way or the other.

Zach: Yeah, I think it’s… Again, I think it’s highlighting the complexity of these things, you know, these simplistic ideas that many of us have about what’s liberal or what’s conservative. Those words, in a lot of cases, don’t mean much. There’s that book by the Lewis brothers, “The Myth of Left and Right”, which I think was good for examining a lot of the ambiguity in these terms. And people in conflict resolution space will talk about emphasizing the complexity in these areas, or what can break the spell of the filtering for is this us versus them? Is this person on my team or another team? So I think that’s another way that you’re helping break some of that and emphasize that complexity.

Getting back to the first question I asked about toxic polarization, I know that you said when you started this work that wasn’t your focus, but obviously, I would imagine you’ve formed some opinions about the problem of toxic polarization over the years. And I’m curious if you have your own kind of take on how you see the problem. For example, my take is basically that it’s a complex problem, but I think the gist of it is that so many of us have distorted and overly pessimistic views of each other or overly negative views. And that because we’re social creatures, that leads to this feedback loop of increasingly negative views of each other where all of our grievances start getting lumped into these two different buckets. Right? That’s kind of how I view it, as an overly distorted, overly pessimistic set of views that Americans or any group in conflict has that goes into a snowball effect. But I’m curious, do you have your own take on that? What do you think of that conceptualization?

Isaac: Yeah. No, I think that perspective is kind of adjacent to my own in a lot of ways. I definitely, because of the work that I do and my background, I paint a lot of the blame on media. And I think media consumption and the stuff that the news quote-unquote “is feeding people”—which is now basically entertainment—is a huge contributing factor to that kind of negative views or those kinds of negative views people hold of those on the other side of political issues of them. I also think we’re living in an era where people are increasingly online and much less in person and in community with each other. Everything from the attendance of church, to community meetings, to soccer games, to whatever, those kinds of things are really good at exposing people to others in person that they disagree with and learning that they can kind of live side by side with people like that. And I think as a country, we’re doing a lot less of that. There’s a lot of social research out there suggesting that political tribes are sort of the new communities for a lot of Americans and it’s how people feel connected and seen. They join Facebook groups and they join political movements and they get behind candidates, and then they get lined up with a bunch of like-minded people. And like you said, they get into that feedback loop and they just get fed more and more reinforced ideas about the world and their enemies and all this stuff. That really contributes to it. There’s so many different things that I think are happening at once that make it such a hard problem to deal with. I tell people regularly… One of the most common questions I get in the newsletter is, “Hey, I have a daughter who’s a non-binary progressive activist, and I’m a 75-year-old lifelong Conservative and I have no idea how to talk to her. Do you have any advice?” Or, “Hey, my neighbor is a hardcore Trumper and he’s flying the Trump flag and I have no idea how to talk to him.” And I always just say, “Go talk to them.” Actually, the talking is the solution.

I have rules. When people talk to me about politics, I always try and ask three questions before I say anything about my own opinions or start sharing my views. I go into every conversation with the idea that I have more to learn from hearing about this person’s perspective than I have to teach about sharing my own perspective and trying to convince them of my worldview. I think having humility like that is really important and really helpful. Again, I said at the top, politics are personal and most people are informed by their experiences and the media they consume and the social circles they’re in. And you’re not going to break people out of that in one conversation, you’re not going to convince them of something in one conversation, so it’s better to learn and listen and hear and then let them reciprocate that kind of open-mindedness, and then you can sort of share your views. So, that’s the kind of advice I give people who want to bridge that gap. You know, a six-pack of beer or a good meal often helps and that’s a good way to sort of cut through some of the tension and awkwardness. But it’s a really touchy time and I know there are issues that feels super third rail for a lot of people like they can’t possibly be discussed, but I think it’s important that we do. And there’s a time and place for it. I don’t think you should go harangue your boss at work tomorrow about their political views, because you might disagree. But if you’re at a happy hour and something comes up in the news and you’re interested, ask some questions and be open-minded to the answer. And be genuinely open-minded. Don’t just ask questions to try and set them up to get in your little comment or fact or whatever, ask questions and actually listen and learn and try and be understanding of where people are coming from. I think if more of us were doing that, we’d be in a much better spot.

Zach: Yeah, I was just remembering a quote from you from one of your newsletters a few months ago that I retweeted of something like, you know, that the main problem is that so many people think that there’s things we can’t talk about, but the solution is talking about these things more. Yeah, that was a good quote. I’m not doing it justice, but it was better that way. Isaac laughs] Yeah. I often think when people talk about… You know, I think they’re going to be an inclination to feel like, “Well, what do these minor interactions I have with people matter online or in person with my political opponents?” But I think, to what you’re saying, it’s like every positive or respectful interaction you have with somebody that’s your political opponent helps break the cycle of contempt a little bit. You have to think about it in terms of how those things bubble up and help form our culture, and every contemptuous interaction you have deepens our divides. That’s kind of how I think of it and kind of how I started my journey thinking about my own interactions with people online after Trump was elected, for example.

Changing the topic a little bit, I only recently learned that one of the big things that had gotten you a lot of attention for your work was that after the 2020 election or maybe leading up to it too, you had done a thread of various debunking of various ‘the election was rigged’ narratives. And I was curious, was that a planned-out thing that you did? Or was it just in the moment like, “I’m frustrated, I’m passionate, I’m going to start debunking some of these things.”

Isaac: Yeah, a little bit of both, I would say. I mean, I had warned people that these claims were coming. First of all, if you go back to September or August or whatever of 2020, what a lot of Trump officials and Trump himself were saying was, “There’s no way we lose this election unless it’s rigged.” And so they—

Zach: Yeah, I was on his email list. I was seeing that for months before, and I was also sharing and being like, “This is not going to be good.”

Isaac: Yeah. And so in that sense, I was prepared for it and I expected it. I also have a long background of reporting on politics, but specifically, I have reported on elections before and interviewed a lot of election experts and done election security reporting. And so I was pretty well versed in how ballots were certified and how elections just fundamentally worked. And so when I started seeing some of the first claims that the election was being stolen or was stolen pop up, I had really basic answers that were just… Like, I could watch the video and say, “Oh, I know they’re curing a ballot here. This isn’t people filling out someone’s ballot. I know exactly what’s going on here.” And so that helped me kind of start the train where I just said, “I’m going to start tracking these election fraud claims. If you see any, send them to me.” And then I did that for the first four or five hours and I saw my thread blow up on Twitter. And then it was sort of like, “Okay, clear the decks. I’m going to do this for the next 48 hours,” and it was basically like a nonstop marathon in the first few days after the election ended. And then I started getting really confident in what I was doing because first of all, I think one of the things that worked was that I was conceding moments where things might be actual voter fraud. Voter fraud is real. It happens. So there were certain stories that were popping up, really local stories about somebody filling out a bunch of ballots for their family or something that were probably real fraud stories. And when I saw that, I would say, “Okay, I don’t know this. I can’t debunk this one, it might actually be real because this kind of stuff happens in elections. But remember we’re talking about 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70,000 votes in swing states, not some 18-year-old kid stealing his mom and dad’s ballot and filling them out.”

So, I saw that traction happening and felt like I was really well-positioned to address it. A lot of the stuff was really easy and some of it was really hard, it took digging. I didn’t understand what I was looking at, I didn’t even know where the video was from. It had been reposted or reshard so many times that finding the original was impossible. And then I’d dig it up and be like, “Oh, this was actually from 2012 or something. I don’t know why this is going viral.” Yeah, and I think it works and people were really encouraged by it and felt like it was a really good resource. It got tonnes and tonnes of retweets and attention, and I just sort of threaded in some promotions for Tangle in there. And it became my beat a little bit. In the months after 2020, I wrote a bunch of articles about election fraud claims, got interviewed a bunch. I went on a Conservative radio show where the host offered $5,000 to anybody who could stump me with some claim or something and we did a little bit like that. There was a lot of really fun and serious and not-so-serious stuff that came out of it, and part of it was that Tangle grew a lot in that time period, which was really rewarding because it was exhausting and draining and took up a lot of time.

Zach: Real quick, something I wanted to ask you about that I’m curious about. When it comes to the “2000 Mules” movie, do you know of a single resource that would be the greatest resource for a quick form debunking of the claims in that movie?

Isaac: Well, I wrote a piece about “2000 Mules” so I would suggest that.

Zach: Okay, that’s good.

Isaac: Yeah, that was one that came up a year or two after. Which, for what it’s worth, is self evidently kind of ridiculous the whole thing. I mean, the initial claim was that the Dominion Voting Systems were flipping votes. And then there was the Facebook stuff and Mark Zuckerberg and Zuck bucks, and then it was Hunter Biden’s story was suppressed, and then they pivoted to this whole other theory that there were people stuffing ballots in major cities all over the country. The story basically changed every time somebody got this stuff knocked down. And all I would say is I wrote a multi-thousand-word piece on the “2000 Mules” documentary and people can go read it on if they want, but the quickest and easiest way to debunk that stuff is that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations asked Dinesh D’Souza for the evidence he had so they could investigate the claims that he put in the movie, and he wouldn’t turn any of the evidence over. So, I don’t know what else you need to know aside from that, basically.

Zach: I think that’s generally a good way to tell if something’s legitimate. People who want the truth to get out there will not put up any obstacles, they’ll make their data and their information public however they can. And when somebody is not willing to do that– for people who want to help put the pieces together for whatever malfeasance happened– that’s a clear red flag. Yeah. Okay. Yeah, there’s a lot more we could talk about, but I know you’ve got to get going. And I just want to say I’m a huge fan of your work and love reading the newsletter, and I promote it every chance I get. So, thank you.

Isaac: Thanks, Zach. I appreciate the time, man. And yeah, I certainly encourage any of your listeners to check it out and give it a try. They can read for free. We’re a big tent party, so we’re trying to welcome anybody who is trying to assess through some of the BS in the media right now.

Zach: That was Isaac Saul of Tangle News. You can learn more about Tangle and sign up for it at I highly recommend it.