Reporters tend to bristle when media critics refer to them as "stenographers." But Paul Kane of the Washington Post provides a pretty clear illustration of where that criticism comes from. Here's something Kane said during an online discussion Kane participated in today (the discussion carries tomorrow's date, but tomorrow hasn't occurred yet, so please believe me when I say it took place today):
Paul Kane: We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us.
Got that? Olympia Snowe said something, Paul Kane wrote it down, and he doesn't know what more anyone could want from him.
Well, it isn't very complicated: Context. That's what people want. Like the fact that Olympia Snowe had previously voted to do exactly what Kane quotes her criticizing -- that's useful context.
And that's the difference between "journalism" and "stenography."
Here's the full question-and-answer:
New York, N.Y.: Paul, do you care to defend yourself against this criticism from Media Matters?
"In an April 9 article about Democrats' legislative priorities, The Washington Post wrote, 'Democrats are sure to incite Republicans if they adopt a shortcut that would allow them to pass major health-care and education bills with just 51 votes in the Senate, where Democrats are two seats shy of the filibuster-proof margin of 60 seats. The rule, known as 'reconciliation,' would fuel GOP charges that (President) Obama has ditched bipartisanship.' The article, by Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray, then quoted Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) saying, 'If they exercise that tool, it's going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide.' However, Kane and Murray did not mention that congressional Republicans -- including Snowe herself -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass major Bush administration initiatives. Indeed, Murray herself noted in an April 1 article that '(a)dvocates defend reconciliation as a legitimate tool used more often by Republicans in recent years, most notably to pass President George W. Bush's tax cuts.' "
Paul Kane: I'm sorry, what's to defend?
Someone tell Media Matters to get over themselves and their overblown ego of righteousness. We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us. We are not opinion writers whose job is to play some sorta gotcha game with lawmakers.
That's what columns and blogs are for. Look, Republcians will take reconciliation as a serious poison pill to Obama's so-called bipartisan/post-partisan era. The Republicans did this, in the most direct correlation, with welfare in the mid-90s. And Democrats took it as a vicious partisan maneuver.
That's what is happening, that's what we reported. [Emphasis added]