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Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned Watch

Matthew Yglesias says that if you follow the operating procedures of the Washington Post "you could do an entire article that consisted of accurately quoting people who are lying, and wind up badly misinforming your readers."

In the Len Downie-Fred Hiatt Post, Matt, that's not a bug--that's a feature:

Matthew Yglesias: Post Reporter Says It’s Not His Job to Check the Accuracy of People He’s Quoting: You rarely see the kind of full-throated defense of journalism-as-stenography that The Washington Post’s Paul Kane offers up here:

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.

This is fairly simple. What we want is that if you’re going to quote someone saying something dishonest, you report the fact that they’re lying. Or if in this case you’re quoting someone who’s arguably being hypocritical, you inform readers of the broader context. Surely a person assessing the merits of a Republican argument that majority voting in the Senate is pernicious would want to know that when Republicans were in the majority they saw things differently. The crux of the “debate” over reconciliation is that whichever party happens to be in the majority at any given time is inclined to take an expansive view of the circumstances under which it should be used. It’s not possible for Post readers to understand what’s happening absent that context.

This isn’t a matter of “gotcha games,” it’s crucial. Otherwise, operating by Kane standards you could do an entire article that consisted of accurately quoting people who are lying, and wind up badly misinforming your readers.