I've long been on record as a critic of a particular kind of gotcha played by many reporters, what we might call "The Russert." This is where the reporter reads the politician something he said some time in the past, or describes something he did some time in the past, and contrasts it with what he's saying or doing today, to charge him with hypocrisy. There's nothing illegitimate about pointing out a politician's hypocrisy, of course, and it's a good thing if politicians fear being called hypocrites.
The problem with The Russert, particularly as it was practiced by Tim Russert himself, was that it seldom mattered whether the hypocrisy in question was consequential or not, and it also had no statute of limitations. It didn't matter how long ago the contradictory statement occurred, or what it was about; if you caught the politician contradicting himself, you got points for being "tough."
But here's a good lesson in where it's completely legitimate to yell "J'accuse, hypocrite!" at some politicians, in this case Sens. John Cornyn and John Thune (via Think Progress):
This qualifies as good gotcha on both measures. First, the contradictory actions aren't just close in time; they're happening almost simultaneously. You've got Republican senators requesting earmarks for a spending bill, then holding a press conference to condemn the spending bill because it contains earmarks. That's some ninth-degree chutzpah right there. And while earmarks themselves are almost entirely symbolic -- they don't appropriate new money, but just direct money that has already been appropriated, and even so they amount to less than 1 percent of the budget -- Republicans themselves are making a big fuss over them. They're the ones who are claiming earmarks are terribly important. And in this case, Cornyn and Thune are the ones who called the press conference to trumpet their opposition to earmarks.
So this is a case where the politicians in question should absolutely be held up to all the ridicule reporters can muster.
-- Paul Waldman
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