Congress through the lens of humanity

Francine Kiefer explains the key to how she lasted for five years covering Congress: You must seek out the humanity in others.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Monitor congressional correspondent Francine Kiefer (in green) takes notes at a press conference at the Capitol in March.

Let’s just say I can understand the people in Francine Kiefer’s cover story this week.

Our congressional writer for the past five years, Francine is ready for a new challenge, so she’s headed to Southern California as our West Coast writer. Essentially, she and staff writer Jessica Mendoza, who was based in Los Angeles, are swapping posts. 

In this week’s magazine, Francine reflects on her five years inside the Capitol and offers insight, humor, and a detailed look at why in the name of Millard Fillmore she agreed to go there in the first place.

In case you were not aware, Congress is not the most beloved institution at this moment. Polls show that public opinion is only marginally better than the surface of the moon – think craters. So it is not surprising that many people asked her “How can you stand it?”

That’s actually a question the Monitor and other media can ask ourselves daily. How can we stand it?

If you were to come up with a list of qualities that the Monitor is constantly seeking – fellowship, humanity, innovative thinking, constructive collaboration, to name a few – those would not describe the current portrait of Washington. At a time when so much of politics is calculated specifically to enrage and antagonize, what is the role of a publication created specifically to enlighten and uplift?

You can begin with Francine’s answer: You seek out the humanity. Every legislator has a story, and that story helps explain why they see the world the way they do.

But the larger answer might lie in another question: How can we be a part of the solution? There’s no one answer. Many media outlets try to hold politicians to account with fact checks and exposés, and those are essential tasks of a free press. Others are unabashed partisans, advocating for causes they see as just, and that too can be thought provoking.

But my answer comes in the upcoming June 3 issue of the Weekly. There you will read an explainer about why the abortion debate includes so much misunderstanding. The facts and data are important, but perhaps more so is the feel of the piece. It genuinely treats all with dignity. It seeks out the highest ideals on both sides. It embraces the ambiguity of there being no single right answer and encourages the reader to think independently.

Facts are essential. They are the foundation of responsible journalism. But in an era of fake news, they’re not enough. If I don’t like your facts, I can find my own. 

What touches hearts and opens minds is the tone and spirit of an article. Genuine fairness and goodwill are hard to fake, and they are extraordinarily powerful.

The Monitor can help by holding up a mirror – showing what politics says about our efforts to become more just, humane, and innovative as a nation and how we’re wrestling with those tough choices. I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you think we’re doing. Please write me.

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