A New York Times front-page article Monday detailed a new phenomenon in news coverage of the presidential campaign: candidates insisting on “quote approval,” telling reporters what they can and cannot use in some stories. And, stunningly, reporters agreeing to it.
This, folks, is news. Any way you look at it, this is a jaw-dropping turn in journalism, and it raises a lot of questions. Among them: Can you trust the reporters and news organizations who do this? Is it ever justified on the candidate’s side or on the reporter’s side? Where is this leading us..?
Essentially, what the Times described was the rapid rise of “quote approval” — a strategy deployed by campaigns requiring reporters to send quotations they intend to use to candidates’ press officers, to be sliced, diced, edited and drained of color or unwanted consequences, and reporters going along, fearing that if they don’t, they won’t get access…
Let us mark well this Faustian bargain. It is for the benefit of the politicians, at the expense of readers, listeners and viewers. It is not in the public interest; it is designed to further the candidates’ interests.
Political operatives cannot be blamed for wanting this. We, the press, should be held accountable for letting them have it.
The practice described in the Times is something new and different. This is the officials or candidates regularly insisting that reporters essentially become an operative arm of the administration or campaign they are covering.
“Quote approval” nullifies, or at least seriously dilutes, reporters’ ability and duty to be honest brokers of information. When the quotes are sanitized, then delivered intact with full attribution, the public has no way of knowing what the concealed deal was…
I generally watch Rather’s Tuesday night program on AXS TV. It’s rewarding to see what he offers now that he has no corporate editor overseeing content.
His best quote in the body of this article is…”One of the most important roles of our journalists is to be watchdogs. Submitting to these new tactics puts us more in the category of lapdogs”. All too often what we get from our journalists is the work of lapdogs satisfied with the tidbits they’re handed by corporate PR hacks.
Why should we expect any different from their relationship with politicians? They serve the same masters.