The New York Times has documented a rather nasty trend in political speech, where politicians demand and many times get final editorial approval on quotes before a story on an interview can be published. It would be nice to say that this is a practice initiated by and done solely by Conservatives, whose speech really does need editing to take out the kooky stuff, but alas that is not the case. The practice seems to be widespread and know no political boundaries.
Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout
and on the campaign trail. Washington
The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.
From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a “top Democrat” or a “Republican strategist.”
The practice is, of course, disgusting, an affront to any standard of democracy in a free country and primarily attests to the arrogance that politicians everywhere have adopted. Fortunately some news organizations are fighting back.
In a memorandum to the staff, Ron Fournier, National Journal’s editor in chief, said, “If a public official wants to use NJ as a platform for his/her point of view, the price of admission is a quote that is on-record, unedited and unadulterated.”
And others are at least trying.
The Times has said that it encourages its reporters to push back against sources who demand quote approval and that it is reviewing how its policies might address the issue. The
Examiner said last week that it, too, would not accept interviews granted under
the condition of quote approval. Washington
Politico’s editor in chief, John Harris, said he advised reporters to resist such conditions for interviews and expressed dismay that political figures were becoming more comfortable avoiding on-the-record interviews.
“Journalists need to work hard to make sure we are doing everything possible to insist on accessibility and accountability,” Mr. Harris said last week.
But the practice will only stop when the entire journalist community rises up and says “NO!”. See politicians are about the most cowardly group that ever existed, and faced with united opposition to their craven instincts they will cave faster than Superman leaping a tall building. Who knows, maybe the ghost of the “Good” John McCain will rise from the dead and fix this thing.