News Organizations Letting Officials Get Final Say on Copy

Article excerpt

By Martin Schram

SADLY, the decline and fall of the Washington press corps continues in ways we never imagined could happen.

A new form of news deception has gone viral. It has spread from the White House press corps to the campaign trail, Capitol Hill and your favorite news site.

There's something journalists you trust haven't told you: Those quotations you're reading from top officials may not have been said by those officials during their interviews.

In a shameful journalistic acquiescence that we who covered presidents and politicians once considered unthinkable, reporters and editors are now letting officials who were interviewed review, approve and even alter quotations before publication.

We know about this only because of a fine article by The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters. On July 15, Peters did what every self- respecting Washington journalist should have done. He reported what is really happening at the intersection of the news media, policy and politics.

He wrote that most major news organizations -- including his own New York Times, plus The Washington Post, Reuters, Bloomberg and Vanity Fair -- are yielding to demands of Barack Obama's administration and the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns that allow officials to, in effect, censure and sanitize their own quotations.

"The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative," Peters wrote.

"They are sent by email from the Obama headquarters in Chicago to reporters who have interviewed campaign officials under one major condition: The press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name."

Not all major news organizations have acquiesced. The Associated Press has steadfastly refused to make any quote-clearing concessions as ground rules for interviews with officials.

"It has been our standard all along," said AP senior managing editor Michael Oreskes. "We'd rather not use the quote at all if the price of the quote is that we have to doctor it."

Interestingly, Oreskes was once a top editor of The New York Times and was the Times' Washington bureau chief. If he still held that job, it is inconceivable that America's leading newspaper would be permitting interviewees to cleanse quotes.

For decades, journalists and officials have jousted about ground rules for interviews and briefings -- without yielding to quotation censorship. …