Maybe the item’s cutesy title (“Latest Word on the Trail? I Take It Back”) made potential readers believe that it would be a puff piece. Maybe it was management’s odd decision to print Peters’ piece on a Monday instead of a Sunday where it arguably belonged. Maybe the blowback from President Obama’s painfully revealing “you didn’t build that” statement on July 13 in Roanoke, Virginia, monopolized the attention of those who would otherwise have expressed outrage over what Peters revealed.
Those three explanations border on being plausible excuses. A fourth, that nobody cares about what’s in the Times any more, is clever but obviously unsatisfying, despite the newspaper’s roughly 25 percent daily and 30 percent Sunday print circulation declines, even with more generous definitions of “circulation,” in the past six years. The final alternative — that what Peters reported is so understood to be the way it is in the world of alleged journalism that it wasn’t really noteworthy — is truly disturbing.
What Peters told readers, in essence, is that White House officials, the Obama administration in general, the Obama for America campaign, the campaign of presidential challenger Mitt Romney (though the evidence Peters provided is thin and seems to relate largely to the candidate’s family), and powerful Washington politicians on Capitol Hill are dictating what the press will print concerning their nonpublic statements and remarks — and that the press is, for the most part, acquiescing with little if any objection.
Consider the following excerpts from Peters’ production:
- “[T]he (Obama campaign’s) press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name.”
- “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.”
- “From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position.”
- “It was difficult to find a news outlet that had not agreed to quote approval, albeit reluctantly.” Ratner believes that the Associated Press and McClatchy are exceptions; I’m less than convinced.
- “Many journalists spoke about the editing only if granted anonymity, an irony that did not escape them.”
The irony may not have escaped them, but integrity apparently has.
You know, if you’re going to have “the White House and political campaigns cleaning up quotes before reporters are even allowed to publish their stories,” as Ratner aptly describes it, why not just have potential “interview” subjects email what they want to “say” directly to newspaper and broadcast news editors and eliminate the middleman, i.e., the alleged journalists?
The Times itself is among the outfits which has given in to quote approval. A closer look at the particulars of their situation is warranted.