Journalism (noun): The craft of interviewing politicians, transcribing their quotes, sending them back to the politicians so they can edit their own quotes to their satisfaction, and then printing the quotes exactly as the politicians demanded.
Any journalism student who defined their profession in the manner above would fail out of their college program. But they shouldn’t. Turns out, this definition would be spot on.
According to yesterday’s The New York Times
, it’s become increasingly common for major news outlets—including the Times
—to submit quotes from politicians and their staffers for review before they publish them. And often the quotes are nixed.
From the Times
“The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative.
“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.
“Most reporters, desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists, grudgingly agree. After the interviews, they review their notes, check their tape recorders and send in the juiciest sound bites for review.
“The verdict from the campaign—an operation that prides itself on staying consistently on script—is often no, Barack Obama does not approve this message.”
If you’re an Obama hater, slow down before you take this as another sign of “Chicago style politics.” In certain situations, the Romney campaign does the exact same thing.
Just how pervasive is this practice? Again, from the Times
“Organizations like Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times have all consented to interviews under such terms.”
Why give a press conference when you can just insist on reporters publishing exactly what you want them to?
As a media trainer, you would think I would like this practice since it gives spokespersons more control over the story. And sure, if journalists are going to let people get away with this nonsense, political campaigns may as well keep doing it.
But my goal as a media trainer isn’t to teach people how to wrest stories out of the hands of journalists to serve as their de facto
editors. It’s to prepare spokespersons to deliver effective media interviews every time they speak to the press.
People who believe in the need for an independent press should regard this practice as journalistic malpractice. The news organizations complicit in this insidious practice should band together immediately and collectively refuse to play ball on the terms demanded by these controlling campaigns.
For the moment, at least, this practice seems confined to high-level politics—so PR professionals who work in other sectors shouldn’t get any “bright” ideas from their political brethren.
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @MrMediaTraining.