New York Times confirmed what many knew but wasn't admitted to. The mainstream media was making deals with politicians, candidates and the White House in order to obtain interviews, media outlets allowed direct quotes to be altered after the interviews were concluded and before they were published.
It was difficult to find a news outlet that had not agreed to quote approval, albeit reluctantly. Organizations like Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times have all consented to interviews under such terms.
While this was not a new practice, the New York Times did report that under Obama "the insistence on blanket anonymity has grown to new levels."
Last Friday, McClatchy's Washington Bureau published an open statement to their staff and readers:
As you are aware, reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg and others are agreeing to give government sources the right to clear and alter quotes as a prerequisite to granting an interview.
To be clear, it is the bureau’s policy that we do not alter accurate quotes from any source. And to the fullest extent possible, we do not make deals that we will clear quotes as a condition of interviews.
With the government trying to do more of the public’s business in secret, the demands that interviews be conducted off the record is growing. While it puts us at a disadvantage, we should argue strenuously for on-the-record interviews with government officials.
When they absolutely refuse, we have only two options. First, halt the interview and attempt to find the information elsewhere. In those cases, our stories should say the official declined comment. Second, we can go ahead with the interview with the straightforward response that whatever ultimately is used will be published without change in tone, emphasis or exact language.
These days government is trying mightily to constrain access to public information. Each staffer has had no comments, demands for FOIAs that go unanswered and worse. More recently, our sources have been chilled by threats of leak investigations, and some have endured full blown leak inquiries.
As advocates of the First Amendment, we cannot be intimidated into letting the government control our work. When The New York Times agreed with Bush Administration officials to delay publication of its story of illegal wiretaps of Americans until after the 2004 election, it did the nation a great disservice. Acceding to the Obama administration’s efforts to censor our work to have it more in line with their political spin is another disservice to America.
And judging from the controversy that has ensued from the disclosure of these requests, the people don’t like this either.
If you believe there is a compelling reason for an exception to this policy, please clear it with me.
Washington Bureau Chief
The Washington Examiner, on July 17, 2012, announced the same line drawn, as well as reporting the Associated Press had done so:
To its credit, the Associated Press refuses to allow sources to approve quotations. Their Washington bureau chief told Poynter that "if a source insists upon editing a quotation as a condition for using it on the record, 'then you just don't use the quote.' "
The Washington Examiner agrees -- emphatically. We will not grant campaigns or public officials the power to review, veto or edit the quotes that we plan to publish, even if it means we are denied interviews. We urge our fellow news organizations to do the same. Just as journalists need access to campaigns, campaigns need access to journalists. If news organizations refuse to let campaigns censor interviews after the fact, campaigns will have to stop the practice and readers will be better -- and honestly -- served.
Taking back the Freedom of the Press, one publication at a time.
[Update] National Journal joins in with a no-alter quote decree.