Outrage Of The Day: You Approved This Message?
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, their definition would be spot on.
According to yesterday’s The New York Times:
“The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative.
They are sent by e-mail 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 New York Times:
“Organizations like Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times have all consented to interviews under such terms.”
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 in order 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 abhorrent egregious 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.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Sad commentary on my former profession to think reporters at big-name publications would actually agree to this. The Free Press is supposed to be about journalism, not helping political leaders enhance their spin control and fine-tune their propaganda. We get enough of that already from Cable News, websites, blogs and fringe publications that do little to hide their political allegiances.
I think there’s an even worse downside: a well-spoken, well-trained interviewee tends to give “better” quotes in an interview situation than in situations were the quote is crafted. This is not a universal truth, but a quick glance at the canned quotes in press releases reveals an unfortunate habit: when a committee drafts a quote, it tends to be stuffed with messages and devoid of humanity. (And — to be clear — this only compounds what I agree is gross journalistic malpractice.)
I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re exactly right. Thanks for adding that insight to the blog.