(Note: I’m a little late on this story, but I think it’s nonetheless important to include here.)
About two weeks ago the New York Times broke a story about the pernicious practice of “quote approval,” wherein a reporter covering a political official, staffer, or perhaps a candidate is allowed to vet the final version of his or her quotes for a news story. According to the article apparently this shameful journalistic process is practiced by the likes of “Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times.” The reasons for this are various, such as to eliminate vulgar language or to streamline a message. Apparently in Germany the practice is quite common. According to Ian Taynor, a writer for the Guardian, if one were to include unapproved quotes, the German government would “write a letter to your editor [and] deny that [German Chancellor Merkel] ever said that.” That, in addition to not allowing access to future interviews.
This practice is toxic. In the first place, we already have a complacent news media that relies on official sources as the shining truth when discussing issues and policies that affect our lives on a day to day basis. Governments are little other than political entities that have control over not only the machinery of the state, but its anatomy as well. Assuming that they are objective purveyors of information is a practice that must come to a stop. I wanted to start with that as background, because that is the real backdrop on which this story is set.
Seeing that we are currently in a journalistic system that assumes the government speaks an objective truth, it is hazardous to allow officials to approve the content of an interview granted by them. The press is obliged to report the fact and context of a story. If the government (or staffers of an opposition candidate) wishes to respond to how one is portrayed in the media, then that is the course of action, not pretending that what was said does not exist.
The American Journalism Review posted a reaction to controversy calling for a unified response for reporters: don’t accept quote-approval. Bravo, thanks AJR. Several outlets have already pledged to not allow the practice. This will likely not happen, however, as access to important government officials and political spindoctors are important for the business model in corporate media. Only by understanding and confronting our failing media system will we be able to make a difference. Stay tuned for answers?