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Jul 23

Written by: Diana West
Monday, July 23, 2012 2:12 AM 

White House official reading MSM


Joseph Farah draws our attention to a New York Times story of July 16, which broke, as he notes, without rippling the surface of public discourse. It is a bombshell, however. It is the story about the extent to which "news" is routinely checked and approved -- censored -- by the Government before newspapers print it.

The NYT story is  titled: "Latest Word on the Trail? I Take It Back."

It opens:

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.

The push and pull over what is on the record is one of journalism’s perennial battles. But those negotiations typically took place case by case, free from the red pens of press minders. Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations.

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 — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.

The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.

From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a “top Democrat” or a “Republican strategist.”

It is a double-edged sword for journalists, who are getting the on-the-record quotes they have long asked for, but losing much of the spontaneity and authenticity in their interviews.

What about the freedom of the press? I personally encountered this media control mechanism back in 2010 on the occasion of a luncheon at the Heritage Foundation with DHS Secetary Janet Napolitano, and wrote a column all about it: "Come Fly with Big Sis."

Farah writes:

What it means is this: When Americans read these reports – whether in newspapers, wire services or on the Internet – they are not really reading news stories at all. They are reading approved, pre-packaged press releases from the government and politicians. But, even worse, they are not labeled as such. They are labeled as actual news. ...

Let me state what I hope is obvious to all reading this column: This sort of willing capitulation to government censorship was not the norm five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago. This is a new phenomenon – chilling and alarming to an old-timer like me who would never agree to submit his copy for approval to politicians.

Imagine, if you can, how journalists in a free society might react to this state of state control. How about an emergency meeting of media executives, editors, publishers to devise a means to lberate the media? How about a declaration of the people's "right to know"? Such a declaration would reject "quote approval" across the board. In exceptional cases, stories submitted to officials for "quote approval" would be so labeled and include the names of the government censors. ...


Instead, the MSM (the National Journal, Reuters, the New York Times are quoted as participants in the government information service) submit. They sell "their ethical and moral souls," Farah writes, "for access to politicians." More than their own souls, though, are at stake.

This practice raises expectations by politicians that they can routinely manipulate the press to their advantage. That makes the job of real journalists – independent reporters faithful to their craft – even more difficult, because they will be shut out from access.

Farah reports that the Democrat Party has denied his own news organization, World New Daily, press credentials to attend the Democratic Party Convention. On one level this is cause for congratulations: Clearly, WND's soul is intact. But the rest of the media's is in tatters. Access has become more important than veracity; pleasing officialdom to maintain access now overrides professional responsibility. This corrupt media-government relationship helps explain beyond political bias the mechanism for censorship and, always more important, self-censorship. This mechanism not only determines how news is packaged for the people, but also what news is packaged for the people. 


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