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Ear to the Ground

Shame on the News: Pols Get to Edit Their Quotations

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Posted on Jul 16, 2012
White House/Chuck Kennedy

The New York Times reports that it is now commonplace for everyone from campaign advisers to the Treasury Department to edit and approve quotes before journalists allow themselves to print them. Keith Olbermann calls it “appalling,” and that’s being nice.

Journalists are supposed to fight for the truth on behalf of their readers, not sniff around for table scraps from politicians.

According to the Times, “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.’ ”

Here are some examples of editing, which may sound minor but in effect puts the self-described journalist at the service of the powerful person he or she is claiming to report on:

Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager, can be foul-mouthed. But readers would not know it because he deletes the curse words before approving his quotes. Brevity is not a strong suit of David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser. So he tightens up his sentences before giving them the O.K.

Stuart Stevens, the senior Romney strategist, is fond of disparaging political opponents by quoting authors like Walt Whitman and referring to historical figures like H. R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. But such clever lines later rarely make it past Mr. Stevens.

This is just more shameful confirmation of what we already know: Don’t trust the establishment Washington press. How tough are you going to be on someone whose permission you need to work?

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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