Campaign reporters allowing quote vetos

Posted July 21st, 2012 in Campaigns, Government, Media Relations, Television and tagged , , , , by Jeff Bentoff

The New York Times this week revealed an open secret in D.C. — national campaign reporters are now allowing political sources to approve or edit their interview quotes before potential publication. This is a new practice in political reporting that wasn’t widely known about until this article.

As a former print reporter and government spokesman, I’ve never seen media in Milwaukee agree to such ground rules. It’s always been a matter of sources speaking carefully or suffering the consequences.

No such post-interview editing agreement for TV news interviews takes place that I’m aware of. By definition, it wouldn’t even be possible for live interviews. Gaffs and out-of-context usage comes out of TV interviews routinely. But political operatives want power over interview quotes where they can get it to avoid an inadvertent word or sentence throwing their campaigns off message. And national print reporters must be agreeing because of a desperate need for the interviews. (Despite Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Reuters and The Times consenting to such approvals, AP doesn’t allow this practice, and The Times is reviewing its adherence.)

A second Times story this week points to an irony: While journalists don’t like having to allow sources to veto quotes, journalists also would prefer to veto their own TV soundbites appearing in political ads. In the last week, talking head pundits commenting on Mitt Romney’s tax non-disclosures found their televised opinions almost instantly appearing in political TV ads by both sides. Even retired NBC anchor Tom Brokaw hates finding himself in political ads. And there’s nothing he can do about it.

Trying to control an interview is an age-old game. At least for this campaign season, political sources and campaigns have the advantage.

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