Dan Rather: Quote approval is ‘a jaw-dropping turn in journalism’

CNN | Guardian
Dan Rather, it shouldn’t surprise anyone, is adamantly opposed to allowing campaigns to approve quotations, as some journalists do, according to a report earlier this week in The New York Times.

Rather asks: “Can you trust the reporters and news organizations who do this? Is it ever justified on the candidate’s side or on the reporter’s side? Where is this leading us?”

Background briefings have been part of Washington for years, he writes, but this is “new and different”:

This is the officials or candidates regularly insisting that reporters essentially become an operative arm of the administration or campaign they are covering.

“Quote approval” nullifies, or at least seriously dilutes, reporters’ ability and duty to be honest brokers of information. When the quotes are sanitized, then delivered intact with full attribution, the public has no way of knowing what the concealed deal was.

Rather said the Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the major TV networks and a few other papers “are among the few news outlets that have the leverage to push back — soon and hard. It’s action worthy of us.”

The Times is reviewing its policy. Other news organizations discussing their practices: The Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolitics and Buzzfeed, whose editor-in-chief Ben Smith told the Guardian: “I did send a note to staff that we should avoid quote approval if possible, and if it’s not possible, to make sure we’re transparent with readers about having done it.”

Related:What’s next – submitting entire stories for a stamp of approval of some campaign lackey?” (The Sacramento Bee)

Earlier: New York Times reviewing its policy on allowing campaigns to review quotations (The Washington Post) | AP doesn’t let sources approve quotes beforehand (Poynter) | Reuters’ Jack Shafer and Washington Post political correspondent Karen Tumulty discuss when and how quote approval happens (Poynter) | Politico’s John Harris: ‘Quote doctoring does bother me’ (Poynter)

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  • Anonymous

    Dan Rather is right on. PR yes, PR people can revise quotes. Reporters? Never! Nevah! What has happened to the NYtimes today?

  • Anonymous

    and everyone is reviewing quotes and things, how about asking Dan Rather his take on the use of the term “scare quotes” which is essentially meaningless and ill-coined and surely should not be bandied about anymore in print or online in 2012, no? since they are not scary at all and scare no one, and since nobody knows who coined the term in 1920 or why. Developing. …

  • http://www.cedarcitywineclub.com Larry The Wine Guy

    I have reviewed the comment I was about to post here and found that I cannot approve it. Therefore I have deleted the quote intended for this space. It was quite embarrassing and told the truth about me, which I cannot allow.

  • Anonymous

    Requiring reporters to submit campaign quotes is clearly wrong. The gray area for me is non-politics stories. I think it is OK to show a technology story to a source who explained the gadgets to you or to read back quotes to a nonprofit organization.