The White House “may be the most diligent user of the chaperoned interview,” Paul Farhi writes in The Washington Post. Though many news organizations banned the practice of quote approval in 2012, the Obama administration makes diligent use of minders during interviews, which can accomplish a similar purpose.
“Let’s put it this way,” New York Times reporter Peter Baker told Farhi about the practice. “It’s not intended to increase candor.”
That’s assuming reporters can get near administration officials in the first place. The administration has kept the president unencumbered by reporters during two meetings with super PAC donors this week, and it limited coverage of an event in Washington Tuesday, Edward Isaac Dovere and Josh Gerstein report in Politico.
“I would only ask that you judge us by our record and the record of our predecessors,” they say White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters Wednesday. “Without a doubt, I think we’ve done more to achieve the president’s commitment to transparency than any previous administration.”
(White House spokesperson Josh Earnest earlier this week criticized a Washington Post story for using anonymous sources, just before the White House scheduled an anonymous call with administration officials.)
Journalists should use the leverage their respective publications’ prominence grants them, Ron Fournier argues in National Journal: “Remember, a spokesman gets paid to get his or her point of view in your story. They need you.”
Fournier includes an example of a time he resisted an off-the-record meeting:
I did this a few times, most memorably during the 2004 presidential campaign when Democratic nominee John Kerry wanted to chat with reporters aboard his plane. He wanted it to be “off the record,” which means whatever he wanted to say could never be reported. Years ago, I agreed to similar terms aboard Air Force One with President Clinton, and watched in horror as competitors violated the terms. My editor wasn’t happy with me. With that memory, I politely told Kerry that I would be taking notes and filing.
Kerry had a choice. He could chat with us on my terms (a “win-win”) or walk away. He stormed back to his cabin, and I got back to writing an analysis of his flailing campaign.