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)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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