Ari Fleischer: Quote approval started with good intent

August 6, 2012
Category: Uncategorized

Ari Fleischer, press secretary for part of President George W. Bush’s first term, writes that he “would have been laughed out of the briefing room” if he had tried to get reporters to let him approve or clean up a quotation, a practice revealed last month by The New York Times. “As a former press secretary, I’m all for trying to control the press, but quote approval goes too far.”

The practice started late in Bush’s second term, Fleischer writes, based on a conversation he had with The New York Times’ Peter Baker.

Like Prohibition, it began with good intent.

Reporters covering Bush’s second term, under pressure from editors not to use unnamed sources in their stories, started asking their sources if a background quote, attributed to a senior aide, could instead be turned into an on-the-record quote, with the aide’s name in print. I e-mailed last week with several former Bush staffers and many confirmed they engaged in that practice. …

The sentence was e-mailed to the aide, and when permission was granted to use it, quote approval among the most senior aides got started.

But over time, the practice then spread to midlevel aides.

Baker called it an “effort to get more transparency but it’s backfired. The town has found a convenient way to control the press,” he said, referring to people throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.

Some news outlets have said they will restrict or ban the practice.

Earlier: Politico’s Harris bothered by ‘quote doctoring‘ | AP doesn’t let sources approve quotes beforehandDan Rather: Quote approval is ‘a jaw-dropping turn in journalism’ | Jack Shafer, Karen Tumulty discuss quote approval.