There was a rather low-key confession made in the New York Times last week that deserves to be blared throughout this country so that every American understands what they are reading in the establishment’s ultra-controlled, government-managed “press” – and I use that last word loosely indeed.
The admission came in the form of a story by Jeremy Peters on the politics page of the Times July 16. I’ve been waiting for others to point it out, discuss it, debate it, express shock and exasperation over it. But I’ve waited for naught.
What this shocking story reveals is that even I – one of the kingpins of the new media and a refugee from the state-controlled spin machine – underestimated the utter and total corruption of the euphemistically called “mainstream press.”
It shows that most – not some – members of the print media establishment with access to the White House submit their copy to government officials for review, “correction” and approval before it reaches the American people!
Here are some key excerpts from the piece, if you think I’m exaggerating:
- “The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative.”
- “They are sent by e-mail from the Obama headquarters in Chicago to reporters who have interviewed campaign officials under one major condition: the press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name.”
- “Most reporters, desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists, grudgingly agree. After the interviews, they review their notes, check their tape recorders and send in the juiciest sound bites for review. The verdict from the campaign – an operation that prides itself on staying consistently on script – is often no, Barack Obama does not approve this message.”
- “Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations.”
- “Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all mid-level aides in Chicago and at the White House – almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.”
- “Many journalists spoke about the editing only if granted anonymity, an irony that did not escape them.”
- “From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a ‘top Democrat’ or a ‘Republican strategist.'”
- “Those [reporters] who did speak on the record said the restrictions seem only to be growing. ‘It’s not something I’m particularly proud of because there’s a part of me that says, Don’t do it, don’t agree to their terms,’ said Major Garrett, a correspondent for The National Journal.”
- “It was difficult to find a news outlet that had not agreed to quote approval, albeit reluctantly. Organizations like Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times have all consented to interviews under such terms.”
I could go on and on. I urge you to read the entire story. This may be the most important story broken by the New York Times in years.
What it means is this: When Americans read these reports – whether in newspapers, wire services or on the Internet – they are not really reading news stories at all. They are reading approved, pre-packaged press releases from the government and politicians. But, even worse, they are not labeled as such. They are labeled as actual news.
That’s how low the national press establishment has descended. And, when you read the story in its full context, you will understand that the concerns expressed about this practice by those submitting themselves to it are not ethical concerns. They are not concerns for the truth. They are concerns about their own convenience and for the loss of “color” in their stories.
Let me state what I hope is obvious to all reading this column: This sort of willing capitulation to government censorship was not the norm five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago. This is a new phenomenon – chilling and alarming to an old-timer like me who would never agree to submit his copy for approval to politicians.
These so-called journalists are selling their ethical and moral souls for access to politicians. And this practice raises expectations by politicians that they can routinely manipulate the press to their advantage. That makes the job of real journalists – independent reporters faithful to their craft – even more difficult, because they will be shut out from access.
It reminds me of the fact that, just last week, WND was denied credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention. Why do you suppose what has become one of the largest and most influential news agencies in the country would be denied access to the convention floor? Simply because the Democrats know we won’t play by their rules of control like the members of the establishment press club.
All I can say about these people I once considered “colleagues” is that I am so ashamed of them. I am mortified. They are humiliating themselves and a vital institution for any free society.
It seems the biggest threat to the American tradition of a free and independent press is not government coercion. It’s the willing submission of the press to being handled and managed by government and politicians.