The Evolution of Reporters Into Stenographers Is Nearly Complete

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It’s long been standard for politicians to unilaterally insist that briefings be either “on background” or “off the record” (there are subtle distinctions between the two), and it’s long been standard for reporters to agree to this. But apparently that’s not enough for modern campaigns:

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. 

….Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel 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.

The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.

I’d really like to blame the campaigns for this, but how can I? Their job is to sell a candidate. If reporters agree to this madness, they really have no one to blame but themselves. Are they really this desperate for interviews with campaign flacks? Why? It’s not as if campaign officials ever say anything all that newsworthy in the first place.

What’s that, you say? If they refuse, they won’t have anything to write about? Please. These kinds of campaign stories almost never produce anything of real interest. If reporters were banned from doing them, virtually nothing would be lost. In fact, the quality of campaign reporting might very well go up.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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ONE MORE QUICK THING:

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As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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