You could not cook up a better farce in the world of transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”) than the one that’s all the rage right now: the hand-wringing about the practice of so-called “quote approval”. In a nutshell, a transcriber of press releases talks to a source under the condition that the source can review the quotes before publication. But, as usual, much of the debate is missing the bigger point.
I thought of this after a good belly laugh reading the oh-so serious treatment of the issue by The New York Times’ Public Editor (as an aside, an entirely phony position made up to make people think that The Times is engaging in serious internal policing– but that’s a story for another day). Here:
The New York Times is drawing “a clear line” against the practice of news sources being allowed to approve quotations in stories after the fact.
The practice, known as quote approval, “puts so much control over the content of journalism in the wrong place,” the executive editor Jill Abramson told me in an interview. “We need a tighter policy.”
A memorandum on Thursday says that “demands for after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides have gone too far.”
“The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources,” it says. “In its most extreme form, it invites meddling by press aides and others that goes far beyond the traditional negotiations between reporter and source over the terms of an interview.”
Honestly, this is such a crock of shit. The problem The Times’ transcribers of press releases creates for the world, for society, for truth, has very little to do with whether the source is anonymous or whether the source gets to check out the quotes before publication.
It’s the source itself.
Let’s say every single source that led The Times to be cheerleader for the Iraq War was identified by name. Would that have led the transcribers of press releases, and their editors and the foolish editorial board that led the drumbeat for war, to a different conclusion?
Or take today’s foolish obsession about the phony debt and deficit “crisis”. The Times, day after day, finds some way, either in its news pages or in editorials, to wag its finger about the need for “serious” deficit reduction, quoting as sources, unnamed and named individuals, whose quotes may or may not have been reviewed in advance, all the “serious” people who warn of a “crisis.
But, to make a difference, to shed real light, to try to inject some truth, you need to talk to DIFFERENT PEOPLE.
I don’t really give a rat’s ass whether someone reviewed the quotes or not. I do care about WHO transcribers of press releases use as the people who create the frame for our debate.
Stopping the practice of “quote approval” is not going to now force the transcribers of press releases to begin looking for other sources, to get outside of the conventional wisdom, inside and outside Washington, D.C., to inject a different truth about how the economy works, who is robbing the people, what foolishness passes for “debate”.
So, if I may use quotes, the whole debate is “bullshit”.