....LMB: "Well Behind the Curtain"....

March 13, 2003

A reporter from the Washington Post wrote this confessional letter to media news guy Jim Romenesko which indicts both the White House and White House reporters as massive frauds.

The reporter, Jonathan Weisman, was writing about a White House economic advisor. But the White House press office gave him some conditions for the interview:

The catch was this: The interview would be off the record. Any quotes I wanted to put into the newspaper would have to be e-mailed to the press office. If approved, the quotation could be attributed to a White House official. (This has become fairly standard practice.)

Okay, first of all, we should be a bit shocked that journalists are forced to get permission from the White House press office to quote any member of the White House about anything. If we remove the pretty words, this is outright GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP. If you want to talk to a reporter, fine. If you don't, fine. But you can't talk to him, and then tell him what he can and can't say. Well, let me back that up. You can tell him what he can say, and if he does as you command, he is collaborating in his own censorship.

Weisman then wanted to use a direct quote from his interview subject, the sentence "This is probably the most academic proposal ever to come out of an administration." But...

The press office said it was fine, but the official wanted a little change. Instead, the quote was to read, "This is probably the purest, most far reaching economic proposal ever to come out of an administration." I protested that the point of the quote was the word "academic," so the quote was again amended to state, "This is probably the purest, most academic, most far reaching economic proposal ever to come out of an administration."

What appeared in the Washington Post was, "This is probably the purest, most academic ... economic proposal ever to come out of an administration." What followed was an angry denunciation by the White House press official, telling me I had broken my word and violated journalistic ethics.

Okay. HE'S PRINTING STUFF THAT'S NOT TRUE. The original source said nothing about the purity or far-reaching-ness of any Bush policy. He said it was "academic, " which maybe means smart, or detailed or wanky or something. It doesn't mean "pure" and it doesn't mean "far reaching." But a "pure, far reaching" policy does sound pretty positive, doesn't it? Wouldn't you rather support one of those policies than one that's just "academic"? The power of words.

"Journalist" Weisman and the Press Office worked together to fabricate and publish a quote by a third guy, a quote that the third guy never said. This is our news reporting. Falsehoods masquerading as facts. Reporters and spin doctors negotiating what version of the "truth" the reporter is allowed to print. I put most of the blame on the White House for this, but jeez, reporters don't have to go along with it!

I don't mention this story because it's important in and of itself. I don't care that a news article I didn't read about an advisor I've never heard of had an incorrect quote. I mention this story because this practice appears to be THE NORM. This White House quote control is a constant. We can't say that as definitely about the made-up quotes, but that seems fairly likely.

I guess we can take some comfort in the fact that Weisman has come forward and feels terrible about what he's done. He sent this letter to a forum for journalists, encouraging them to take a stand and not consent to these shady White House policies. I hope he inspires others.

Posted by Jake at 02:33 PM
Comments

The bankruptcy of the establishment press is now complete.

Posted by: Chris Andersen at March 13, 2003 02:47 PM

I interviewed for many media relations job in my day. And these aren't government agencies or corporations. These were non-profit organizations. And the common question I'm always asked is, "What do you do if you deal with an off-the-record matter?" Apparently, my answers don't satisfy them enough because I never got those jobs. Heh. Too bad, I could have made an excellent whistleblower.

Posted by: Eric at March 13, 2003 05:23 PM

Seems to me that this administration wants to make up the rules as they go along. They want to enact a rule that bans fillibusters when it comes to confirming appointments. Hey, lets make a rule that you cannot say anything in opposition to government policy. Fillibuster is an old traditional political tactic that we all learn about in history class. This administration seems to think that they can do whatever they want and everyone else be damned. Screw the Constitution, the legal system, the Bill of Rights, the press and just common sense. We are on a slippery slope and they are dumping oil on it (pun intended). "We will do what we want, and, if you don't like it: fuck you." Great idea.

Posted by: Larry at March 13, 2003 06:16 PM

The Washington Post has an ombudsman, Michael Getler, to whom readers can complain about issues like this. I'd invite anyone who's angry to e-mail the ombudsman (ombudsman@washpost.com)and request that he do a detailed investigation into the prevalence of this practice among Post reporters and that he report in-depth to Post readers on his findings. If an ombudsman position doesn't exist to address failings like this, then the job is pointless.

Posted by: Lex at March 14, 2003 07:16 AM
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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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