The White House regularly demands a chance to edit administration officials' quotes before they go to print, it was reported Monday.
Five reporters who cover President Joe Biden's White House told Politico that interviews frequently are conducted on grounds known as "background with quote approval."
Basically, that means for a person's name to be attached to a quote, the reporter must transcribe the quotes and send them to the White House communications office for approval.
Former President Barack Obama's White House employed the practice, as did former President Donald Trump's White House, with the latter doing so much more sparingly, according to reporters.
"The rule treats [officials] like coddled Capitol Hill pages, and that’s not who they are or the protections they deserve," one White House reporter told the news outlet.
"Have any reporters talked about mutinying?" another reporter asked. "If you start fomenting an insurrection, keep me updated."
Giving the White House the right to approve, edit, or deny quotes began as a way for reporters to get more transparency by asking an official to attach his or her name to a quote that had been given off the record.
"Instead of transparency, suddenly, the White House realized: 'Hey, this quote approval thing is a cool thing. We can now control what is in their stories by refusing to allow them to use anything without our approval.' And it's a pernicious, insidious, awful practice that reporters should resist," said Peter Baker, the longtime chief White House correspondent for the New York Times.
Reporters are reluctant evade the White House’s demands to approve quotes because it could put them at a disadvantage with their competitors.
"The only way the press has the power to push back against this is if we all band together," said one reporter.
Politico said at least one reporting team has been talking internally about reaching out to other outlets to push the Biden team to stop the practice.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned the use of anonymous background quotes in a statement after spokesperson Michael Gwin had been contacted about the policy and asked to go off the record.
"We would welcome any outlet banning the use of anonymous background quotes that attack people personally or speak to internal processes from people who don’t even work in the Administration,” Psaki said. “At the same time, we make policy experts available in a range of formats to ensure context and substantive detail is available for stories. If outlets are not comfortable with that attribution for those officials they of course don’t need to utilize those voices."
In 2012, the New York Times barred the practice after one of its own reporters wrote a story about how quote approval had become "standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House."
"The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources," a Times memo said. "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."
The Times told Politico the 2012 memo remains its policy but failed to say if its reporters have followed that rule in dealing with the Biden White House.
Also in 2012, the Associated Press told Poynter the wire service didn’t permit quote approval and that its reporters didn't allow sources to say, "I want those three sentences you want to use sent over to me to be put through my rinse cycle."
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