My first executive editor once about had a coronary when he heard that a reporter in our newsroom had allowed a public official to read a story before we published it. (And, no, it wasn’t me.)
That just wasn’t done, and the reporter who allowed it had violated one of the strict codes of journalism. To allow a news source to see one’s copy before your editor had seen it, and before it was published, made one’s copy suspect.
Did the source pressure the reporter to make changes, even subconsciously? Did the reporter later de-emphasize this, or emphasize that, as a result of the consultation with the news source? An editor could never know, which is why it just wasn’t done.
I know that much has changed in journalism in the 40-plus years since I first began doing it; much of the change has been bad. Still, even with all that, what we learned in late September about the White House press corps was shocking.
The pool reports, those reports by one reporter who is allowed to attend an event and report back to the rest of the press corps, have routinely been perused and even edited by the flacks in the White House.
Here’s what The Washington Post reported on Sept. 23:
Journalists who cover the White House say Obama’s press aides have demanded — and received — changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists. They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction.
The disputed episodes involve mostly trivial issues and minor matters of fact. But that the White House has become involved at all represents a troubling trend for journalists and has prompted their main representative, the White House Correspondents’ Association, to consider revising its approach to pool reporting.
So let’s think about this for a moment. The Obama administration has been doing this for six years, and suddenly it’s an issue? No one has complained to the White House press flacks in all those years about this practice? All of a sudden the White House Correspondents’ Association sees a problem? Can you imagine how quickly the WHCA would have screamed bloody murder had George W. Bush done this?
My first executive editor is turning in his grave. It’s not surprising that the modern-day press also has not batted an eye over the fact that for the first time in history no reporter is embedded with the military in Obama’s foray into Syria against ISIS.
The result is Pravda-like spoon feeds that they lap up without a whimper, just as they meekly let White House press office flunkies edit their pool reports to make President Obama look good.
Jon Ham (@rivlax) is a vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.