The White House is reportedly defending a policy that demands “quote approval” from members of the press who interview administration officials. More importantly, any quotes from administration officials that have already appeared in recent stories may have been edited or otherwise tweaked by members of the White House communications team.
Quote Approval: What?
According to Politico.com, the Biden White House is largely only granting interviews with administration officials under conditions known “background with quote approval.” The political news site cited five reporters who cover the White House for outlets other than Politico as confirming the ongoing practice of reigning in the media.
Any information from an interview can be used in a story, however for the reporter to be able to attribute quotes to a specific individual the reporter must transcribe the comments and send them to the communications team for approval. The White House retains the right to approve the quotes, edit them or even veto their use entirely.
Is That New?
This practice isn’t exactly new to the Biden White House, however.
Past administrations including former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also used the practice, but Politico further reported it was deployed less often than those in the current administration, where it seems to be in place for almost all interviews. The policy is a holdover from the Biden presidential campaign, and apparently isn’t being embraced by those assigned to cover the White House.
“The rule treats them like coddled Capitol Hill pages and that’s not who they are or the protections they deserve,” one reporter told Politico.
“Every reporter I work with has encountered the same practice,” added another reporter.
Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times criticized the White House requirement for quote approval. He told Politico, “It’s a pernicious, insidious, awful practice that reporters should resist.”
When pressed on the matter, White House spokesman Michael Gwin even asked to go off the record to Politico, but in the end, texted a statement from press secretary Jen Psaki.
“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.”
Controlling the Message
President Biden has been criticized for his lack of interaction with the press and to date has held only one formal press conference since taking office. Likewise, Psaki recently told CNN that she didn’t appreciate Biden’s interactions with reporters at other events, such as when he answers questions after wrapping up a speech.
“That is not something we recommend,” Psaki said. “In fact, a lot of times we say ‘Don’t take questions,’ you know, but he’s going to do what he wants to do because he’s the president.”
This should be seen as a serious problem, because how can we expect to get honest reporting if the White House can essentially control the narrative or refuse to answer questions to reporters.
However, some critics aren’t casting blame at the Biden administration but rather the press for ever agreeing to this practice regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.
“It’s the media’s collaboration in the practice that’s unethical,” wrote Allahpundit, the anonymous blogger and senior editor for Hot Air. “A news bureau has a duty to the public to ensure that its reporting is accurate, fair, and independent. Every news story you and I read comes with certain implied warranties about its integrity, one of which is that it was written by someone who has no personal interest in the subject. Reporters can seek quotes from sources to inform their reporting, obviously, and they owe those sources accuracy and proper context in featuring their comments. But no one’s supposed to have approval over the final copy outside of the publication itself.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.