posted by Dave Hoffman
Our platonic media guardians worry about the increasingly common practice of giving sources “quote approval”. At the NYT’s public editor explains,
“Some parts of the practice, I believe, do fall into a black-and-white realm. The idea that a reporter must send a written version of a quotation to a source or his press representation for approval or tweaking is the extreme version of the “quote approval” practice and it ought to be banned in a written rule.”
This is nonsense. There’s a simple reason that most sources (including me) ask for quote approval: we don’t trust reporters to avoid making a hash out of our comments, pulling quotes selectively to fit a pre-existing narrative, and consequently turning the source into the reporter’s sock puppet. It’s a no brainer that anyone who has to regularly deal with the press should try to get quote approval. You’ll succeed with some reporters – generally the better ones, in my experience. If you fail to get quote approval, you should remember to think three times before saying anything, including your name.
Why? Well, most reporters who call me have a particular thing they’d like me to say. Sometimes they’ve told me what that thing is: I can then proceed to either say it or not. Other times they ask a ton of questions, but it’s quite obvious that it’s all just filler time until I can manage to produce the right words in response to the right stimuli. (Foolishly, when I began my career, I foolishly thought that these conversations were a preface to the real question that they were going to ask!) Often reporters will pastiche quotes from different parts of the interview to create a comment which bears no relationship to what you think. Basically: reporters aren’t writing the first draft of an objective narrative (“history”): they have already written that narrative, and your role is to be the footnotes locking it all down. Don’t be a sucker. Ensure that your name is attached to things you actually think.