Let us now assess the state of the free press in this land of … well, of press freedom. The assessment? Pathetic. Not because of some government clampdown, but because of increasing press pusillanimity.
The latest decline in hard-nosed, investigative reporting is something called “quote approval.” It began with PR flacks for public officials and political candidates demanding that reporters agree — as a price of being granted an interview — to submit any quotes they intend to use from the interview to the interviewee’s staff for approval. Thus, when Mr. Big blurts out something shocking, stupid or actually newsworthy, Mr. Big’s staff of bowdlerizers can tidy it up, or even erase it: zzzzzzzztt, it’s gone, as though it was never uttered.
It’s not surprising that today’s media-sensitive political figures (including Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) would demand this extraordinary editorial control over what comes out of their own mouths. But it’s utterly despicable that media bosses and reporters have so gutlessly caved in to the demand. It reduces reporters from hard-nosed diggers to brown-nosed beggars, and it makes a mockery of our democracy’s need for a free press. Yet many of America’s major publications have meekly surrendered their reporters’ freedom to this restraint.
And now, corporate executives have realized that — hey, we can emasculate the press, too. Wall Street barons, Silicon Valley hot shots, and even the bosses of media conglomerates are demanding (and getting) quote approval for stories about their operations.
The media columnist for The New York Times admits that he’s also succumbed to these demands: “If it’s [a quote] I feel I absolutely need,” he recently wrote, “I start negotiating.” Never mind that it’s his independence and journalistic integrity he’s bargaining away.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.