American News May 11, 2021 10:52 PM EST

White House 'quote approval' rules has reporters looking to fight back

"At its best, quote approval allows sources to speak more candidly about their work. At its worst, it gives public officials a way to obfuscate or screen their own admissions and words."

White House 'quote approval' rules has reporters looking to fight back
Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
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The Biden Administration has been engaging in quote approvals for journalist at a much higher rate than previous administrations.

According to Politico's West Wing Playbook, the Biden administration's White House Communications team is engaging in what is known giving interviews on "background with quote approval." After conducting an interview, journalists send in quotes that they want to use, and the administration won't allow the interviewee's name attached to be attached to it without approval of the communications team.

"At its best, quote approval allows sources to speak more candidly about their work. At its worst, it gives public officials a way to obfuscate or screen their own admissions and words," writes Politico.

Although not the first to employ the practice, the Biden Administration's heavy usage mirrors of the action of the Obama administration. The Trump Administration used it as well, though not nearly as frequently or strictly, according to Politico.

Many reports view this approval action as abuse or obstruction, with some outlets banning the practice altogether, and some reporters talking about fighting back.

"The rule treats them like coddled Capitol Hill pages and that’s not who they are or the protections they deserve," one reporter said.

"The only way the press has the power to push back against this is if we all band together,” the same reporter added. According to Politico, at least one White House reporting team has been in talks internally about potentially banding together with other outlets to get the Biden Administration to end the practice.

"Have any reporters talked about mutinying? If you start fomenting an insurrection, keep me updated," another reporter added.

When reached for a comment, White House spokesperson Michael Gwin later 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,” said Psaki. “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."

New York Times Chief White House correspondent Peter Baker said that what had begun as a practice to get less blind quotes has now become a way for the White House to control the story.

"So 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 use anything without our approval. And it's a pernicious, insidious, awful practice that reporters should resist," said Baker.

The New York Times barred the practice in 2012, stating in a memo that "the practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. 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 Associated Press also did so in 2012, stating that their reporters don'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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