September 24, 2004


Hiding Behind Anonymity: `Background Briefings' Increase Under Bush (LIZ HALLORAN, September 24, 2004, Hartford Courant)

Though common practice in past administrations, many Washington reporters and editors say the Bush White House has taken the use of anonymous briefings to the extreme, compromising the media's credibility, shielding officials from accountability and transforming briefings into little more than spin zones.

"I've covered administrations since the Reagan years, and the prevalence has just grown and grown and grown, and for no good reasons," says Susan Page, USA Today's Washington bureau chief. "It's now become kind of a reflex on the part of a number of government agencies."

Says Sandy Johnson, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press: "The problem is insidious."

And often ridiculous: national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, insisting on anonymity, once briefed White House reporters about the president's meetings with foreign leaders, then proceeded directly to give an "exclusive" on-camera interview with CNN during which she imparted exactly the same information. (Protests resulted in her earlier briefing being put on the record.)

But such victories are rare, says USA Today White House reporter Judy Keen, who has joined the AP in taking the lead in routinely protesting anonymous briefings.

"They have the power, they set the ground rules and they know that we have little choice but to accept the ground rules because none of us can walk out" for competitive reasons, says Keen, adding that the protests have been "utterly ineffective."

It's one thing that we don't respect them but do they really have this little respect for their own profession? If journalism today is about nothing more than money driven competition then why continue to provide it exceptional constitutional protection?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2004 9:13 PM

Notice to the Press(tm): If you dislike background briefings so much, then DO NOT ATTEND THEM.

Stay on the outside, like Drudge et al. Do your homework with, you know, actual reporting.

The one thing not allowed is being lazy. Gosh is that so hard?

Posted by: Gideon at September 24, 2004 9:33 PM

The US government is by far the largest manufacturer of news for the news industry, and it supplies it all for free. These reporters are griping because they can't get their supplies in the form they want, but the government has all the bargaining power since it is delivering all the value. It's about time Republicans insisted on some performance requirements in lieu of a price - only firms which employ at least half conservatives and treat conservative views fairly should receive news during Republican administrations. Supplying leaks to non-approved news outlets should be a firing offense for the federal bureaucracy.

Posted by: pj at September 25, 2004 6:37 AM
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