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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Let us now access the state of the free press in this land of … well, of press freedom. The assessment? Pathetic. Not because of any government clampdown, but because of increasing press pusillanimity.

In recent years, newspaper reporting had already been severely weakened by drastic cutbacks in newsrooms (including the near-abandonment of hard-nosed investigative reporting by conglomerate CEOs and bean-counters more interested in upping the corporate stock price than in providing journalistic exposes). But the latest decline comes from newsroom managers and staff who’ve chosen to compromise on a core aspect of good reporting: conducting untainted, straightforward interviews.

Those in charge of running major newspapers and blogs these days have gone all wonky on their basic job of getting public and corporate figures to provide honest, informative answers to important who-what-when-where-and-why questions that inform the citizenry.

The compromise they’ve made is a pernicious practice called “quote approval.” This 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 just erase it. The comment might’ve been news, but — zzzzzzztt — it’s gone, as though it were never uttered.

It’s not surprising that today’s media-sensitive political figures (including Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) would demand this extraordinary right to censor what they themselves said, 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 — from Bloomberg News to The New York Times — have meekly surrendered to this restraint.

And now, corporate executives have realized that, hey, we can emasculate the press, too! Thus, Wall Street barons, Silicon Valley hotshots and even the bosses of media conglomerates are demanding (and getting) quote approval for stories about their operations.

  • Bravo Mr. Hightower!!!!! What happened to freedom of the press????? Good for you in revealing this horrible control over the press and the presses weakness in not fighting it! Thank you for this information!

  • daniel bostdorf

    Mr. Hightower, quoting you:

    “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. …”

    he only print and brodcast media that is maing a mockery of our democracy and need for a free press is Foxnews, Limbaugh, Beck and dozens of other pseudo “fair and balanced” journalist operating out of the Karl Rove/Joseph Goebbels playbook:

    Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels (like Linmbaugh, beck and Rove believe) said it best:
    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    or as Adolph Hitler stated:

    “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”

    You are right when you state this: “Not because of any government clampdown, but because of increasing press pusillanimity.”

    “Definition of PUSILLANIMITY: the quality or state of being pusillanimous : cowardliness”

    THe National memo and a few other publications are far from pusillanimous….

  • I suspect that the noticeable shift of the American press corps to the center-right is due to the advent of the Internet and subsequent availability of national and international information from multiple sources. Competing against free information is not easy, and surviving in the highly competitive world they are in is not easy, as a result they react to whatever they believe the public wants to hear to ensure they get their market share. The dissemination of factual and timely information has given way to a race for dwindling advertisement, which is now the main source of income for the media.

  • dtgraham

    I’m wondering if this has anything to do with pusillanimity (cowardliness). I read a story in my local paper about 2-3 weeks ago where Romney said remarkably rude, crude, and insensitive things about Paul Ryan concerning an abortion question. It stunned me. I e-mailed the story to Joe Conason for his interest. What I found incredulous was that I’ve never heard or read of this story since from any source anywhere. Now, you have inside staffers reporting secretly that Ryan has referred to Romney as “the stench”, which came from a right wing writer’s story. Is this the repercussion from the story I was mentioning that somehow managed to disappear?

    Maybe the Romney campaign found a way to get everyone to drop the story, or retract, as this article suggests. Who knows. The story was reprinted from the Bloomberg News and was written by Michael Kinsley. It was called— Ryan: “just some congressman.”

    Food for thought.

  • Dave_dido

    We, the public, should demand of our news media that they pledge to reject” quote approval” for any and all interviews. The news media will not change on their own because it’s a matter of economics. We must demand it. Anybody want to join a movement?