Controlled Press in USA Going to Mount a Rebellion? National Journal Provides Game Plan

Controlled Press in USA Going to Mount a Rebellion? National Journal Provides Game Plan

Ron Fourneir of National Journal acknowledges at least partial control of the USA press by “minders” and provides a plan to fight it.

What are “minders”? That term has been used for totalitarian government censors in the past.  Castro, Stalin and the Kim totalitarian aristocracy in North Korean all have used media minders.  A minder is pictured on the left side of the above controlled media event, by the Kim totalitarian aristocracy five-days-with-my-north-korean-minders.



How White House Reporters Can Reclaim Their Beat

Ron Fournier

Senior Political Columnist and Editorial Director

Paul Farhi of The Washington Post writes today about a trend at the White House—and throughout journalism—that threatens the quality and credibility of news-gathering: Public-relations “minders” are injecting themselves into our interviews with politicians, CEOs, and other policymakers.

Minder madness joins the surge of “background briefings” and the decline of access to decision-makers as evidence that the White House—and other big instititutions—are manipulating the press.  It’s that, but it’s also something worse: It’s evidence that journalists are ceding control when they should be seizing it, accepting canned news rather than breaking it.

Farhi writes, “Almost every officially sanctioned exchange between reporters and the proverbial ‘senior administration officials’ is conducted in the presence of a press staffer, even when the interview is ‘on background,’ meaning the source will not be identified by name.”

Journalists tend to view minders with suspicion, if not outright alarm. A third party can alter any interaction in unforeseen ways. One White House reporter notes with irritation that minders have sometimes cut off contentious questioning or otherwise interrupted the flow of conversation.

More broadly, journalists see it as part of a larger official effort to shape their coverage, similar to demands to approve quotes before they’re published or to keep even the most mundane information off the record.

“If you have a minder there, it sits in [a source’s] brain that they’re supposed to stay on message,” said Peter Baker, who covers the White House for the New York Times. “They’re less likely to share something other than the talking points.” Having minders around, Baker says, “is obviously intended to control the message. Let’s put it this way: It’s not intended to increase candor.”

Remember, a spokesman gets paid to get his or her point of view in your story. They need you. Don’t cede that leverage for anything less than the terms you need to serve your readers. Write a tough story, and they’ll call back demanding an update with their point of view. That’s when you politely remind them that they’re on the record.

What can the media do about the explosion of “background briefings”? Anytime you think one should be on the record, stand up (or speak up) at the start of the briefing and politely inform whoever’s in charge that the event in “on the record.”  Don’t ask. Tell them.

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