White House reporters are seething over a policy that requires them to submit quotes from interviews with Biden administration officials to the communications team for approval, editing or veto, according to a report on Tuesday.
The White House is demanding that reporters who conduct interviews with administration officials do so under conditions known as “background with quote approval,” Politico reported.
The information from the interview can be used in a story, but for a reporter to be able to attach a name to the quote, the reporter must transcribe the comments and send them to the communications team, the report said.
At which point, the White House can approve them, edit them or veto their use.
Politico’s West Wing Playbook, which reported the practice, acknowledged that it participated in the arrangement when it did a piece about speechwriter Vinay Reddy that was up against a deadline.
And the report noted that the Obama administration and the Trump administration also used the arrangement, but the Trump communications team deployed it less often than the Biden White House.
The exercise is a carryover from the Biden presidential campaign and one that is irking White House reporters.
“The rule treats them like coddled Capitol Hill pages and that’s not who they are or the protections they deserve,” one reporter told Politico.
“Every reporter I work with has encountered the same practice,” another reporter said.
But while individual reporters have fumed over the arrangement, there has yet to be a coordinated response against it among the White House pool.
“The only way the press has the power to push back against this is if we all band together,” said the first reporter.
The report said at least one White House reporting team has been having discussions about reaching out to other media outlets to present a unified front to administration officials.
Asked for comment by Politico, White House spokesman Michael Gwin wanted to go off the record, but 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,” Psaki said.
“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 reporter Peter Baker told Politico that the practice began in the interest of adding more transparency to administration officials’ quotes.
“What started out as an effort by reporters to get more transparency, to get people on the record more, to use fewer blind quotes, then got taken by the White House, each successive White House, as a way of taking control of your story,” Baker told the outlet.
“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,” he added.
The Times barred the practice in 2012, but wouldn’t comment on how rigorously that’s enforced or whether reporters abide by it.
The White House reporting team has “repeatedly objected to background interviews with quote approval” since Biden took office, Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokeswoman told Politico in an email.
She added that the Times “has succeeded at times in getting interviews put on the record.”
Julie Pace, the Associated Press’ Washington bureau chief, told Politico that the news service doesn’t permit quote approval.
She said 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.”