I agree with this statement completely. Instead of perpetuating the practice of allowing political sources to approve quotes as a precondition for an interview, the practice should be standard that whatever is said on the record is fair game for publishing. Politicians want publicity and need the media so the media has the power to set that standard. Solely using approved quotes for news stories makes them more bland and is not true to the public.
I understand where Carr is coming from and I think he makes a valid argument. The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics emphasizes that reporters are to "seek truth and report it." When journalists allow political sources to read and approve quotations, they effectively offer these sources the opportunity smooth over and sugarcoat history rather than presenting history in its raw form. At the same time, however, Carr is not considering a major component of reporting. The SPJ Code of Ethics emphasizes the importance of presenting accurate information. This information, of course, includes quotes. Journalists are not immune to error, and therefore allowing sources to approve quotations can be an important aspect of minimizing error and avoiding conflict. Journalists should strive to present history and truth that is raw, accurate, and free of manipulation.
I think this quote brings upon an interesting conflict and shows an inherent difference in how PR people and reporters approach news. On one hand being able to edit a quote before it is published can prevent misunderstanding or clarify a point. From the perspective of PR it's a great way to make sure the person being interviewed stays on message and doesn't deviate into a topic that could cost whoever the person represents money or public support. From the perspective of a reporter this seems like a corruption of the reporting as it protects those who are interviewed and allows them to completely change what they may have originally said. In the eyes of reports this could be seen as a limitation on "real" reporting since they must get approval of the quotes they use and oftentimes the quote used has a different meaning than the original quote.
This is definitely a pressing issue in the field of Journalism. The issue, unfortunately, does not just limit itself to quotes. Those writing stories are in some instances even asking for permission to publish in the first place. The acting on prior restraints by publications is an example of the chilling effect that can result from subsequent punishment for publishing material that is potentially dangerous, but publications should not be asking for permission to inform the public. That is their purpose, and without it they are essentially puppets for government. A key example of this would be the New York Times during the Bush administration. The New York Times actually knew about the wire tapping being undertaken by the administration and originally was going to publish a story about it. However, the publication decided to ask the administration's permission and did not do so until after the passing of the FISA Amendment Act that essentially made it legal for Bush to engage in these wiretaps. The problem with this is that the American public lost it's ability to comment on the issue and therefore the public discourse necessary in a democracy was not given a chance to occur. In this sense Carr is right. History should not have its first draft written by those who make it, but rather by those who critique it...
In response to Maner's post, "The first draft of history should not be written by the people who make it." I don't even think that history has a "draft." History is history, and there should be no editing or cutting out the pieces/approval. What's published from an interview should not have to be approved by the interviewee. If they agree to an interview, anything they say should be up for publishing. Reporters have the job of finding the truth and giving it to the public. Think of how much truth could be covered up if quotes from interviews were always approved. The public would be receiving far less than the truth. The news wouldn't be "raw" necessarily. Rather, it would be more "rehearsed."
David Carr's statement is accurate. This type of precondition for an interview straddles a dangerous boundary of media censorship. If a political source is able to dictate these terms before an interview is given, the public will not receive an unbiased message. Although journalists must ensure that a source is not misquoted, they must maintain the power of being an independent conduit between their readers and the truth. Political sources should not be able to use journalism as a way to propagate a version of the truth which better suits their goals.
If we remove journalistic protections and freedom then we will ultimately lose out on democracy. It is necessary for a watch dog to exist to check the powers of our government. If policy makers and executives are censoring themselves in publication, how long will it be until entire articles are censored before publication? We corrupt our own rights to the First Amendment if we continue to allow government officials to censor themselves. As Thomas Jefferson famously put it, “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”.