To our staff and to our readers:
As you are aware, reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg and others are agreeing to give government sources the right to clear and alter quotes as a prerequisite to granting an interview.
To be clear, it is the bureau’s policy that we do not alter accurate quotes from any source. And to the fullest extent possible, we do not make deals that we will clear quotes as a condition of interviews.
With the government trying to do more of the public’s business in secret, the demands that interviews be conducted off the record is growing. While it puts us at a disadvantage, we should argue strenuously for on-the-record interviews with government officials.
When they absolutely refuse, we have only two options. First, halt the interview and attempt to find the information elsewhere. In those cases, our stories should say the official declined comment. Second, we can go ahead with the interview with the straightforward response that whatever ultimately is used will be published without change in tone, emphasis or exact language.
These days government is trying mightily to constrain access to public information. Each staffer has had no comments, demands for FOIAs that go unanswered and worse. More recently, our sources have been chilled by threats of leak investigations, and some have endured full blown leak inquiries.
As advocates of the First Amendment, we cannot be intimidated into letting the government control our work. When The New York Times agreed with Bush Administration officials to delay publication of its story of illegal wiretaps of Americans until after the 2004 election, it did the nation a great disservice. Acceding to the Obama administration’s efforts to censor our work to have it more in line with their political spin is another disservice to America.
And judging from the controversy that has ensued from the disclosure of these requests, the people don’t like this either.
If you believe there is a compelling reason for an exception to this policy, please clear it with me.
James Asher Washington Bureau Chief McClatchy