05/07/2005: Slippery Spin
Dan Froomkin (Washington Post) writes about the “anonymous” and ubiquitous White House use of “Background Briefing” practices to get their “Spin” on issues into the “news” :
"....Washington journalists and the White House are suddenly engaged in a robust debate over the Bush Administration's frequent use of official but anonymous "background briefings."
A group of Washington bureau chiefs met with Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Friday to urge him to curtail the practice. And on Monday, they sent an e-mail to other Washington editors suggesting that, whenever such briefings are announced, reporters should "raise objections beforehand in hopes of convincing the official to go public."
Background briefings are generally used by the White House to flesh out policy proposals that the president only makes in broad strokes. They also are a frequent feature of foreign trips, used to telegraph what Bush intends to accomplish in meetings with foreign leaders and then to provide a "read out" from those meetings.
Sometimes the anonymous briefers speak before a large audience of reporters; sometimes it's on a conference call.
But the anonymity does not typically translate to frankness. The anonymous briefings tend to be as full of spin and empty of straight answers as the ones that are on the record.
Practically speaking, all that the cloak of anonymity does is hinder accountability and undermine journalistic credibility
The unprecedented secrecy with which the Bush administration operates makes it more imperative than ever for reporters to occasionally grant confidentiality to sources who are taking a risk by exposing information that the public has a right to know.
That's a stark contrast from those maddening White House briefings where a senior administration official stands in front of an auditorium full of reporters, says nothing remotely controversial, and yet insists on being cloaked in anonymity.
From the reporters' perspective, there is really no excuse for the latter."
Karen on 05.07.05 @ 08:42 AM CST