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Posts Tagged ‘James Asher’

McClatchy Bureau Chief Reveals Dirty Secrets

Earlier in the week James Asher, McClatchy’s Washington Bureau Chief made an unexpected declaration at an award’s ceremony that the news service will not tolerate any quote sanitizing by government officials. On Thursday in a summation called “On Washington Journalism” Asher commented on the practice further, calling out WaPo and NYT for not yet taking firm stands on the matter.

But Asher says this isn’t the only dirty secret of Washington journalism.

An excerpt:

During the height of the U.S. Attorney’s scandal in 2006 when McClatchy was breaking nearly all of the damning stories that led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, an official from the Justice Department promised us an exclusive leak of government information. After he provided the details, he went on to tell our reporter: “Highlight this. Disregard this and emphasize that.” When our reporter refused, he said: “You are the most unprofessional journalist I have ever worked with.” That exchange says leagues about the relationship between sources and the news media.

Asher made another commitment to readers: “Reporters at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau are getting new marching orders. We’ll be reducing the number of stories we do about the ranting in Congress and the spin at the White House. We will devote our considerable skills as journalists to the actions of governments. We’ll tell you what Washington does and how it affects your lives.”

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McClatchy Takes Stand Against Modified Quotes

McClatchy’s Washington Bureau Chief James Asher announced last night at the National Press Club Awards dinner that he’s instituting a new policy to not allow government officials to modify quotes.

Asher was accepting an award for a reporter who couldn’t attend. He gave his speech about the story and then tossed the tidbit out as an announcement, to considerable applause. “Hope it convinced the Times and Post to follow suit,” Asher told FishbowlDC by email. On July 15, the NYT ran a provocative story by Jeremy Peters revealing that reporters routinely get their quotes reviewed and confirmed by government officials. Since then, the Washington Examiner and AP have taken strong public stands against the practice. Politico took a somewhat milder approach, with Editor-in-Chief John Harris telling Poynter he didn’t want background interviews to become the norm or “the default” but that they had their place. He said “quote doctoring does bother me.” WaPo has yet to take a strong, clear stand against the practice.

Midway down the McClatchy homepage today you’ll notice a brief from Asher entitled “No-alter quote policy.” It reads: “It is the policy of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau 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.”

Tension Mounts Between White House and McClatchy

McClatchy is digging its heels in the sand on a story that claims the White House was not in touch with Iraqi officials on whether to leave remaining troops in Iraq before deciding to withdrawal.

The White House claims the story is false. McClatchy, meanwhile, is sticking firmly with McClatchy. The news service published a story Wednesday bearing the headline, “White House challenges story, but provides no facts to counter it.” In the piece, Washington Bureau Chief James Asher does not back down.

“We stand by our reporting. We have repeatedly asked White House officials for details on Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Biden’s communications with the Iraqi government. So far, they have declined to provide them. We await a response.”

While the White House declares President Obama and V.P. Biden were in talks with Iraqi officials on the matter, they have so far provided no concrete proof. White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor pointedly deflated the claim in the original McClatchy piece, saying, “Your story is totally wrong.” He said whoever prepared the embassy list, on which McClatchy is basing its story, “was not familiar with the full range of contacts.” During  a press gaggle Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called McClatchy’s claim “false” and “erroneous.” So far, Carney has not provided readouts of the calls. He says there has been one released call, and when pressed on if he would show proof of others, replied, “I don’t know.”

Possible outcomes: Carney could recite the list of contacts and effectively squash the story. Revealing such calls that weren’t announced would take coordination by Carney with others, including foreign policy types. If they exist, it’s possible they wouldn’t release them for a variety of reasons, including that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn’t want it. McClatchy, if proven wrong, could continue with their overall theme and charge of aloofness. Either way, someone may be on thin ice.