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New York Times Public Editor Says Off-The-Record Meeting Raises Concerns

With an increasing number of Americans distrustful of the mainstream media you would think the establishment would try to be on their best behavior. Not so. As was revealed late last week, numerous members of the establishment press attended an off-the-record session with President Obama to help him sell the Syrian war to the American people. Though first noted by the New York Times, it was the Huffington Post that actually named names and revealed that over a dozen writers attended the meeting and represented most of the major corporate media interests in DC.

While such underhanded behavior was a shock to few who understand the incestuous relationship between the mainstream media and those in power, the mask rarely comes off to such a degree. At best, media elites allowed themselves to be a secret focus group to assist a war speech. At worst, they participated in trying to manipulate the American people and their readers.

Now the New York Times‘ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has addressed the controversy surrounding Times and other writers attending an off-the-record discussion with the president. The Times had a fair amount of writers present at the session including Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Frank Bruni, and Carol Giacomo.

Mr. Obama didn’t invent these off-the-record sessions, not by a long shot.  But such meetings shouldn’t be a substitute for allowing news reporters, on behalf of the public, to grill the president on the record – especially on a subject as weighty and important as impending military action.   But increasingly, they seem to be just that.  Readers are right to be troubled about the implications.

Well, they certainly aren’t a substitute, in fact, an off-the-record bull session is the polar opposite of a tough on the record interview. “Off-the-record” is a privilege a journalist typically gives in exchange for obtaining more lucrative information – the source is wiling to disclose something provided they are promised not to be named. An “off-the-record discussion” with a politician about a public address makes no sense in this regard. In its most benign form it is a vanity exercise.

This controversy speaks to another systemic problem with the mainstream media, they have lost the journalist’s ethos. Members of the establishment press see themselves more as establishment than press. They vex over keeping the gate up to protect their position rather than finding and reporting news. This corruption via insecurity means they are happy to trade their integrity for access. They get to be “in the room” so even if their readers gain no real benefit the brand, personal and organizational, prevails. The triumph of self-exaltation and careerism over service and integrity is nothing new, but it is hard to recall when it was this shameless.

The mainstream media’s lack of integrity not only makes them gross, it is why the American people are right not to trust them.

CommunityThe Bullpen

New York Times Public Editor Says Off-The-Record Meeting Raises Concerns

With an increasing number of Americans distrustful of the mainstream media you would think the establishment would try to be on their best behavior. Not so. As was revealed late last week, numerous members of the establishment press attended an off-the-record session with President Obama to help him sell the Syrian war to the American people. Though first noted by the New York Times, it was the Huffington Post that actually named names and revealed that over a dozen writers attended the meeting and represented most of the major corporate media interests in DC.

While such underhanded behavior was a shock to few who understand the incestuous relationship between the mainstream media and those in power, the mask rarely comes off to such a degree. At best, media elites allowed themselves to be a secret focus group to assist a war speech. At worst, they participated in trying to manipulate the American people and their readers.

Now the New York Times‘ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has addressed the controversy surrounding Times and other writers attending an off-the-record discussion with the president. The Times had a fair amount of writers present at the session including Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Frank Bruni, and Carol Giacomo.

Mr. Obama didn’t invent these off-the-record sessions, not by a long shot.  But such meetings shouldn’t be a substitute for allowing news reporters, on behalf of the public, to grill the president on the record – especially on a subject as weighty and important as impending military action.   But increasingly, they seem to be just that.  Readers are right to be troubled about the implications.

Well, they certainly aren’t a substitute, in fact, an off-the-record bull session is the polar opposite of a tough on the record interview. “Off-the-record” is a privilege a journalist typically gives in exchange for obtaining more lucrative information – the source is wiling to disclose something provided they are promised not to be named. An “off-the-record discussion” with a politician about a public address makes no sense in this regard. In its most benign form it is a vanity exercise.

This controversy speaks to another systemic problem with the mainstream media, they have lost the journalist’s ethos. Members of the establishment press see themselves more as establishment than press. They vex over keeping the gate up to protect their position rather than finding and reporting news. This corruption via insecurity means they are happy to trade their integrity for access. They get to be “in the room” so even if their readers gain no real benefit the brand, personal and organizational, prevails. The triumph of self-exaltation and careerism over service and integrity is nothing new, but it is hard to recall when it was this shameless.

The mainstream media’s lack of integrity not only makes them gross, it is why the American people are right not to trust them.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.