White House tries to control watchdogs


Earlier this week, Paul Farhi with The Washington Post reported cases of the White House demanding that members of its press-pool change their reports.

The White House functions on a system whereby a small group of journalists known as pool reporters receive exclusive access to presidential events. The reports of these journalists are e-mailed to a database, including news outlets, for them to use in stories nationwide.

The pool reporters share their reports with the White House press office, which is responsible for distributing them to the members of the database. Reporters say this office has forced changes in reports before their release to media outlets. Essentially, the White House is trying to control which information is circulated and allowing only the coverage it sees as favorable.

The press, commonly referred to as the fourth branch of government, is supposed to be a check on government. How can journalists be watchdogs if their content is being reviewed?

In the majority of cases, a journalist should not allow his/her sources to review an article prior to publication, as this would give the source undue power over the journalist. It is the journalist’s responsibility to report as accurately as possible that occasionally provides an exception to this rule.

Such an example would be when writing an article concerning a complex subject, such as astrophysics. Since the journalist is not an astrophysicist, he may need to verify the accuracy of his report with the expert source.

The changes being demanded by the White House press office are not complex matters. In fact, they are oftentimes quite trivial, such as a statement that an intern fainted during a press briefing. It is the principle of government infringement on freedom of the press under fire here.