65. If scoops make a journalist, and sources dole out scoops, do sources make journalists?
Imagine it’s two weeks ago and you work high up in the Hillary campaign. Hillary has selected a VP running mate, and now it’s on you and your team to decide how to make the announcement. The usual ideas bounce around — announce it on Twitter! Text it to supporters! Have your surrogates go on cable networks!
But then, someone brings up an important point. The information you have is incredibly powerful. It’s a much-awaited announcement that any reporter would die for. In fact, for many reporters, you could make their career by giving them this information, even if just a few minutes ahead of an official announcement. If you were to choose any of the many young political reporters, this scoop would be at the top of their resumes, because all media outlets — including (especially?) Politico — value scoops.
You react with disgust. Leaking is irresponsible, and you’re absolutely loyal to Hillary. You would never do such a thing and can’t believe it has even come up.
But then your communications director fills you in on how it really works — the leak would be intentional on the part of the campaign. And its point would be to boost the brand of any reporter and media company of your choosing. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be as a favor, or you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours — you want media companies favorable toward you to be perceived as better, and scoops are a big measure of a quality reporter/media company. And if any reporter doesn’t want to write about your scoop the way you want it written, you’ll move on to another reporter — and eventually, one will agree.
Are scoops the currency of journalism? Are there different types of scoops, and are some better than others? If a reporter gets a scoop, is there a way to discern whether they received it because they’re well-sourced or because they were owed a favor or gave positive coverage? Is there a difference?
By New York Times (David Samuels)
May 5, 2016
In this environment, [Deputy National Security Advisor Ben] Rhodes has become adept at ventriloquizing many people at once. Ned Price, Rhodes’s assistant, gave me a primer on how it’s done. The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them — ”
“I can name them,” I said, ticking off a few names of prominent Washington reporters and columnists who often tweet in sync with White House messaging.
Price laughed. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, some people are spinning this narrative that this is a sign of American weakness,’ ” he continued, “but — ”
“In fact it’s a sign of strength!” I said, chuckling.
“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
This is something different from old-fashioned spin, which tended to be an art best practiced in person. In a world where experienced reporters competed for scoops and where carrying water for the White House was a cause for shame, no matter which party was in power, it was much harder to sustain a “narrative” over any serious period oftime. Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why.
By The Washingtonian (Luke Mullins)
July 17, 2016
Other criticism was more legitimate. As Politico’s reporters scoured the Hill for anything resembling news, congressional press aides gained leverage. They could spoon-feed previously unreported materials to Politico, which — in its dash to be first — would publish these “scoops” with little regard for news value. Just like that, a line of Capitol Hill spin was rebranded as a Politico “EXCLUSIVE” and blasted across the internet.
By Buzzfeed (McKay Coppins)
July 17, 2016
According to the all-caps notes in the column titled, “Sam Nunberg Suggestions,” one guiding rule about whether a given reporter would get access to Trump was, unsurprisingly, whether they had been “negative” or not.
Next to The Atlantic Molly Ball, Nunberg wrote, “NO — VERY NEGATIVE TOWARDS MR. TRUMP.” David Martoskoof the Daily Mail was deemed a “medium priority” because he “has been positive for Mr. Trump. He used to work at Daily Caller. I have worked with him before.”
Instead of talking to Byron York of the conservative Washington Examiner, for example, Nunberg proposed a “STRATEGIC ALTERNATIVE” interview with his coworker Rebecca Berg. “York has consistently been negative towards Mr. Trump. The Washington Examiner is influential. I can arrange a pre-trip piece with Rebecca Berg about Mr. Trump’s ‘second NH visit.’ She covered Mr. Trump at American Spectator favorably.”
Nunberg suggested offering Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron “A QUICK 1-MINUTE INTERVIEW, MAYBE TRY ON SITE.”
Any interview with Breitbart News, meanwhile, was treated like a no-brainer. Company chairman Steve Bannon had requested an interview for his Sirius XM show, and Nunberg wrote, “HIGH PRIORITY … MAJOR SUPPORTER OFMR. TRUMP.” Breitbart political editor Jonathan Strong was also deemed a “priority” — “WILL BE EASY TO SCHEDULE. BREITBART WILL SCHEDULE AROUND MR. TRUMP.”
Some journalists were passed over without much explanation. Politico’s Maggie Haberman: “NOT NOW.” The New York Times’s Jeremy Peters: “NO.” Business Insider’s Brett LoGiurato: “Maybe.”
Next to Time’s Zeke Miller, Nunberg wrote, “I CAN SPIN ZEKE IN BACK ON DEEP BACKGROUND.” And for Newsweek’s Matthew Cooper, he wrote, “NO. COOPER IS A LIBERAL.”
In two cases, Nunberg included information about journalists’ personal romantic relationships, and their partners’ political leanings. One reporter, he wrote, had been married to a well-known Democratic strategist; another, he said, was dating an adviser to a Republican. Nunberg suggested denying access to the former, and giving an interview tothe latter.