David Carr, "The Puppetry of Quotation Approval", NYT 9/16/2012:
In July, my colleague Jeremy Peters pulled back the blanket on the growing practice of allowing political sources to read and approve quotations as a precondition for an interview. His story got attention inside and outside the Beltway, in part because the quotation is the last refuge of spontaneity in an age of endlessly managed messages. When quotations can be unilaterally taken back, the Kabuki is all but complete. […]
Good thing those of us who cover business don’t have to deal with the same self-preserving press policies. Except we do. In an anecdotal survey of 20 reporters, it was clear that on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and at some of the big media companies I cover, subjects of coverage are asking for, and sometimes receiving, the kind of consideration that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
Peters' article has been very widely discussed, mostly by journalists bewailing their loss of autonomy. And it's certainly true that quotation approval removes an element of spontaneity from reporting, and can be used by public figures to try to shape and control stories dealing with them.
But I haven't seen anyone connect the dots between this discussion and another recent topic much masticated by the pundit class, namely the problem of fabricated, misleading, or incompetently approximate quotations. Most direct quotes in newspaper or magazine articles are approximate at best, representing a writer's reconstruction from fragmentary notes and from memory of what he or she thinks the source meant to say, as excerpted and adapted to the needs of the story. There's a spectrum of approximation, from accurate paraphrase though muddled and confused paraphrase to outright fabrication; but accurate quotation is the exception, not the rule.
So even if a journalist can be relied on not to go beyond muddled paraphrase — and there are plenty of big-time journalists who have gone way beyond that point — any sane and prudent sources will want to check quotes, not to avoid self-revelation, but avoid misrepresentation of their views.
I'd be much more sympathetic to journalists' hand-wringing about quote approval if they cleaned up their collective act and started quoting sources accurately. With every smartphone doubling as a digital recorder, it's not hard to do.