D.C. Bureau Chiefs Push to End On-Background Briefings

The Washington bureau chiefs of several major media outlets are pledging to ban off-the-record interviews and anonymous sources. Again.

D.C. Bureau Chiefs Launch Push to End On-Background Briefings (Editor & Publisher)

Washington bureau chiefs have launched a new effort to stop off-the-record and background-only White House press briefings with a campaign aimed at getting fellow D.C. journalists to demand that more briefings be on the record. Among other efforts, they pressed the demand with White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Friday. “We tried to make the point that readers are sick to death of unnamed sources,” said Ron Hutcheson, a White House correspondent for Knight Ridder. “Scott listened and he said he would chew on it for a few weeks, but everybody felt like he would give it consideration.” McClellan could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

In an e-mail to several dozen bureau chiefs Monday, a group of top D.C. bureau bosses urged their colleagues to push more for on-the-record briefings when government officials deem them to be on background only. “We’d like to make a more concerted effort among the media during the month of May to raise objections as soon as background briefings are scheduled by any government official, whether at the White House, other executive agencies or the Hill,” the e-mail said, in part. “Please ask your reporters to raise objections beforehand in hopes of convincing the official to go public — ask them to explain why the briefing has to be on background. If that doesn’t work, object again at the top of the briefing — at least those objections will be part of the transcript. The broadcast networks will also press for briefings to be open to camera and sound.”

The e-mail went to more than 40 D.C. bureau chiefs. Those who signed the e-mail were: Susan Page of USA Today, Clark Hoyt of Knight Ridder, Andy Alexander of Cox Newspapers, Robin Sproul of ABC News, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, Philip Taubman of The New York Times, and Sandy Johnson of Associated Press.

I’m all for it but this is a non-starter. Well, that’s not quite right. This is an effort than seems to start every couple of years. There is constant clamor to get rid of background briefs because they practically beg for disgruntled folks with an axe to grind to come forward.

Yet they persist. Why? Because, as with any embargo, some will break it. Journalism is a business that thrives on being first with a story. This could last for a week or two but I guarantee you that the moment a juicy enough tidbit is available only on background, it’ll be in a paper near you.

via Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MYNIPPON says:

    In order for journalists to function, they need anonymous resources. Indeed the system may be abused and misused but at the same time without the anonymity promise, a lot of information will never come out.

  2. Michael says:

    My sources tell me that McClellan is going to nix the idea, and that he drinks a lot…