Bureau Chiefs Take Stand Against Anonymice

Editor & Publisher has a good scoop on a new effort by the chiefs of numerous D.C. bureaus to end the practice of the White House anonymice background briefings.

Some of D.C.’s biggest names–bureau chiefs 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–sent an email to 40 colleagues yesterday explaining their new effort to change the well-ingrained Washington practice.

“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.”

“We tried to make the point that readers are sick to death of unnamed sources,” Ron Hutcheson, the now-former head of the White House Correspondents Association told E&P following a meeting last Friday where the bureau chiefs talked with Scott McClellan about the issue. “Scott listened and he said he would chew on it for a few weeks, but everybody felt like he would give it consideration.”

A curious question to ask in all of this: Considering that the bureau chief signatories met on Friday and 40 bureau chiefs all received this email yesterday, does not one of them think that such an effort was worthy of a story? Is this issue really so obscure that it should be reported only in a trade publication?

If reporters are really as (rightly) outraged about the practice as they say they are, shouldn’t they perhaps use their own soapboxes?