NYT made the right call in spiking White House audio

The New York Times is under fire in some quarters for spiking an on-the-record audio interview with Stephen Miller, President’s Trump’s senior policy adviser.

The interview was to be used on yesterday’s edition of The Daily, the New York Times produced podcast that is distributed for broadcast by American Public Media.

Miller, considered the architect of Trump’s policy of taking children from parents when they cross the border, had agreed to the interview which was the backbone of a weekend print story.

When the White House objected to using the audio on a podcast, the Times pulled the audio, issuing this statement yesterday.

The Times conducted an extended White House interview with Stephen Miller for a weekend story about the Trump administration’s border policy. Miller was quoted, on the record, in that story.

After the original story was published, producers of “The Daily” planned to talk with the reporter and use audio excerpts from the Miller interview. White House officials objected, saying that they had not agreed to a podcast interview. While Miller’s comments were on the record, we realized that the ground rules for the original interview were not clear, and so we made a decision not to run the audio.

But to reiterate: The Times made extensive use of the Miller interview in both the original weekend story and “The Daily.”

Actually, none of the audio made it to the broadcast.

“There was much discussion about the decision and we took it very seriously,” host Michael Barbaro said at the start of the episode.

In the print story, only one quote of Miller was used.

“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he said. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

Critics, however, see the decision not use the on-the-record audio as another example of a watchdog media caving to the people they cover.

At the Washington Post, blogger Erik Wemple isn’t so sure.

When reporters approach the White House for an interview, the unspoken understanding is that any on-the-record comments will be used for a print article, and that’s the end of it. Here, the newspaper had other ambitions for the interview — ambitions that it would have been wise to pass along to the interviewee.

Granting some deference to a White House headed by a serial liar doesn’t feel, or look, too good. But it embodies a level of caution appropriate for a news organization such as the Times.

The situation also reveals that people in power still don’t quite grasp that traditional core media companies are today’s meatpackers. Nothing goes to waste and is repurposed in a variety of media forms. And print media expanding into the broadcast world are still a bit clumsy about how these things work.

Your newspaper isn’t just a dead-tree thing anymore. But until the people granting interviews understand that, it’s up to the journalists to be clear about the ground rules for interviews.

And radio people, for example, never record an interview without telling the subject that it’s being recorded for broadcast.

  • crystals

    I despise Stephen Miller with every fiber in my being AND I think the Times made the right call. Both things can be true.

  • lusophone

    So when do we get to hear the audio?

  • Odious troll Miller is lucky that in this case he was dealing with a news organization that has actual professional standards.

  • RBHolb

    I can’t help but wonder why the White House objected to the use of the audio. It can’t be a matter of “principle” with this crowd.

    Would publishing a verbatim transcript be okay? While the words might be the same, a speaker’s mannerisms can tell a lot about what they really think. An audio recording also makes it harder (but not impossible) to make a claim of “fake news.”

    • AmiSchwab

      probably because miller would speak the truth about the racist, hateful trump/miller agenda

    • It’s easier to say someone changed your words in print than it is when people can hear the audio.

    • Jerry
    • crystals

      I think hearing words can have a profoundly different effect than seeing them, at least for some, and I also think with audio you get the raw content – no snipping of content here and there to make it fit within a story.

      I also would not underestimate how completely awful Stephen Miller comes across live, and perhaps they realized that having people actually hear him talking about these atrocities was not to their advantage.

      • X.A. Smith

        Stephen Miller has said that they went with this policy because border security, when it comes down to it, is a 90-10 issue. He wants people freaking out about it because he actually believes it’s a winning issue for the administration.

    • Jeff C.

      Hearing the audio might make listeners realize that PEOPLE are behind this policy. It personifies, personalizes and humanizes this inhumane policy. A policy is non-human. A person (even Steven Miller) speaking about it might make listeners realize that human beings are choosing to treat children in this horrible way, and it might cause the listeners to go from supporters of the policy to opponents of the people behind the policy.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        I think it also dilutes the ability of the administration to “blame” the policy on Democrats.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Bob, when MPR began doing things “in print”, that is on the web, was there a transition period where radio reporters had to also remember to mention that quotes from the audio would show up in the stories online?

    • I created the MPR News website as you probably know and the answer is no because you don’t need permission to put a quote in print once you are on the record. Historically, I don’t recall anyone ever expressing surprise or displeasure that they were misled. Where we occasionally found problems as we moved into separating digital staffing is people who would be interviewed by “MPR” thinking it was going to be a radio story when, inf act, it was a digitial only story. I don’t know how things work now because I’m not part of that process anymore but during my “reign”, we made sure to specify that something was going to end up on digital platforms only and not on the radio.

  • Rob

    Any communications director who wouldn’t expect a reporter who recorded a conversation wiith their client to be use the recorded material in a variety of ways, including a podcast, should be fired. The Times deserves a dope slap for acceding to the WH request to tank use of the audio.

    • Be that as it may, the NY Times violated a basic tenet of journalism in failing to seek permission to use audio for broadcast.

      • Rob

        A tenet of journalism from The Before Times, when journalism was primarily/only print. Since most media companies today are a whole bunch of different platforms, this is an arcane, outmoded tenet.

        • No, actually it has its roots in FCC and communication law:

          § 73.1206 Broadcast of telephone conversations.
          Before recording a telephone conversation for broadcast, or broadcasting such a conversation simultaneously with its occurrence, a licensee shall inform any party to the call of the licensee’s intention to broadcast the conversation, except where such party is aware, or may be presumed to be aware from the circumstances of the conversation, that it is being or likely will be broadcast. Such awareness is presumed to exist only when the other party to the call is associated with the station (such as as employee or part-time reporter), or where the other party originates the call and it is obvious that it is in connection with a program in which the station customarily broadcasts telephone conversations.

          Over the years that has morphed into a more specific request for permission to record, the response to which we usually record, by the way.

          Making it somewhat more complicated is that state laws can be more restrictive, and are in many cases.

          Obviously there’s an argument to be made that Miller could presume the Times would use the audio on its podcast if the Times could prove that Miller knew there was even a podcast on which his voice would appear.

          I suspect the Times is now incorporating its permission in the manner radio stations have for generations.

          • lusophone

            Is “telephone” defined anywhere?

  • lindblomeagles

    So the public is now aware border agents were told to separate Hispanic children from their parents. The public ALSO knows Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Kirstjen Nelson whole-heartedly SUPPORTED separating the children from their parents regardless of motivation (criminal legislation, the Democrats, or the Boogie Man). Miller’s audio, and the Times’ decision not to air it, suggests, to me, the decision to separate Hispanic children from their parents was motivated by racial animus, heavy racial animus, and revealed far too much of what some already suspect is the Trump Administration’s official position on Hispanic people in general. While I’m not sure we want to leave EVERY censure decision to the media, if someone is generally THAT offensive to the point a media outlet is uneasy about releasing it to the public, the media probably should go with their gut reaction. The gut is usually right.

  • Guest

    I recall one newspaper editor to shame a person printed the interview word for word, all the uhhs and umms and pauses etc. In print the person no longer had the filter of an editor who knew grammar.

    Well, uhhhh that is ummm because of…….lemme think…..ya, thas cuza 🙂