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Washington Post Reporter Allows College Officials to Alter Story on Controversial Test

Ohanian Comment: I missed this story when it appeared but thanks to Danny Weil's Daily Censored reference, found it now. The Texas Observer has asked me not to repost items, and I honor that. You can go to their site for the whole piece, which was a cover story.

As it happens, I had this exchange on Twitter yesterday with Washington Monthly, who offered a snippy justification of why President Obama and his staff got to approve quotes Michael Lewis used in his Vanity Fair profile.

14 Sept Washington Monthly â@washmonthly
Catch Michael Lewis' new profile of President Obama in @VanityFair: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/10/michael-lewis-profile-barack-obama â¦

Susan Ohanian â@susanoha
and ask why he gave Obama right to approve quotes.

14 Sep Washington Monthly Washington Monthly â@washmonthly
Seems obvious--wouldn't have gotten the story otherwise.

14 Sep Susan Ohanian â@susanoha
He's one of my favorite writers. I've bought all his books. I'm disappointed that he agreed.

I wonder if the people profiled in Lewis' books had that quote approval opportunity. As to the Vanity Fair piece, I agree with The Guardian judgment: reads, in parts, less like journalism than a kind of fan fiction.

And here's Glenn Greenwald, in a very interesting piece in Common Dreams:

[T]hose were obviously facts the White House wanted the public to hear in the months leading up to the election. In fact, one can say the same about every quote in Lewis' article, since, by virtue of the terms Lewis agreed to, none could appear unless the White House gave explicit permission. Whatever that arrangement is, it is not journalism (as some media outlets are now acknowledging). It's more akin to what someone would set out to do when they believe that "it must be hard not to take it easy on the president".

It sounds like Michael Lewis had a good time with President Obama--over a six month period--playing basketball, riding on Air Force One, seeing the President's favorite spot in the White House--but the result wasn't journalism.

Reporter breaks journalistic convention by sharing entire drafts with 'customers' in University of Texas press office.

by Forrest Wilder

In February, Daniel de Vise, a reporter for the Washington Post, arrived at the University of Texas at Austin campus to work on a story about a controversial standardized test sweeping the nation's colleges and universities. The test purports to determine how much students have learned in college, part of a movement to bring No Child Left Behind-style accountability testing to higher education. University officials were nervous about what the story would say about the politically sensitive topic. Before he landed in Austin, de Vise emailed UT's director of communications to reassure him that the article was "NOT meant to be any sort of hit piece, more of a thought-provoker."

De Viseâs visit was fairly routine journalism. He toured campus, visited with students and interviewed administrators. But when de Vise returned to Washington, D.C., he employed some unusual, perhaps even unethical, techniques.

Before publication, de Vise shared at least two complete drafts of his article with UT's press officers and allowed them to suggest critical edits, some of which ended up in the published story, according to emails obtained by The Texas Observer through a public information request.

Journalists have traditionally been taught never to share entire drafts with sources to avoid undue influence. But in preparing his 1,300-word storyâwhich ran on the Postâs front page on March 14 under the headline Trying to assess learning gives colleges their own anxiety--de Vise flouted journalistic convention and allowed UT officials to suggest substantive changes to a major news story about a politically charged topic. . . .
Read the rest here.

— Forrest Wilder
Texas Observer





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