Washington Post Media Critic Admits Reporters Frame Quotes, Slice and Dice Interviews

If there was ever any doubt that bias exists in the news media, The Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz just laid it to rest.

Writing about the decline of the traditional face-to-face interview in journalism in his May 21 column, Kurtz made a stunning admission: 

“The humble interview…is under assault.  It is a transaction that clearly favors the person asking the questions.  A print reporter writes down someone's answers, then picks and chooses how much, if any, to use, how to frame the quotes and where to put any contrary information.  Television correspondents slice and dice tape interviews in similar fashion.”

Kurtz reports the “balance of power has shifted” in the digital age with more and more sources preferring to be interviewed by e-mail, or even referring journalists to their blogs.  Apparently there is a growing sense that this type of interview process protects a source from being “misrepresented, truncated or otherwise disrespected.”

Journalists do that? Really? 

Kurtz defends the face-to-face and telephone interview style when he writes, “When you see someone's expression or listen to someone's voice, you get a sense of the person that words on a screen lack.  A back-and-forth in real time often leads to illuminating moments.  And, of course typed answers can be rather bloodless – and they make it impossible for me to write, he said with a smile :).”

Here's the kicker, though.  Kurtz states, “I understand the skepticism toward the way reporters edit interviews.”

Let's add up the pieces of this story.  We have a reporter telling us more sources prefer not to be interviewed by journalists because these people feel they may be “misrepresented” or worse.  The reporter tells us journalists “frame the quotes” and “slice and dice interviews,” and also tells us he “understands the skepticism” about how interviews are edited.   Add it all up and you get an admission of bias, plain and simple.

Kurtz's point about the value of real-time dialogue, whether in person or on the phone, is also important.  There is real value in the traditional style of interviewing as anyone who has ever had a conversation knows.  It is too bad that so many journalists have failed to exercise personal responsibility in their reporting.  By so abusing the power of the press, they have lost the trust of the majority of Americans.  A Zogby poll taken earlier this year found that 83 percent of Americans think there is bias in the media. According to Kurtz they have every reason to think so.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.