The Books Problem

There’s interesting commentary from Steve Clemons, Howard Kurtz, and Glenn Greenwald about the idea that the White House press corps is trading favorable coverage in exchange for access in order to better put together books about the Obama administration chock full of interesting “insider” information.

Obviously, I can’t say whether any such deals exist. Equally obviously, whether or not they do exist everyone will deny it.

But it’s worth saying that there’s a problem here even in the absence of any kind of explicit deals, namely that we expect reporters who are covering the news on a daily basis to be telling us the truth about what’s going on to the best of their ability. But publishers and book readers naturally expect authors to be telling us new stuff. Trying to simultaneously cover and ongoing story and gather string for a book is an inherent conflict—you’re holding back on your audience.

In a world where economics didn’t matter, a news organization that cared only about quality would insist that its reporters not double-fist like that. If you wanted to go write a book, you’d have to go on leave and go do your reporting separately from your job as a correspondent. But in these days of waning ad revenue and staff cutbacks, few if any editors are in a position to make that kind of demand.