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Psst. Here's the Quote I'd Like

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOctober 19, 2009 5:32 PM


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After being caught feeding a scientist a quote, Joe Romm impugns my profession with this rationalization (emphasis added):

It is exceedingly common in regular journalism to ask people for a quote that makes a very specific point "” I've been asked many times by reporters to do similar things.

I've never done this during my career as a magazine journalist. I don't know any magazine writer that would do such a thing. Perhaps it happens in the newspaper world, but I'd be shocked if it occurs in the the way Romm suggests. At any rate, one of Romm's constant themes at Climate Progress is that the mainstream media is incompetent and unscrupulous when it comes to climate reporting. Well, feeding a source a quote is a serous breach of journalistic ethics. At NYU, where I've been an adjunct journalism professor, I couldn't imagine telling a student this was acceptable behavior. In fact, in the five years I've taught classes there, I can't recall when a student has even asked if this was acceptable behavior. I mean, it just feels wrong to do that kind of thing. So now I'm tempted to go back and look at stories that Romm's been quoted in, say, the last year, and ask those journalists if they ever fed Romm a quote. I suspect that Romm is trying to rationalize his own behavior with the kind of lazy practice that perhaps happened with regularity in a past era--maybe even at the Times Herald Record in the 1960s and 1970s, which is where Romm first learned all about journalism, when his parents were at the helm of that Hudson Valley paper. But I wouldn't want to impugn his parents' legacy or that paper's reputation with such an accusation. Maybe I'll just call up some old friends who worked at that fine paper in recent years and see if it was "exceedingly common" for them to feed sources quotes when they reported their stories. Update: Romm is blaming the ruckus over his journalistic impropriety on Marc Morano, Roger Pielke, Jr., and of course, Stephen Dubner. He's also doubling down on his defense:

Yes, I did ask him [Caldiera] to put in his own words a quote stating that the Superfreaks had misrepresented his views "” because I knew very well that they had based on my previous emails with him (and my reading of his work and having heard him talk). It is exceedingly common in regular journalism to ask people for a quote that makes a very specific point "” I've been asked many times by reporters to do similar things.

Man, Romm really learned the wrong lessons from his parents. But here's the latest rationalization that is worth noting, which he offers in response to a reader comment: I have sat in interviews with leading journalists -- famous ones -- where they ask me the same question in slightly different form literally 8 times to try to get me to say precisely what they want me to say. I didn't do that here at all. You know what, I can believe part of this--the part where a journalist asks the same question in "slightly different form" numerous times--because I've done it, and I'm certain that many journalists have done it as well. But it's not because we want to elicit a specific point or even a sound bite. It's because many scientists tend to talk in jargon and honest journalists, without trying to put words in a scientist's mouth, simply try to coax a more reader-friendly interpretation of a study or policy. I've never asked a question eight consecutive times, but I have, on occasion, asked variations of the same question two or three times to a scientist. Ask any science journalist and I bet they'd own up to the same thing. Nothing nefarious there, no attempt to get the scientist to say something to advance a writer's political or ideological agenda, just an honest attempt to get the scientist to speak in a language that my mother can understand. Anyway, nice try, Joe.

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