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.