Transactional Journalism: The Black Market Information Trade (New Propaganda Glossary Term)

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Today glossary entry comes once again from Sharyl Attkinsson’s new book, ‘The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote .

Transactional Journalism

Attkisson dedicates an entire chapter to the practice of transactional journalism. The book illustrates the nature of this practice using now public email exchanges between Washington insiders and the journalists who report on them.

According to Attkisson, who refers to transactional journalism as, “the Black Market Information Trade”,

“Transactional journalism refers to the friendly, mutually beneficial relationships that have developed between reporters and those on whom they report. It’s when the relationships cross a line beyond chumminess and the players strike clandestine business deals, whether formally or implicitly, to report on people and topics a certain way. Reporters may offer favorable treatment in exchange for getting a “scoop.” They may agree to let an interview subject dictate terms when it comes to topic and timing of publication. They may promise to ask some questions and avoid others. They may carry on cozy relationships that allow their reporting to be influenced in ways they don’t disclose to the public. Usually reporters afford the most favorable treatment to those with whom they are ideologically in synch.”

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She goes on to describe manipulative effects of transactional journalism.

“Transactional journalism results in a perverted dynamic. Public officials manipulate the press into competing to be first to receive government and political propaganda—self-serving rumors or press releases promoting agendas or smearing opponents…..It (transactional journalism) is a vehicle to create a smoke screen, making narratives appear to be organic, hard-nosed journalism when they’re the exact opposite…..This is a world in which little happens by accident. Topics and people make news because it’s all been prearranged, preplanned, agreed upon.”

One of the many examples Attkisson provides involves a 2009 email exchange between Hillary Clinton aide, Philippe Reines, and Marc Ambinder, a reporter for the Atlantic. I’ll include the entire passage.

“This particular transaction takes place on July 15th, 2009, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to make a speech…..In today’s dynamic, an advanced copy of the Clinton speech will be heralded as a “great get,” and Ambinder wants it. The question is, what’s he willing to do to get it? In an email exchange, Reines says there are certain “conditions” Ambinder must meet in order to get the text of the speech. Ambinder replies “ok.” Reines then dictates his terms in a numbered list.

  1. You in your own voice describe [Hillary’s words] as “muscular”
  2. You note that a look at the [audience] seating plan shows that all the envoys from Holbrooke to Mitchell to Ross–will be arrayed in front of her, which in your own clever way you can say [is] certainly not a coincidence and meant to convey something.
  3. You don’t say you were blackmailed!

Ambinder responds, “got it.”

Here are screen shots of the emails described in the passage.

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Attkisson then quotes an excerpt from Ambinder’s final article, showing how closely he followed orders. Here’s the excerpt from Ambinder’s article.

“When you think of President Obama’s foreign policy, think of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s the message behind a muscular speech that Clinton is set to deliver today to the Council on Foreign Relations. The staging gives a clue to its purpose: seated in front of Clinton, subordinate to Clinton, in the first row, will be three potentially rival power centers: envoys Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, and National Security Council senior director Dennis Ross.”…..The article delivers everything Reines had demanded.”

This practice of repeating planted talking points can be seen everyday in the news. In fact, not a day goes by that you don’t hear multiple broadcasters parrot the same talking point ad nauseam. Where, or who, do networks get these talking points from today? Attkisson reveals this later in the book, which I’ll cover in a later post along with how to identify these planted talking points before they become mainstream.

For more propaganda related terms, visit our propaganda glossary

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