Charlie Rose interviewed President Obama Monday. The interview aired in the evening, but PBS sent a preliminary transcript to various news outlets in advance with an 11pm embargo. This is standard procedure in media, and a win-win for both sides. The sender increases their chances for publicity and the receiver is ready to go when the interview airs, and not left to scramble something together at the last minute.
But for some desperate reason, BuzzFeed Politics ran portions of the transcript six-hours early, at 3:45 pm (scooping Charlie Rose’s own interview, which broadcast later that night). Their defense is that an “embargo is an agreement, not a command.”
That is a revealing response. An agreement (or understanding) represents mutual trust and a sense of honor. A command does not. Most people would violate a command long before they violated an agreement.
NBC’s Chuck Todd saw it this way:
“Come on. It’s a crappy thing to do to PBS,” he wrote on Twitter last night. “It’s Charlie Rose’s interview. Not mine. Not BuzzFeed’s. The entire thing airs tonight.”
He went deep with it, talking about honor and manners. “This is not a legal dispute,” he wrote. “It’s about basic manners … it’s about whether there’s any honor left.” He spoke of old, worn established media rules. “Many news orgs are respecting PBS 11 p.m. ET embargo on the Rose POTUS interview. Some have chosen to ignore. Who changed the ‘rules?’ Wow, so in the obsessive world of trying to get clicks, we have news orgs no longer respecting embargoes. Can we have some rules respected?”
BuzzFeed can attempt to rationalize this all they want, or try to paint it as gonzo-badassery, I suppose, but violating an embargo is awfully short-sighted. For a one-day traffic boost, the site has now lost the trust of who knows how many? Why would anyone send them anything in advance if their arrogant response is to sniff at long-held rituals based on a mutual understanding that makes everyone’s life easier?
An anonymous political reporter summed it up for FishBowl DC:
BuzzFeed’s argument is that they never agreed to the embargo, which is true. In other words, they had no actual responsibility to abide by it. But if outlets start breaking embargoes like this, it means PR folks will either not send out embargoed stuff or be forced to get every outlet to agree to the embargo in advance. Which either means we won’t get embargoed stuff (which is helpful) or it’s a huge pain for PR folks. In other words, BuzzFeed is ruining it for the rest of us because they wanted a Drudge hit. They may not have done anything wrong, but they certainly did something pretty shitty.
Since I got into this media racket I’ve dealt with embargoes, starting with film reviews that we reviewers were told couldn’t publish until a very specific date (usually a day or two before the film was released).
As much as I loath Hollywood (and PBS), the thought of violating an agreement (or understanding), using some loophole involving the fact that no one had notarized my signature in blood, never crossed my mind.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC