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Can Gotcha Journalism Be Good for Public Debate?

“Gotcha” journalism places the famous at the mercy of the digital record; their speech and mannerisms irredeemable through post-edit spin, they are often seen as awkward, incoherent and undeniably human.

 

What is “Gotcha” Journalism? 
The definition of  “gotcha” journalism has been debated by journalists as diverse as Carl Bernstein and David Shuster  but most analysts agree that the term refers to journalists playing verbal footsie with interviewees, seducing them into inadvertently revealing unflattering facts or statement inconsistencies.

 

How Does it Impact the Way Public Figures Communicate?
It is, according to Pew Research, the sheer volume of unvarnished facts that damns public figures and their handlers to an endless, unwinnable war against unguarded, recorded moments.

How Does it Change the News?
Reality is of course, often muddled and unflattering at best especially in politics, Hollywood and on Wall Street. Critics of the “gotcha” approach counter that these tactics diminish the credibility of the press and its value to readers by removing context in many cases from quotes and emphasizing awkwardness over relevance to the reader.

Can “Gotcha” Journalism Have Value for Readers?
Other journalists have stated that public figures should be articulate and clever enough to mind their speeches and interviews for debatable facts or turns of phrase as they are, after all, placing themselves in the public eye.

How Has It Impacted Public Debate?
Those laid low by their own tongues often insist that the duly recorded transcripts of their comment be made subject not to tests of veracity but to the dictates of sometimes vague concepts of “fairness.”

Some Notable Political Examples
Senator John McCain and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin used the “gotcha” term famously in 2008 to rebuke Katie Couric and other anchors for quoting, accurately, inconsistencies a McCain political speech, but it is by no means the sole domain of politicians.

Not Only in Politics
Gary Oldman caused a political firestorm with comments plucked from a 9-hour Playboy interview which he stated were taken out of context. Oldman’s comments sparked a range of articles predicting the end of his Hollywood career as well as stern responses from several anti-defamation organizations.

What it All Means
Ranging from Gary Oldman to Donald Stirling, the famous and quotable have decried the use of digital recording for its unrelenting, spin-free mechanical accuracy. Yet politicians and pop stars have acknowledged that the digital age allows one more opportunities to instantly respond via independent news outlets and social media.

A Mixed Bag
While gotcha journalism has been used to weave a slanted or erroneous story, some of America’s biggest “gotcha” scandals have brought important issues to the forefront of public debate.

The value of the tactic is as debatable as its definition. While increasing numbers of public figures’ private and online gaffes enter the blogosphere instantly via social media, journalists and readers will be forced to sift through newsfeeds with a more critical eye.

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Carla Rover