Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Did National Journal break the State of the Union embargo?

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Last night, almost two hours before President Barack Obama launched into his State of the Union address, you could have read his planned remarks on the National Journal’s site.

That led at least a few people to claim that the site had broken the embargo by posting the text at 7:14 Eastern, with the address scheduled for 9 p.m.

But had they?

When I floated the idea on Twitter, the National Journal’s communications director, Taylor West, responded right away:

Hi Ivan – NJ received a copy of the speech from a src. No embargo in effect. Email me for more…

So I did. One thing I wanted to know in particular was whether the National Journal had also received the text of the address under embargo from the White House press office or another “official” source. West responded:

We received a draft copy of the speech from a trusted source, under no conditions of embargo. In addition to the reliability of the source, the draft matched up to excerpts that had been released previously in the day. Given the clear news value of the information, we moved with it at 7:14pm.

At that point, NO full draft of the speech had been released by the White House at all, embargoed or unembargoed. Typically, the WH releases a few excerpts as a preview during the day (and they did this time), but does not release the full text at all until approximately 10 minutes before the speech begins at 9pm. Last night, because we had obtained and published a draft of the speech by 7:15, the White House actually moved up their own official release and put out their prepared remarks just before 8pm, with no embargo.

In comparing the copy we received from our source with the remarks that the White House later sent around, we confirmed that what we received was, in fact, the final draft.

The key point, as I know you’re getting at, is that there were NOT other news organizations holding a copy of the speech but keeping it unpublished due to an embargo. The speech had not been released in any form, and our access to it was through a source, not any sort of official distribution.

I can’t agree with those who said this was a break. Seems like a fair and square scoop to me. National Journal, meet Jonathan Leake.

I should note that The Wrap carried an item on this last night, one that I found after my exchange with West.

Written by Ivan Oransky

January 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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