August 5, 2014 – The Associated Press was apparently tipped off by the federal government, publishing a significant scoop just minutes before an in-depth article on the Obama Administration’s terrorist targeting system appeared on The Intercept.
According to the report:
The government, it turned out, had “spoiled the scoop,” an informally forbidden practice in the world of journalism. To spoil a scoop, the subject of a story, when asked for comment, tips off a different, typically friendlier outlet in the hopes of diminishing the attention the first outlet would have received. Tuesday’s AP story was much friendlier to the government’s position, explaining the surge of individuals added to the watch list as an ongoing response to a foiled terror plot.
The practice of spoiling a scoop is frowned upon because it destroys trust between the journalist and the subject. In the future, the journalist is much less willing to share the contents of his or her reporting with that subject, which means the subject is given less time, or no time at all, to respond with concerns about the reporting.
The government’s decision to spoil a story on the topic of national security is especially unusual, given that it has a significant interest in earning the trust of national security reporters so that it can make its case that certain information should remain private.