gotcha journalism
n. Journalism that seeks only to catch public figures in embarrassing or scandalous situations.
A harsh offhand quip has now become part of the lore, exaggerating and exacerbating a difficult relationship between Jean Chretien's fin-de-regime and George W. Bush's newly strengthened administration.

Francoise Ducros, Chretien's director of communications, responded to a radio reporter's observation in a private conversation in Prague that Bush was whipping up support for an attack in Iraq at the NATO Summit with the crack "What a moron." Robert Fife, covering the summit for Southam News and the National Post, overheard and reported it. The Post flashed it across the front page. Was the comment taken out of context and blown out of proportion? Certainly.

Was Ducros ambushed by a case of gotcha journalism, after handing her critics the ammunition they had been waiting for? No question.
—Graham Fraser, “'Moron' quip shows more frustration than scorn,” Toronto Star, November 24, 2002
My father, a proud and brave veteran of the Second World War, was highly upset on the night a British submarine sunk the Argentine battle cruiser Belgrano. I wasn't at home — I suspect he would have repressed his agitation if I'd been sitting around the television with him watching the British Broadcasting Corp. News.

My mother told me of my father's reaction the following day when we discussed on the phone the British press coverage of the sinking. She was appalled — as was my father — by the jingoistic Sun newspaper, which positively gloated at the naval engagement. Splashed across the tabloid's front page was the single, hard, celebratory word: "Gotcha!" …

When I hear the term "gotcha journalism," I often think of my father and the Belgrano.

The expression "gotcha journalism" first started to be used widely in Britain following the Sun's headline. As in the United States it was trotted out whenever anyone wanted to slam aggressive reporting. Slowly but surely it came to be attached almost exclusively to investigative writing of the "naming-names" variety.
—Jamie Dettmer, “What's All This Stuff About Success, Then?,” Insight On the News, February 17, 1997
1988 (earliest)
Bush's current incumbent strategy is also a "cocoon" strategy. It insulates the candidate from a press eager for, and versed in, the methods of "gotcha" journalism. When you are ahead, don't give your candidate opportunities to stumble.
—Stuart K. Spencer, “Bush behaves like an incumbent,” Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1988
The word gotcha entered the language only in the 1960s, although a British variation — gotcher — dates to about 1932. It's a shortened form (the Oxford English Dictionary calls it, stuffily, a "vulgar pronunciation") of the phrase "(I have) got you." It's use in gotcha journalism comes from the 1982 Falklands War, as Example Citation #2 points out (see also the image at right). Thanks to Word Spy fan Terry Gilman for telling me about this connection.
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