March 9, 2008

That's not Reporting, That's Enabling

An Obama adviser resigned after making an absolutely inappropriate comment about Hillary. It was good to see the Obama campaign follow through on the values we've come to expect from their organization.

She tried to catch herself right after making the comment, invoking the phrase "off the record." But the interview was already on the record, so there are no do-overs. There is such a thing as an off-the-record comment. It's something that is agreed upon before the interview. But once the ground rules are laid, interviews are on-the-record.

This Glen Greenwald article in Salon discusses the observation, from The Scotsman's Gerri Peev, that some American reporters might have honored the "off-the-record" request. And why the media is shirking its duty if it plays into an inflated sense of confidentiality from public officials.

We need more reporting like Gerri Peev's. Our media ought not be so sensitive of the confidentiality of officials that they become mouthpieces of a campaign.

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Posted by James at March 9, 2008 11:53 AM
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If I didn't have elected officials who trusted me enough to speak off the record, I wouldn't be able to break half the stories I do.

On the surface level, I can see where you might have a point, but on a practical level, you have to understand that a good relationship between politicians and the press can often benefit the public in ways that the public may never appreciate.

I can't tell you how many times I've had elected officials call me to give me the heads up on something going down. It wouldn't be politicially adventageous for them to release the information themselves -- but knowing me -- and knowing my integrity, they give me the information so that I can give the information that you truly need. And James -- you will be the benefitiary of such a situation -- regarding your high school and a possible hike to your property tax in just a few weeks. All as the result of an "off the record" situation in Somerset.

I'm happy to keep a comment in the nature of Gerry Peev's off the record if it means getting access to really important information that is actually relevant to things you need to know. In the end, who really cares if Samantha Power thinks Hillary is a monster? However, as a Pulitzer Prize winner, one of Time's top 100 scientists and thinkers, has an opinion on something that she wants to share with me off the record, I'm going to consider it important.

Posted by: Keri at March 8, 2008 11:13 PM

I'm not saying that nothing should be off the record. It's about what was agreed to beforehand.

And it does seem like there is a different culture regarding this in Great Britain.

Politicians often come down hard on the press here in the States and the public falls for the line that the media is somehow in control. In reality, savvy politicians can use this perception to control the media and message. I don't know why more people don't see the media as their representatives, but I think they'd have more respect in general if they were used to a more adversarial relationship.

That said, it's not easy to change culture.

Posted by: James at March 9, 2008 1:36 AM

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