Off the Record

The Scotsman:

“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything,” Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.

“Interestingly, the people in her innermost circle seem to not mind her; I think they really love her.”

But she added: “There is this middle circle – they are really on the warpath. But the truth is she has proved herself really willing to stoop.”

I don’t see why a journalist has an obligation to grant a source the ability to go off the record after the source has said something they don’t want to see in print. Journalists and sources have to negotiate things ahead of time and they should seek to reach agreement on how a conversation progresses. Attribution is often something that is negotiated during the course of an interview as well – as Power did here. But I don’t see an obligation that ex post facto requests be honored. Power messed up and a journalist decided not to do her a favor by letting her sweep the comment off the record.

What’s clear from the following two paragraphs is that Power was talking specifically about Hillary Clinton and how the Clinton campaign is operating. This interview clearly covered ground where Power was taking shots at Clinton. One of them went too far in what Power, an important Obama surrogate on foreign policy issues, should have been discussing with a journalist.

Lastly, it doesn’t really bother me that an Obama surrogate and advisor thinks ill of Clinton. In my experience, it’s entirely common for campaign staffers to develop very powerful, passionate opinions about their opponents. There have been plenty of reports of Obama and Clinton staffers, in private, holding very negative opinions of the others. I know that I had my moments on the Dodd campaign where I ripped other members of the Democratic field with  negative descriptions and the use of hyperbole. But I did this behind closed doors, not in an interview with a reporter. Obviously Power immediately recognized her mistake and tried to get it corrected with the help of the journalist. As I said in the beginning, though, I don’t think the journalist had any obligation to grant Power retroactive off the record status.

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