Saturday, June 01, 2013

Off the record with Olivier Knox

Well after all the ballyhoo about Eric Holder's invite to the major media chiefs for a sit-down, the initial holdouts are drifting in to meet with the AG after all. Reuters Chief Operating Officer Stuart Karle, with Marilyn Thompson met with Holder yesterday once he agreed they could report the general drift of the meeting.
"Long-term, I think they're looking for changes in how the rules operate and regard this as an opportunity to make sure that happens," Karle said.
Which I thought was clearly the point of the meetings from the beginning, but no matter, good to see cooler heads are prevailing at last. Meanwhile, one of my favorite insider DC journos, whom I do genuinely like and respect, posts a useful guide on how to define off the record in the first place and how it differs from background briefings.
But just what does “off the record” mean? Is it always bad? Who are those unnamed "senior administration officials" you read so much about? And how can you sound smart at the bar if you’re unlucky enough to be trapped in a discussion of Beltway media jargon? [...]

Why does it matter? Reporters want to inform their audience, and to do so they need to be informed themselves—and to do that they generally need to build trust with their sources. If you quote Official A by name as saying His Boss is screwing something up —after you agreed to cite Official A only as "person close to His Boss"—that person is unlikely to talk to you again. The same goes, or should go, for sources who deliberately mislead reporters. [...]

In practice, though, "off the record" informs a lot of reporting.
That's obvious to close observers of the Beltway. Which is why it looked so silly for the media to suddenly be standing on some pious refusal to compromise their principles. Outside the beltway bubble most people don't think they have any and even casual news consumers can see how often they use unnamed sources. Furthermore, I've can't recall a single time any journo, ever burned a source who lied to them. I doubt I'll live to see it happen but it's good to know that journalists of good conscience believe in the concept.

Worth a read in full to see how the various big name media players define the terms. Also to catch Olivier's subtle rebuke of Rosen. As a practical matter, Rosen brought the scrutiny down on himself with his arrogant disregard for protecting the secrecy of his source. He couldn't have been more obvious. If a reporter wants to avoid having their electronic records seized, they should pump their sources the old fashioned way -- at a local bar.

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