Off the record – Not!

So another Barak Obama staffer has fallen on her perfumed sword. This time because of comments in an interview with a British journalist about Hilary Clinton.

It’s not the truth of Samantha Power‘s comments that’s in question in this case: Hilary Clinton may well be a monster. It’s not even the language, everyone’s entitled to at least one “fu*k” a day.

It’s because she made the mistake of thinking that such juicy comments would remain “off the record”. A reasonable assumption perhaps given that she told the reporter the comments were off the record.

Here’s how the story was covered by the Times Online:

Ms Power made the offending remark during a trip to London this week in which she was apparently too candid about the problems facing the Obama campaign.

“We f***** up in Ohio,” she told the newspaper. “In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win.

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

Scotsman editor Mike Gilson tonight stepped in to defend his use of the “off-the-record” quotes.

He said: “We have no opinion on whether Ms Power was right to quit and perhaps politics should be able to retain people with talent who are prepared to learn by their mistakes but we are certain it was right to publish. I do not know of a case when anyone has been able to withdraw on the record quotes after they have been made.

“The interview our political correspondent Gerri Peev conducted with Ms Power was clearly on an on-the-record basis. She was clearly passionate and angry with the tactics of the Clinton camp over the Ohio primary and that spilled over in the interview. Our job was to put that interview before the public as a matter of public interest. It was for others to judge whether the remarks were ill-judged or spoke of the inexperience in the Obama camp.”

What happened here? It’s clear from the Times piece above that Ms Power instantly regretted her comments and then added the line about them being “off the record”. The question is: Did the reporter have to respect that?

Is it a case of “caveat emptor”, or in this case “interviewee beware”?
As Dan Gilmor writes on his blog, Etcetera…,it would be unusual for a journalist to agree to something being “off the record” after the fact.

When I was a reporter and then a columnist, I had a rule that no public figure — that is, anyone who’d had experience with being interviewed — had the right to declare anything off the record after the fact. Now I might agree not to publish something if it wasn’t relevant, but if something was to be off the record it would be decided ahead of time.

I didn’t have the same policy with people who weren’t media-savvy. Sometimes I’d actually say to someone, “Do you realize that I what you’re telling me might go into the newspaper?” I’d let them reconsider their words.

This is a fair enough rule and perhaps Ms Power should have known better, but it’s an all-too-familiar sign of what’s wrong with American politics, in particular presidential campaigns, that someone should be forced to resign from their position over something as innocuous as the comments Samantha Power made in an un-guarded moment.

It’s as if no one is allowed to actually tell the truth, or express a tough, forthright and honestly-held opinion.

It’s faux-polite in my view. Obama and Clinton are both spending enough to wipe out poverty in a mid-sized third-world nation on their respective campaigns. There’s negative commentary in the media all the time, fed by both camps.

In this case the frame of pretend-to-play-nice has been broken; some unwritten rule transgressed. I think it’s a shame really; though I don’t think any blame can be laid at the feet of the journalist, or the newspaper.
Live by the words; die by the words.

Of course there’s plenty of commentary out there in the blogosphere

2 Responses to Off the record – Not!

  1. Kanter says:

    This could be the next Samantha Power: Obama supporter Jeffrey Hart and his rather odd opinion of Jews. In case you missed it,,,,;
    Obama Jeffrey Hart – Obama Supporter Misses Jews

  2. Marty says:

    I just want to stick a big “danger, Will Robinson” over the previous comment.
    One of the issues about being public in the blogosphere is that eventually fruitcakes seep into your life.

    Without prejudging, this could be one.

    It’s always advisable to provide links so people can make up their own minds:

    Personally, I take my cue from sourcewatch, which, inter alia, notes the following:
    M. Thomas Eisenstadt is a Senior Fellow at the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy in Washington, D.C.[1] He’s also founder and president of the campaign consulting firm The Eisenstadt Group and was an advisor to the Rudolph Giuliani presidential campaign in 2007-2008.[1]

    According to his bio, Eisenstadt was described by the Wall Street Journal as “one of the foremost commentators on issues of U.S. policy towards the Middle East and is one of the bright lights of the neoconservative movement.”[2] He cites National Journal’s The Hotline as referring to himself as “a rising GOP pundit” and “a clear-spoken advocate for Rudy Giuliani.”[3]

    * 1 Contact details
    * 2 Articles and Resources
    o 2.1 Sources
    o 2.2 Related SourceWatch Articles
    o 2.3 External Articles

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