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Obama aide’s fatal “on-the-record off-the-record” quote about Hillary reveals Britain’s superior journalism standards 3/9/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Journalism.

“Say what?” That was a typical reaction last week to this quote in Britain’s The Scotsman that cost Obama advisor Samantha Power her job: “[Hillary Cinton] is a monster…– that is off the record–she is stooping to anything,” Unfortunately for Ms. Clinton, our shock was not that she was called a “monster,” which many Americans seem quite ready to believe. Instead, we wondered why we would even hear a quote that was so ostensibly “off-the-record.” MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson later browbeat the British reporter Gerri Peev (video below) for following “journalistic standands in Great Britain [that] are so much dramatically lower than they are here.” With charming British understatement, the peeved Ms. Peev responded, “Are you really that acquiescent in the United States?”

For those of you in the U.S. who don’t speak English, Peev’s remark translates on this side of the pond to: “are you American journalists such wimpy suck-ups to those in power that you are willing to change the rules of a previously agreed-to on-the-record interview on-the-fly to protect those whose embarrassing statements and secrets you are expected to expose?”

As the Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes, this interview revealed the maddening deal that U.S. journalism routinely cuts with the powerful — we won’t hurt you in exchange for superior access to you for interviews. This betrays the public interest while offering a no-lose proposition for politicians, who naturally enjoy press exposure. Greenwald points out that even Tim Russert, admired by the press corps for his allegedly tough, adversarial journalism, testified under oath that all his conversations with government officials are presumed to be confidential, and he never reports anything unless given explicit permission in advance. All of which must have The Scotsman’s Gerri Peev asking herself, “they fought us in a Revolution for THIS?”


1. Reuben - 3/9/08

Beautiful! Simply beautiful.

She should be advising Michael W Perry on how to deal with the likes of Prince Edward. I am sure Perry would agree with His Ethical Highness Carlson

Tucker is 370 degrees beyond clueless. I wonder what he would do if Obama revealed to him “off the record” during an interview that he admires and supports Bin Laden?

2. Nigel Barlow - 3/10/08

Suprisingly although the actual resignation attracted a lot of coverage on this side of the water,the ethics of the on record v off record debate have not Steve.

Yes I agree that this incident goes some way to showing the diffeences between journalism on either side of the Atlantic but is it really correct for a journalist to publish after the interviewee said it was off the record.

Maybe Obama has lost a good advisor here.

3. Steve Boriss - 3/10/08

Nigel, You wouldn’t know it from watching our Press in action, but Founding Father Thomas Jefferson wanted them to serve as a “fence” to protect individuals’ rights from the powerful. Journalists were supposed to be on the side of the people, and not to get too cozy with government. I’d trade your country’s papers for ours any day, although you can keep Auntie Beeb.

4. Bluntnib - 3/10/08

Allowing sources to speak off the record is not about concealment or cheating the public. Indeed it is often the only way for journalists and readers to get at the real truth behind the official announcements. What Miss Peev did was a cheap shot – and I’m speaking as a British journalist.

5. Steve Boriss - 3/10/08

Bluntnib, I’m not saying that “off-the-record” should not be allowed, but that each side must agree to it because it is a practice that ought to be avoided. I think it is dangerous to have journalists in the business of covering-up for the powerful and their mistakes.

6. Adrian Monck - 3/17/08

Good video spot.

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