08 March 2008


When I saw the news headlines yesterday about an Obama aide calling Clinton a "monster," I thought "Who would be so stupid?"

Then I read the actual quote.
"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".

As someone who does a bit of reporting (though admittedly my recent articles are more in the realm of pie-eating contests than national politics) I have to cry foul.

I have seen comments online that said Ms. Power should have known what she was doing, that if she wanted to be off the record that she had to state that at the beginning of the interview, not selectively in the middle.

Feh. This is "gotcha" journalism at its very worst. One word is used to indict an otherwise very competent woman who immediately recognized that she had made a slip and tried to correct it.

If reporters don't recognize that anyone can say something stupid and give them a chance to retract it immediately, they are asking for trouble. No wonder it is so hard to get people to speak at all. And when they do talk, they are often so guarded as to say absolutely nothing of interest or value.

The reporter betrayed her subject's trust and confidence. She did not give her a chance to be human.

Maybe it is because I am a sucky reporter and too much of a softy to be a real journalist, but if someone told me something was off the record during a conversation, I considered that done. If they called me later and tried to backtrack, that would have been a different story. I would listen and consider, depending on the source.

I cut average people much more slack than those - government officials, public relations people - who were used to dealing with the press. I felt like the Mayor should know to keep her mouth shut, while Joe the Construction Worker might not.

Samantha Power's comment was utterly insignificant. Having it out in the international press added nothing to our discussion over who should be president.

The only thing this story did was to further batter the credibility of the news media, which was already limping and did not need another whack.


Queen of Spain said...

I've done that a MILLION times as a reporter and as the interviewee. I always let people correct themselves.

jonniker said...

In journalism school and as an editor, I was taught that off the record is off the record, especially something corrected as such that quickly.

Mind you, if they gave me a two-hour interview and then tried to cherry pick "on the record" and "off the record" bits at the very end, as some have done in an attempt to control the story, then that's bullshit, and the record stands, period.

But something like this smacks of Connie Chung and Mrs. Gingrich.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading the paper in question " The Scotsman" ( I know, I know... ) online for years, because of their hilarious takes on American life and politics. That is, their UNINTENTIONALLY hilarious takes... I am pretty sure no one on the editorial board has ever been over here, or if they were they stayed drunk the whole time.

jonniker... do you recall the genius Sat. Night Live sketch with Farley as Newt and Janeanne Garafalo as his mom ? I forget who played Connie.......

-angel apologist

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with Jonniker. There is no crying foul. Powers went into an interview knowing it was going to be on the record. She made a comment that was arguably inappropriate and then trys to backtrack. Had she prefaced her comment with 'This is off the record' and then made the comment that is another thing. But she didn't. She did this interview knowing that she was representing a man who is vying for the most powerful position in the world. She, and the campaign she is representing, should be vetted based on what she voluntarily says, NOT some subjective standard developed on the fly by a journalist -- this isn't the Oprah-school of journalism. Not to report what she said is a disservice to people journalists are suppose to serve -- the greater population. To argue otherwise is a defense of the kind of crack research and journalism that makes me despise the American media. Journalists are not suppose to be some frickin' mouthpiece for the powerful and the politically connected. We saw that approach in the lead up to the Iraq war and now look at what we have.

If I approached my job in the same half-ass, uncritical, and lack of originality approach that I see most journalists in the U.S. do their job, I wouldn't have ONE.

-- the green bicyclist

SUEB0B said...

GB - I think you are disagreeing with Jonniker there.

To be a journalist does not mean that you check your humanity at the door. You can keep your soul without being a mouthpiece for the rich and powerful.

Anonymous said...

With regards to Jonniker, I perhaps should have clarified that I totally agreed with her cherry picking comment.

This has never been a question of humanity -- this is about doing one's job based on a sense of integrity and ethics. Ms. Powers agreed to an interview that was never stipulated as off the record. She can not pick and choose which statements she wishes the reporter to use so as to make sure the 'image' she is trying to cultivate the one the reporter reports on. She screwed up. What a shame. She is an incredibly brillant and gifted scholar on the issue of genocide. And that perhaps makes her fall all the more difficult to accept but it was her misstep and the journalist had no moral or ethical obligation not to report the interview Ms. Power's consented to. A journalist should do the job of reporting the facts as they come to her not filtering them through her perceived sense of what is right, wrong, or most humane. Yes, that task is incredibly difficult. If it were easy, anyone could do it. Oh wait, that is what is happening (i.e. Jeff Gannon, Sean Hannity, FEMA employees posing as journalists, etc) -- no wonder our media sucks and unfortunately we are all paying the price for it.

If you haven't I strongly recommend seeing the Control Room -- a truly stunning and damning statement on our American press.

Suzanne said...

I find the whole thing depressing. Even worse is the new push to re-write the rules so that the Michigan and Florida delegates can count toward Clinton. Does this woman have any respect for rules and precedence that don't benefit her? I know that this is not the topic at hand, but I can't blame Powers for her comment at all, although I think Clinton is more of a demon than monster.

FunnyGal KAT said...

As a former reporter (and a current editor), I have to agree with you completely, Suebob. I have never seen a quote that included the person saying "this is off the record" because, well, because that's what off the record means.

Technically, a person is supposed to say "this is off the record" BEFORE they give the information, but I've run into plenty of instances where the person said it afterward, and I still respected that. I think this was EXTREMELY poor judgment by the reporter and editor, especially because the quote itself shows how quickly the interviewee clarified that she did not mean for the remark to be published (the fact that she called someone a monster at all? well, that's another story...)

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