Saturday, March 8, 2008

Don't put your foot in your mouth in the Internet Age.

     Samantha Power resigned from the Obama campaign for calling Hillary Clinton a "monster" in a conversation with The Scotsman, Scotland's national rag. 
     Ms. Power was born and raised in Ireland, and it would seem she would have some kind of feel for journalistic standards--or lack thereof--in the United Kingdom. Many newspapers throughout the U.K.--the infamous "tabloids"--are known for their tackiness, and The Scotsman since Andrew Neil's tenure began (and ended) is no exception. Neil is a Rupert Murdoch acolyte, and was once editor of the sleazy Sunday Times. He was there at the beginning of Murdoch's Sky News, too. This is not exactly Edward R. Murrow's resumé. Hell, it's not even Geraldo's.
     Yeah, well Ms. Power's request to Gerri Peev,--a possibly ethics-challenged writer--that her "monster" comments be kept "off-the-record" should have been honored. "Off-the-record" conversations are a journalistic staple, and necessary to the craft. Only by establishing this trust will writer and subject develop a bond that can result in a "between-the-lines" portrait of the topic. A subject--for many reasons--may not be able to be directly quoted, but may--also for many reasons--feel the need to lead the writer out of the darkness and down a sunlit path.
     We all know that Deep Throat wasn't just a bad porn movie. 
     (But you didn't hear it from me.)
     "Subject". "Topic". Whatever. You know.
     What is "on" and "off" the record and how and when those ground rules should be established is open to negotiation. Some writers, the newspapers they write for or their editors claim that an "off-the-record" request should cover the entire conversation, and come prior to the interview's outset. Others are comfortable with selected passages being quoted without attribution, and handled as "one-offs". Ultimately, Ms. Power's political inexperience--she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a professor, not a hardened operative--and her näivité with the press in her old stomping grounds bit her (and Obama) right in the ass. 
     Hey, sometimes you get hit by a pitch in the Big Leagues. 
     It's the Internet Age. Matt Drudge is out there, like an addict to the pipe. YouTube, too, and the hotel chambermaid is filming Brangelina on the sly. They still haven't found Ann Coulter's cocaine or been able to cast off the drill bits digging through her day-old eye-liner, but Sean Hannity's panties are available as a pdf. Wake up; if anybody--at least in public life--thinks they can keep it on the D.L. in 2008, I'd remind them that the Luddites probably never learned how to handle the press as they were feeling their way around, either.

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