Off the Record

Anyone who has sat through or conducted a media training session, wherein prospective newsmakers are put through the motions of a media interview, has invariably heard the axiom: “Nothing is ever off the record.”

There are valid reasons for this. Reporter often misconstrue the meaning of the term, ending up instead spilling the beans (albeit without attribution). If the off-the-record news is sufficiently tantalizing, the reporter may even be compelled to report it or risk compromising his or her editorial integrity.

Flash forward to the present. You’re one of the handful of reporters invited yesterday to chat, drink ice tea, take a private tour of the White House with a sitting President — all off the record. The President drawls on about the pressure he’s under seeking sympathy and empathy from you and your usually jaded gaggle of hand-selected colleagues. He then tells the group that the next morning he will announce that his vaunted Chief of Staff will resign . Huh?!

Now perhaps it is easier to understand The New York Times’s decision to not participate in this relationship-building, but potentially compromising exercise.