Can the subject of an on-the-record interview declare a single phrase off the record after blurting it out?
That’s the talking point in the story of the story of Samantha Power, the Irish-born journalist who resigned as a foreign policy advisor to US presidential candidate Barack Obama after branding Hillary Clinton a “monster” in a newspaper interview.
“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything,” Powers told Scotsman political correspondent Gerri Peev.
The remark which were quickly picked up by the US media after appearing on Scotsman.com, lead to Power’s resignation.
But the Scotsman’s decision to publish the comment, despite Power’s attempt to assert that it was “off the record” after the fact, drew numerous criticisms in the comments of the story. The decision has also been controversial among US journalists.
In an exchange with MSNBC commentator Tucker Carlson, the decision to publish was cast as a split between British and American journalistic standards. Carlson suggested that Peev should have honoured Power’s request for the statement and that she had recklessly risked future access to powerful sources, a point of view that drew an astonished reaction from Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com.
(Carlson’s remark that standards were lower in British journalism, meanwhile, earning him a slap from Iain Martin in the Telegraph’s Three Line Whip blog.)
Scotsman editor Mike Gilson has defended the use of the “off-the-record” quote.
“I do not know of a case when anyone has been able to withdraw on the record quotes after they have been made,” Gilson told the Times.
Peev has also stood by her story. Speaking to another MSNBC programme, she said: “I don’t know of any journalist worth their salt who would have pulled her remark. We’re not in the business to self-censor or to censor ourselves.”
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wrote: “The contretemps illustrates how a journalistic conversation that moves back and forth between different levels of attribution depends on winks, nods and, ultimately, some level of trust between the participants.”