and the media wonders why it is hated…

Posted on March 7, 2008

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What part of “off the record” does the reporter in the Scottish newspaper, The Scotsman, not understand?

While speaking to the newspaper, Senator Barack Obama’s senior policy adviser, Samantha Power, was outed in her comment about Obama’s rival for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton.

“She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything,” Power said in her description of Clinton to the newspaper, along with throwing the F-bomb with regards to Obama’s performance in Ohio.

powergetty.jpgNot that I condone Power’s remark one bit. It was childish name-calling, bone-headed and a sign that the campaigns are getting their claws out as the stakes get higher. The point though, is that she had clearly stated that her candor to the reporter was off the record, something which the newspaper itself also did not bother to hide. So why was it published?

Journalistic integrity is in question here. When an interviewee says something is off the record, it should mean exactly that — off the record and not for publication. How could The Scotsman betray that trust in such a spectacular fashion? Was it so caught up with the excitement of having some juicy dirt on the Obama campaign that it would compromise the integrity of the paper for a cheap shot? You can bet that the backlash would come soon and no newsmaker would want to talk to The Scotsman off the record ever again. The publication will henceforth be known as an untrustworthy and it is shooting itself in the foot as people and sources will not be willing to give it information.

While Power’s outburst was ghastly and makes a lie of Obama’s intention to run a positive campaign, away from the old style of negative campaigning and exposes the Illinois Senator’s campaign as disingenuous, it is still appalling how The Scotsman felt such a need to call them out in such an underhanded manner.

Maybe the reporter felt it was time to humble a very condescending Power, who in the next breath belittled Clinton’s supporters in Ohio. “You just look at her and think, ‘Ergh’. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive,” Power told the paper.

The Scotsman is unrepentant. “I do not know of a case when anyone has been able to withdraw on-the-record quotes after they have been made. The interview our political correspondent Gerri Peev conducted with Ms Power was clearly on an on-the-record basis. She was clearly passionate and angry with the tactics of the Clinton camp over the Ohio primary, and that spilled over in the interview. Our job was to put that interview before the public as a matter of public interest. It was for others to judge whether the remarks were ill-judged or spoke of the inexperience in the Obama camp,” the paper’s editor said in its defense.

Power is no dumb bimbo. She is a professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a Time magazine columnist, so she should have known better, especially when it came to the notoriously cut-throat British media. She made another faux pas when she spoke to the BBC, suggesting that Obama’s plan to bring back troops from Iraq within 16 months might not come to pass. For her serious lapses, Power deserves to be out of the Obama campaign so that she would not put her foot further in the mouth and cause him more damage. While Power’s holier than thou attitude really does not warrant much sympathy, she did not deserve The Scotsman’s treatment.

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