BBC BLOGS - Justin Webb's America
« Previous | Main | Next »

Off the record

Justin Webb | 22:19 UK time, Saturday, 8 March 2008

For LibertynJustice and anyone else interested, this is Sam Powers being grilled in the BBC style (and coming out of it rather well I thought).

Bedd Gelert raises an interesting question about the behaviour of the Scotsman newspaper. I must say, I would not have passed the comments on - I would have used them for sure, but not in a way that led back to her.

Would I have been right?

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:05 PM on 08 Mar 2008,
  • Justin wrote:

If someone tells you something "off the record" and it is only a mere comment and not something serious, it is a bit vicious to then quote the comment she told you - even if you are a journalist. It's not as if she confessed to a murder. All she did was call Hillary Clinton a monster.

So there you go. She offered her personal opinion on Hillary Clinton and was stabbed right in the back by The Scotsman newspaper. If I was anyone working for any of the American poltical campaigns (Democrat or Republican) I would boycott The Scotsman.

  • 2.
  • At 11:11 PM on 08 Mar 2008,
  • TAMMY D wrote:

You'd be right, Justin!

I finally got to see you in BBC America the other day (with Matt Frei) and you're adorable!. Let those democratic 'monters' continue to be 'nafty'...Why dont YOU run for president?

  • 3.
  • At 12:16 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Peter Aberdeen wrote:

Justin,

for your info and others in terms of Scotland the Scotsman is considered a right wing establishment paper. Of course they in the end will support those of a similar elk...ie the Republicans. Who else benefits from this..not the Democrats!!

What makes there actions worse and if you are in any way a decent honest journalist is the rule "OFF THE RECORD" comment...any journalist who breaks that is "toast" and should be ostracised for breaking that rule.

So shame on the "Hootsman" editor and journalsit in question...people have went to jail over this principle.

Instead acting like a tabloid rag they should have stopped and thought about the wider issue not a "here today gone tomorrow headline"

An outraged Scot

Peter

  • 4.
  • At 01:09 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Rowan wrote:

Yes, you would have been right not to name names. Journalists have an obligation to maintain the anonimity of their sources if that is what is requested. The journalist who named this woman shold be black-listed.

  • 5.
  • At 01:13 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • John Burt wrote:

The Scotsman may well have been formally within the rules in using Samantha Power's off the record remarks, but they nevertheless used her badly, and I think you would do right not to follow the Scotsman's example. It is a particular shame because Samantha Power is a foreign policy expert of particular moral depth, the author of profound and thoughtful book about recent genocides. Her support of Obama showed him to be thinking along different lines from the foreign policy establishment types who clustered around Senator Clinton, most of whom, like Senator Clinton herself, helped lead the United States into Iraq. It's particularly wrong that Senator Clinton is now using Power's remarks about Iraq to suggest that Senator Obama is not serious about getting the United States out of there. We wouldn't be in there at all if Senator Clinton had not worried more about seeming tough than about serving her country's real interests. As for what Power substantively said, I actually found it encouraging, since it meant that however Obama chooses to extricate the US from Iraq, it won't be at the price of genocide there.

  • 6.
  • At 01:27 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • rajib wrote:

Hillary Clinton compared Barack Obama to Karl Rove. I think that most democrats will agree that comparing Obama to Rove is a much bigger insult than comparing Clinton to a monster. But Obama did not complain because he is trying to run a clean campaign. And yes, I agree with Bedd Gelert. What the media will do for some attention!!

"I would have used them for sure, but not in a way that led back to her."

Yeah, doing it like this would have been cool.

  • 8.
  • At 02:05 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • ZK in Singapore wrote:

Justin, this weekend's BBC World Service 'The Interview' programme just so happens to be with Sam Powers. You might want to link to it:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/interview/interview_20080307-2332.mp3

(This programme was recorded before Samantha Power resigned.)

  • 9.
  • At 03:02 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Adrian Lucy wrote:

No. I am a strong Obama supporter, but from everything that I have read, that is simply not the way that going off the record works. Investigative journalism would be paralyzed if interviewees had the right to retroactively remove their comments from the record. If you have something to say that you want off the record, you agree to that condition before you say it. Sam Powers flubbed. And though it may be an indictment of American politics that she was compelled to quit because of it, in no way should the Scotsman have kept it under wraps.

Now, did they make too big a deal of it? Probably. Should it have been in the headline? Probably not. I don't exactly find "monster" to be the most offending or politically incorrect word one could use. If Mark Penn called Obama a monster, I would just laugh.

  • 10.
  • At 03:11 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Sabrina wrote:

It seems that the Scottish newspaper had no further use for Samantha Powers, and preferred to end her role in Obama's campaign (if not her career) for the sake of a headline. I am far from being the Pulitzer-prize-winning advisor to a possible future president of the USA, but if I asked a journalist to keep something I said off the record, and they went ahead and quoted me, they would have lost me as a source from that time forward.

  • 11.
  • At 03:18 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Drew Rocker wrote:

It's an important story and I'm glad it came out. Hillary is thought a monster by Obama supporters, myself included, and not surprisingly his advisors. I'm not sure he should have accepted Sam Powers' resignation for saying what we all thought except that he'll need Hillary's base to win the general election in the Fall.

Of course now no one in their right mind will speak honestly with the Scotsman or Gerri Peev again.

  • 12.
  • At 04:44 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Howard C. wrote:

In the final analysis, Geri Peev (the Scotsman journalist) was clearly using her interview subject to promote herself and her newspaper. I truly know of few of the top thirty US newspapers and news television shows that would put their reputations -- as well as the likelihood of getting any more interviews -- on the line by ignoring the request to keep something off the record. It's arrogant, unprincipled and at least is not an accepted practice among US journalists. That being said, if Ms. Peev intended to assume everything said was fair game -- ieven if asked to be off the record -- she should have notified Ms. Powers of that before the interview... particularly given the obvious misunderstanding of Ms. Powers of what the ground rules were. Ms. Peev was taking advantage of a person who clealry considered "off the record" to mean just that. So Ms. Peev knew exactyl what she was doing and that her subject was being deceived.

It's gutter journalism, to be honest.

  • 13.
  • At 05:21 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Hugh Kerr wrote:

Justin you are right about off the record comments, decent journalists respect the off the record system, however the Scotsman has a track record of breaching this tradition if they think it will make a good story.This has in the past caught politicians out, and press officers as I know personally.So the answer is never give off the record briefings to a Scotsman journalist, something politicians in Scotland have learned painfully.
In the case of Samantha Power this clearly was an off the record comment following a phone call from the States, the Scotsman took advantage in a cheap way.By the way Samantha Power is right about Hilary Clinton being a monster driven by a greed for power.The good news is that the Samantha Power affair will not stop Obama winning the nomination but it should teach US politicians never trust a Scotsman journalist!

  • 14.
  • At 05:34 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Hans Bhatia wrote:

I think Powers instantly realized her mistake and It's not fair for the paper to quote her.

  • 15.
  • At 05:39 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Steven Anderson wrote:

Most of the time I'm not even sure if the journalist would even consider the ethics, what really concerns them is that the could annoy a valuable source. I don't think an American newspaper would of printed the quote simply because they didn't want to run the risk of being cut off from Obama.

  • 16.
  • At 06:40 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

No, you would not have been right. To my mind a source that insists that a comment is 'off the record' means to deal with you on the basis of just that - an off the record comment. If Ms Powers had said 'Oh, and by the way Mr Obama has shares in a vivesection laboratory in Wyoming, but that is off the record', I could understand your plan to reveal - even follow up - the lead and use it without attribution. But this was not a factual observation.

The motivation for the story is all too clear, the judgement exercise too pathetic for words. The Scotsman wants to sell newspapers. Sensation sells. So what was the big, scandalous story here, the revelation that would allow a newspaper few Americans had ever heard of impose it's mighty presence on a far off electoral process? 'Obama staffer doesn't like Clinton'. Big news! Well done, the Scotsman, for showing what British journalism really means these days. The next sensational news jockeying for a place on the Scotsman's front page will no doubt be, 'Clinton staffer doesn't like Obama'.

  • 17.
  • At 07:07 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • paul white wrote:

You would have been correct to use them and protect her.
The world is partly in its sad condition because of politicians and advisors who are preoccupied with saying nothing and gaining power.
Here we have an advisor who exudes, honesty and integrity , trying to change things for the better, yet she is destroyed by the political word speak game , she is clearly not savvy with. Shame on the paper because it will deter others like her from stepping into the political arena, We will all be the poorer for this development.

  • 18.
  • At 07:11 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Celia wrote:

I think it was wrong to use the comments. It was clear Ms. Powers did not expect nor want to have them broadcast and the decent thing would have been to let it go. I think the whole thing is much ado about nothing. I am quite sure Mrs. Clinton has said worse things about Mr. Obama. It is unfortunate but such is life.

  • 19.
  • At 09:15 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • AndyW wrote:

The comment was certainly news, and it certainly got a lot of publicity for The Scotsman and probably sold a lot of papers.

More objectively, putting a name to a comment is always going to make an article better. Otherwise, we (the public) just have to trust that you (the journalist) aren't making it all up.

On the other hand, having her name associated with the comment has scuppered Ms. Powers' career (at least, for the moment). No more interviews from her for that newspaper!

I guess that for a journalist to put a name to a comment like that, you have to answer these questions:
- Will including the name make the article better (probably always yes)
- Will including the name be detrimental to the person's career (probably always yes)
- Do I want a 'favoured relationship' with this person in future (inside tips, leaks, etc.)?
- Do I actually like this person? Do I care what impact this will have on his/her career?

The first question will sort out whether you can write a solid, quality article backed by references. The last question will sort out whether you can sleep at night.

  • 20.
  • At 09:42 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Peter wrote:

It was tabloid journalism at its best by the Scotsman, and completely unprofessional. I think it would have been much more acceptable if the article had included something to the effect of: "Emotions are running high this primary season, with candidates and their surrogates trading evermore personal barbs. In private, one Obama advisor went so far as to refer to Mrs. Clinton as 'a monster', while a Clinton supporter has gone so far as to publicly declare that Obama has been acting 'like Ken Starr' in requesting Clinton release her tax returns." But to "out" Power like was done in the interview was a total hit job.

  • 21.
  • At 10:22 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Jose wrote:

Yes you would have been right.
I am sure Ms Sam Powers will be back on the scene "IF" obama is elected as president and i wonder if that journalist will ever get an interview. That is described in football as an own goal.

  • 22.
  • At 10:56 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Ray wrote:

If 'off the record' is to mean anything then surely you can't report it so its traceable...

And Samantha Powers does come out of her interview with Paxman well, seems a shame she had to go...

  • 23.
  • At 11:11 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

Absolutely. I read an article on this website the other day which justified the fact the comments were published despite the fact they were 'off the record' on the basis that the caveat was made just after the comments were made. A tenuous argument to say the least.

  • 24.
  • At 11:23 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Rhys wrote:

"Off the record" means "I'm trusting you not to quote me" reporters should honour that. If you can find some way to include it in the story WITHOUT leading back to the source then you are probably a better (?) journalist than many.

  • 25.
  • At 11:43 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Nick wrote:

The paper wasn't right to use the quot and Samantha Power wasn't right to resign over it.

The story is not the quote but the obscenely disproportionate reaction to it. It's clear from the quote that Samantha Power was speaking on behalf of herself and not her boss. Does it come as a surprise to anyone that the Obama staff, having invested their entire lives into this campaign, have an active and personal dislike for Senator Clinton? Having spent time with the lower echelons of Camp Clinton I can tell you her staff see him as arrogant, naive and a fantasist. And I would be equally incredulous if they didn't.

If a newspaper is unable to tell the difference between a personal opinion and an official campaign position then it's in the wrong business.

Senator Obama has lost an incredibly valuable asset in Samantha Power and it will be to the detriment of both his campaign and his presidency if he doesn't take her back.

  • 26.
  • At 11:49 AM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Ermy wrote:

Damn right you would use the comments. 'Off the record' is a tactic used by the politicians to give you their true point of view, only to take it away from you as they realise the implications of their comment. It is against the principles of journalism. But, having said that, Justin you are right, there are means of reporting without identifying the source.

Furthermore, I think the Obama team has made a mistake in getting rid of Power. The comment she made was in no way, as bad as the Clinton teams various attacks on Obama.

I think if Obama did win the Presidency, Power could be his 'Condoleca Rice'.

  • 27.
  • At 12:00 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Joe wrote:

Powers did incredibly well with Paxman. I have been growing increasingly annoyed with Jeremy's line of questioning recently! Some of those questions to Powers were perfectly tee'd up for her. While Jeremy should be the Devils Advocate for sure he should not be serving up ignorant questions.

I think it's quite silly for anyone speaking to a reporter, especially one with whom they haven't built up a rapport over a period of time, to assume that anything they say, off the record would ever stay off the record...

As for Justin's view that he'd use the comments but not name the source, how long would that last? An anonymous aide to Obama made the comment while speaking with a foreign newspaper... So starts the witch-hunt which, in a few days would have a shortlist of people lining up to deny it was them until finally all is revealed...

And anyway, do we really know she wanted it to stay off record??

  • 29.
  • At 01:09 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Kyle Henderson wrote:

Yes, you would have been right. I'm not sure whether Power's remark would have violated U.K. election norms as it did here. After all, I've watched (with glee, I might add) Question Time with David Dimbleby, and it seems clear that your list of words improper to say to and about candidates is much shorter than ours. But here Power's transparency gave sufficient offense to become a brouhaha. Very unfortunate for both Powers and Obama, as Powers is brilliant. And so, I wish the Scottish paper had taken our tender American sensibilities into account and found a way to avoid direct attribution.

  • 30.
  • At 01:30 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • B Shelby wrote:

The Scotsman hasn't the credibility it once had as a quality daily. But I don't think public figures can go on and off the record in the course of a single interview. People with no media savvy should be allowed extra leeway by journalists on such matters, but not someone asked to speak on behalf of a presidential campaign.

  • 31.
  • At 01:52 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Henry wrote:

We now know how Samantha Power feels about Clinton. What's so wrong about that?

On another issue: I notice that the media are adopting Obama's campaign language. The word of the week is INSURMOUNTABLE, as in "Obama's delegate lead is insurmountable."

Obama's people are suggesting his nomination is inevitable, but of course they're bluffing. They know that neither Obama nor Clinton can gather enough pledged delegates to win the nomination--unless either wins 90 percent of the votes in the remaining contests, an unlikely scenario.

I also notice that his Wyoming win is again being exaggerated by the media (look at the Sunday headlines). When every vote in the Wyoming race is counted, Obama would end up with 7 or fewer delegates, against Clinton's 5 or 6.

  • 32.
  • At 02:06 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Peter Douglas, Dublin wrote:

Yes:
Sure, she took a risk in talking in a way that both campaign staffs probably do, as long as they're not quoted.

But I am amazed there hasn't been more criticism of what the Scotsman did.
Their blatant self-promotion of their "scoop" was disgusting.
Their petty semantics of needing to say "off the record" before rather than in the middle of a sentence is so stupid I doubt they believe it themselves.

  • 33.
  • At 02:29 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Richa Clements wrote:

Justin,

You would have been right to include the 'off the record' remarks without attributing them directly to the speaker.

As for The Scotsman newspaper report: What else to expect from a Scottish journalista with the name of Peev?!

  • 34.
  • At 04:20 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Sally Brett wrote:

You would have been behaving more in the manner one expects of a professional journalist to simply report that some in Obama's campaign consider Clinton a "monster" of ill behavior. What was the objective in attributing the remark, ill considered as it was? Surely everyone at the Scotsman knew what would follow; once again we have in America a flap over a minor remark which will only discourage the younger generation from ever being even remotely interested in politics or telling the truth.

  • 35.
  • At 04:40 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

What an imbecile this Samantha Powers, is. You don't need to go to Europe to find people like her, we grow them right here ourselves. No wonder she won a Nobel Prize. Like her counterpart in economics, Stiglitz, she is straight out of Karl Marx. Or perhaps a better analogy would be George Orwell. After all, if you narrowly define experience as actually having had direct first hand participation in making decisions based on actual intelligence reports instead of what is reported in the press and you have to live with their consequences and they didn't work out as you had hoped, then for Barack Obama who didn't, as Big Brother said in 1984, "Ignorance is Strength." How convenient to say what you would have done when you weren't there. You can shoot from the hip if you have no gun or bullets because there are no penalties for hitting the wrong target.

And what about Obama's position of attacking al Qaeda in Pakistan without that government's approval? She said that it would depend on the President having "actionable intelligence." But wasn't that what President Bush thought he had and Congress thought it had in deciding to invade Iraq when the Director of the CIA George Tenet appointed by Clinton said Saddam Hussein having WMDs was a "slam dunk", when President Putin warned that Iraq was planning to attack the US on its own soil based on what Russian intelligence had learned, and Britain's dodgy dossier which Prime Minister Blair also believed? What constitutes actionable intelligence anyway. Certainly not an ignorant incompetent dangerouslly inexperienced duplicitous candidate...when the action is voting for him for President of the United States.

Whether you find it disgustingly distasteful or not, President Bush's war on terror is working. The fact remains that there hasn't been another attack by Islamic terrorists against the US on American soil in 6 1/2 years since Sepember 11, 2001. As even a fool knows, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Can you imagine Samantha Powers as Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State? Now that would be a real nightmare come true. Obama does the impossible, to any thoughtful American he makes Hillary Clinton and John McCain look brilliant by comparison.

  • 36.
  • At 05:05 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • kwesi wrote:

I was taught that off the record meant not for publishing. However, journalism is known for its ambiguities, especially when it comes to the much vaunted 'public good.' I don't think publishing Powers' comment falls under serving the public good. I wouldn't have used it.

  • 37.
  • At 05:10 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Anthony wrote:

Yes you would have been right to be more discreet Justin, but your position is so different. If it had been you interviewing Powers, you would hope to interview her again some time and certainly other members of the Obama team, so it wouldn't be in your interest to freeze yourself out of that just for one story. The Scotsman journalist had no such prospect. Also you don't work for a newspaper whose circulation has fallen by 50% under its current editor, so you don't have any incentive to 'go for broke'. Presumably the journalist will find it difficult to get interviews in the future, but has at least tasted a brief moment of fame.

And although I share your apparent admiration for Samantha Powers, I am slightly surprised by her naivety - you simply can't trust anybody you don't know. On the record or off the record, she shouldn't have said anything that would damage her or her candidate to any journalist she didn't know she could trust.

  • 38.
  • At 05:15 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • mark fleming wrote:

Of course Justin Webb is correct - it is absolutely terrible to quote someone when they say this is off the record... especially when someone has the temerity to even quote 'and this is off the record...' I hope that the Scotsman and this hack are shunned by all, and get no interviews anymore at all. Surely they must realise the harm they have done to open journalism by this very stupid behaviour. Why should this woman's career be ruined by such bad behaviour. Whether the monster tag is justified is quite another matter.

  • 39.
  • At 05:19 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • yvonne Quahe wrote:

I actually think Samantha Powers is right - for once someone is telling it as it is.

  • 40.
  • At 05:32 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • arnold mccann wrote:

The newspaper could have avoided doing so. However, I do believe that using the word 'monster' is quite mild when comparing the constant attacks that Obama has been receiving from both the Hillary and Republican camps. These camps have been attacking issues starting from his race to his roots in Africa. I strongly believe that Samantha Powers can be forgiven because for me calling someone a 'monster' would be silly rather than offensive.

  • 41.
  • At 06:32 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • EZrider wrote:

Yes, and use them you should. As a service to Democrats Everywhere.
The debate on qualifing the canidate is absurd. Heck with the red phone, what about red button with two keys, what aboout the guys on the ground needing the Oh-kay to proceed with the terrorist leader in sight. The president has two items that are a must, Defense and Economy. All the social crap is for the house and senate

  • 42.
  • At 06:54 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • mark fleming wrote:

Of course you are right, Justin. It's bleedin' obvious the Scotsman is riotously in the wrong; it should be sent to Coventry [& the hack to Iraq]

  • 43.
  • At 07:17 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Since making my comment I've seen this interesting article from someone who knows far more about these things than I.

http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/546536/power-and-the-press.thtml

Fraser Nelson does make a good point here, but I think Justin Webb's approach is easier to justify in terms of seeking after truth, rather than just indulging in cheap sensationalism. However in the interview with the journalist concerned, she puts forward a pretty strong defence of her actions.

  • 44.
  • At 07:28 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Duncan Hothersall wrote:

Why would you not use a quote given in an on-the-record interview? Can I suggest that perhaps it is because you need maintain good relations with the politicians you interview, for the sake of your career?

This isn't a criticism, it makes perfect sense, but it also explains I think why this storm has blown up around an unknown reporter for a marginal newspaper (and I live in Edinburgh so it's my national paper, but let's face it it's not a global media player). I bet the Scotsman would have been more circumspect dealing with a Holyrood politician, because they have to deal with them every day.

All of which begs the question - if both politicians and journalists are self-serving, then who is serving the public?

  • 45.
  • At 09:22 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • David Cunard wrote:

You refer to Budd Gelert's post which ends with "What part of 'off the record' are you having difficulty in understanding?" - You can't say something, then realise it's a mistake and then take it back - had she indicated, before making the remark, that what she was about to say was off the record, then she would have been protected, but she didn't. Intelligence doesn't always equate with tact and her tactless remark only underlines the perceived inconsistency of Mr Obama. He has been quite clear that he "would immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two
brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year." Note "immediately" and the terminal date. This can be found on his website at Turning the page on Iraq. That this would be rebutted by his senior foreign affairs advisor certainly shows that not even Mr Obama tells the truth and nothing but the truth. The NAFTA business fall into the same category, indicating to me that he will say anything to get elected. As Al Jolson famously said, "you ain't heard nothing yet" and no doubt there will be more blunders to come which can be exploited by Mrs Clinton -as they should be.

  • 46.
  • At 09:34 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Chad Moser wrote:

Justin,

Quick question to your question. I have just finished listening to the 03/07/08 podcast edition of KCRW's Left, Right and Center. In it the journalists approached the question of when is off the record, truly off the record. The opinion was that you say it first, and not as an afterthought as Ms. Power did. However, the journalists said this was a sort of house rule. So, coming to the point, what, in general, is the British press' house rule concerning this? You gave your personal stance, but that the position of your colleagues or your own ethic? Personally, I think she should have known better. The Scotsman is not a well known paper in North America and if she wanted something kept off the record, then she should not have said it in the first place. Aren’t off the record statements said in informal/casual situations to people you know can keep them off the record?

  • 47.
  • At 10:05 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Geoff wrote:

As a conscious member of the media, Justin, I think we know that yes, those comments would have been but satiated in some vague rhetoric not leading to Sam Powers. Also, the fact that the phrase 'off the record' is used in the original Scotsman quote is rather absurd. When will media sources play fair in such intertwined arenas of politics and news?

  • 48.
  • At 10:12 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Geoff Miller wrote:

I was delighted to read your comments questioning The Scotsman's use of an off the record comment. As someone who has talked many times to the press over the years, the idea that an off the record comment can just be used simply because it's a juicy quote is an abrogation of duty by the journalist in my opinion.

If journalists want to make life more difficult for themselves and publish any information they receive then they will find that a lot of people will, quite rightly, clam up.

Was the monster comment unwise? Of course. That doesn't make it ethical to print it.

  • 49.
  • At 10:58 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Alex van den Bergh wrote:

Are you kidding? I'm thinking you know perfectly well you're right, Justin.

I'm reminded of a Washington Post article (written by Howard Kurtz) that appeared soon after the Monster incident.

"Technically" (Kurtz writes) "any agreement to put comments off the record -- meaning they can't be reported -- must be worked out in advance between journalist and source. But many reporters say it is common to grant such requests if they are made right after an inflammatory remark."

And then he quotes Mike Gilson, the editor of The Scotsman (the paper that so emphatically put Power's "off the record" comment on the record):

"Mike Gilson, the Scotsman's editor, said he did not think the paper had been unfair to Power. "This was clearly an on-the-record interview that was taped," he said."

But here's a second quote from Gilson:

"Gilson (...)said he figured the story would have repercussions across the Atlantic. "It's sad, because clearly she's a bright and intelligent person," he said."

Yeah, right. How hypocritical can one be?

  • 50.
  • At 11:13 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Ann wrote:

Hi, Justin,

I do not think that it is right to cite in toto the comments of Samantha Powers by the Scotsman. It is a breach of trust between interviewer and interviewee.

Ann

  • 51.
  • At 11:27 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Andrea wrote:

Ms. Powers calls Bush arrogant. I would say her believing that somehow Obama holds the key to negotiations with a person like Ahmadinejad is both arrogant and extremely naive.

Does she really believe that Iran's enrichment activities will be affected at all by Obama's meeting with Ahmadinejad?

I hope Obama learns, before holding any real position of power, that the problem is a bit more complex than restoring the US' image. If only it were as simple as changing US behavior. Can Powers possibly be any more US-centric than that?

  • 52.
  • At 11:42 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

I think Sam Powers "come's out of it rather well" because she was evading the more difficult questions by talking at length, thus giving little time for JP to grill her further.

On Hard Talk S.S gave her a very good grilling and exposed the weak or ill thoughtout policies of Obama.

What does "off the record" really mean? A story is a story is a story, for a journalist; no matter whether it be on of off the record. Is it the same when a microphone is considered to be turned off.....??

  • 53.
  • At 11:43 PM on 09 Mar 2008,
  • Joe C wrote:

I think it was highly irresponsible of The Scotsman to put the quote to Ms Power's name, given she'd made it clear to the reporter that it was off-the-record. As far as I'm aware, that kind of comment is common place in journalism, and a degree of responsibility and trust should have kept that comment private. Unfortunately, it just looks like The Scotsman wanted to disregard that in place of gaining 5 minutes of fame in the US. I hope that people they seek to interview for information in the future won't give them such a privilege.

  • 54.
  • At 12:37 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • alex wrote:

Wow! Sam Powers was really impressive! Paxman couldn't lay a finger on her. Completely consistent, entirely focused and very well detailed.

  • 55.
  • At 03:19 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • Justin Stevens wrote:

Only if you'd asked first. I'm sure she would have agreed if it was anonymous. If she didn't though, well I've always thought of journalism (though not "the Media") as one of the more ethical professions. (Occasionally I think you can keep one the former from being absorbed by the latter.)

off the record, I'm a huge bbc addict who stopped watching my own country's television news long ago, precisely because your organization takes such a hard ethical line. keep that in mind for your hopelessly ignorant yankee readers. we depend on you.

  • 56.
  • At 06:07 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • Sam Perry wrote:

Justin, I believe indeed you are correct.

Especially, in the instance of the Scotsman, where Ms. Peev was admittedly [on American cable TV, at the very least] rooming well outside the area of her expertise [American politics] or the scope of her interview [Samatha Powers' new book] and apparently took advantage of some casual and off-the-cuff comments to [every briefly] make a name for herself.

It's a punter's folly, to mix metaphors, and viewed across the pond as none too professional, to say the least.

As you no doubt know and practice over at the Beeb, "off the record" and "on background" are only as good as the professionalism and the relationship that are involved... and wise people on both sides of the microphone spell out their meanings to prevent any misunderstanding.

Obviously, the lesson for America's best and brightest is to shun the Scotsman, which admitted twice in its text the remarks were not intended for publication [and clearly off topic for the interview], and let the residents of Bush House and the Isle (once Fleet Street) hope the notoreity doesn't tarnish them as well.

Oddly, Ms. Reev made very clear in her interviews she does not consider politics or America to be remotely within her scope, yet this did not prevent her from rushing for her moment of fame, and also applying the cliches "inexperienced" to the Obama camp and "battle hardened" to HRC's folks as though she could judge from a distance.

At any rate, the use of the "M" word for Sen. Clinton may be considered far more benign than the "B" word which was applied to her repeatedly a fortnight ago by the Saturday Night Live program, which survives as a very remedial American source of parody... Hillary herself rewarded that bid at a humorous diatribe by showing up the subsequent week for a cameo appearance of her own in an effort to 'soften' her image. All in the eye of the beholder, no doubt.

  • 57.
  • At 06:10 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • David Cunard wrote:

Your readers may like to read this perceptive piece from the Los Angeles Times - on the op-ed page, since the paper endorsed Mr Obama:
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-bennetts9mar09,0,2140085.story

  • 58.
  • At 07:37 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • Ralph wrote:

Yes, you would have been right. The idea of journalism, I thought -- and I'm guessing you agree -- is not to play "gotcha" but to tell an important story correctly and responsibly.

This reminds me of the story about Dan Senor in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City". When reporters asked him about increasing violence in Iraq, he said, "Off the record: Paris is burning. On the record: Security and stability are returning to Iraq."

If a comment like that is protected, then a relatively mild epithet like "monster" should be protected also.

  • 59.
  • At 09:18 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • William wrote:

Journalists are an integral part of the democratic process and are supposed to inform the public, and report on issues of interest to the public.

With all due respect to Ms. Powers she was aware of this walking into the interview, and prefacing something with, "off the record", is a request, not a guarantee that it won't be reported.

To me the issue is simple, was the burden to report and inform the public greater than than the burden to respect the request.

One simply cannot invite a reporter in for an interview, and then preface all interesting quotes with, "Off the record", and expect the reporter to sit on information if it is in the public's interest to know it, and where it came from.

  • 60.
  • At 10:17 AM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • RN Hussein wrote:

I totally agree. The media sucks for its coverage of this. Why does Hillary get away with this?

Is it because nobody wants to see this blonde older woman cry? or loose?

The media needs to get her for her multiple harsh remarks and lies.

I'm with Bedd Gelert on this. "Off the record" is off the record, even when it's an obvious truth.

Salaam/Shalom/Shanthi/Dorood/Peace
Namaste -ed

I finally got the Sam Powers video clip to work. (had to load up Windoze)

I agree she came out perfectly well. A shame she's had to fall on her sword, but I expect she'll still be on the bus.

Thanks for your blogs, Justin.

Salaams, etc.
ed

  • 63.
  • At 02:28 PM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • Martin Johnston wrote:

The "monster" comment covers up the real news story - that Barack Obama is saying one thing to the peopel over Iraq and is going to do the exact opposite if elected.

  • 64.
  • At 04:52 PM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • KKV wrote:

Sam Power is a brilliant woman. Just checked out her new book, 'Chasing the flame : Sergio Vieira de Mello and the fight to save the world'. Shame on that Scotsman reporter!

MSNBC - Tucker Carlson's interview with that Scotsman reporter Gerri Peev:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/23526624

Hm... what would HRC do when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refers to her as something bad?

  • 65.
  • At 05:08 AM on 11 Mar 2008,
  • Mary wrote:

The Scotsman did nothing wrong. Simple as that-although I think it shameful that this had to come from someone so close to Obama. In the long run, this will only help Hillry.

  • 66.
  • At 02:32 PM on 11 Mar 2008,
  • Robb Beattie wrote:

Off-record topics should be established before an interview. The fact that Samantha Powers chose to descend to the level of gossip in an obviously public forum made the issue her problem. As such, the many posts here that mistake the role of the press & shoot the wrong messenger are not that surprising. Most people are too decent and discreet to ever be able to imagine functioning as a journalist, a necessarily dirty profession.
Ms. Powers wasn’t suited to her job either, of course, which is why she now returns to her Harvard duties as a self-described “genocide chick” — luckily a post where she’s accustomed to being garrulous & glib.
In the meantime, the hype of competing messages is matched by the hubris of the various mythmakers. I eagerly await the irrelevant dispatch of another Obama freelancer to be stitched up by Scotsmen and “grilled in the BBC style.” America will surely quail.

  • 67.
  • At 03:29 PM on 11 Mar 2008,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Tucker Carlson has just lost his job - so I guess this must a salutary tale about pride in American journalism coming before a fall. I hold no candle for some of the wilder excesses of UK tabloid journalism, but to suggest that this sort of thing never happens in the US of A is a tad naive, in my opinion.

I still think Ms Peev should have weighed up her decision a little more carefully, but having seen the impact on Mr Carlson's career, I am going to think twice before dissing her approach !

  • 68.
  • At 07:50 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • martin hall wrote:

If the Clintons were, somehow, to 'resurrect' the Florida Primary (that I assume she would win) this would PROFOUNDLY affect the UK's view of her 'suitability' as a Presidential Candidate.

Many people over here have not forgotten or forgiven the antics of
the Bush camp in Florida at the last but one presidential election in driving out Al Gore.

It is so terribly important that Britain has TRUST in the occupant of The White House. If Hillary C were to be seen to be 'manipulating' the US electorate in order to gain the Democratic nomination, and then went onhto become the next President, her credibility to most people in the UK would simply evaporate.

Ends.

Sam Powers should not have resigned because she called Hillary Clinton a `Monster` which she is really is. She was not lying, she did called that woman a Monster.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.