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The Monster verdict

Justin Webb | 19:37 UK time, Thursday, 13 March 2008

sampower_ap203.jpgIn the matter of The Scotsman versus Sam Power: judgement on the behaviour of the Scotsman is handed down by my distinguished colleague Nick Robinson, the BBC Political Editor:

"Would Westminster's rules have allowed what the Scotsman did? You bet. As their reporter says, you can't retrospectively make something 'off the record'. On the other hand, would I expect a Westminster reporter to treat a contact that way? No, because if they did, they'd soon have no contacts. The relationship between a journalist and their sources is not about hard and fast rules. It's about some level of trust based on a shared understanding of the terms of trade. I supect the reporter in this case weighed up the the size of the story (big) plus the likelihood of needing that contact again (nil) against the cost of being accused of breaking the rules (low). I also suspect that most politicians would say: 'If you don't want something reported don't say it or, if you do, make sure you've agreed the rules first.'"

So there. In case David Axelrod is reading, though, I repeat that I would not have used it...

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 08:54 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Justin wrote:

Why the Obama's press guys are not as good the Clintons.

  • 2.
  • At 09:17 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Chad Moser wrote:

Thanks Justin!

  • 3.
  • At 09:45 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • E Murphy wrote:


Perfectly sensible. British rules and practices don't seem to differ much from ours in America. As a strong Obama supporter and outside observer(with no relationship to the campaign other than small donor), I was dissapointed with the "Monster" revelation but the Scotsman reporter's decision to run with it was acceptable in my opinion. I was persuaded by her defense of the decision. She also seemed to express sincere concern for Ms. Power, the human being and not just Ms. Power, the headline. I didn't sense any malice or sinister motives on her part. She was simply doing her job. Did she seize an opportunity to sell a story? Yes, but I suppose it was news. Is it unfortunate that the campaign lost the ability to utilize Power's considerable talents? Yes. But I have a feeling she'll be ok. This is a person of multiple talents. It's also nice to know, however, that not all British reporters would have acted alike.

  • 4.
  • At 10:10 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • chris kimmings wrote:

Dear Justin
Enjoying your comments here in Portugal where the internet access has become so necessary to glean information . Via the links you have given one can also build a fuller picture using other sites around the world.
With your earlier slant in appearing to lean more towards one of the candidates may I suggest that should the Florida and Michigan re-run occur, and you are planning to attend -do not use the Flak Jacket you might have borrowed from Bill C. [Avoiding the Vietnan war to attend a British University and train for an undercover secret mission to disorientate any enemy with saxaphone playing I am afraid the jacket will only repel flat notes and not the vitriolic remarks from the annoyed local electorate in Florida and Michigan.]

Am intrigued, Justin, what David Axelrod may have shared with you that you haven't shared with us...

  • 6.
  • At 11:20 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Ian wrote:

Clever move from the Obama team. Now Hillary has been given the 'monster' label and it will stick because, basically, it's true.

  • 7.
  • At 11:36 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • E Murphy wrote:


British rules and practices don't seem to differ much from ours in America (perhaps I'm wrong). As a strong Obama supporter and outside observer (with no ties to the campaign other than small donor), I was disappointed with the "Monster" revelation, but the Scotsman reporter's decision to run with it was acceptable in my opinion. It did have a sensational flair, but that's not uncommon in Britain (or America). I was persuaded by her defense of the decision. The reporter also seemed to express sincere concern for Ms. Power, the human being and not just Ms. Power, the headline. I didn't sense any malice, desire to influence the contest, or other sinister motives on her part. She was simply doing her job. Did she seize an opportunity to sell a story? Yes, but I suppose it was newsworthy. Is it unfortunate that the campaign can no longer utilize Ms. Power's considerable talents and energy? Yes, but I have a feeling both the campaign and Ms. Power will be ok. Ms. Power possesses multiple talents and an impressive resume. Although, judging by her work in underserved, forgotten areas of the world, I suspect resume building is not high on her list of priorities. That said, it's also nice to know that not all British reporters would have acted similarly. As for your assertion about Obama press people, I respectfully disagree. It does seem to be more of an organic campaign though, with fewer smoothy talking heads.

  • 8.
  • At 11:56 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

I think Nick has got it spot on...

  • 9.
  • At 12:05 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • David Cunard wrote:

Why would you need to ask Nick Robinson his opinion as to whether The Scotsman was right to report the tactless word/s spoken by Ms Power? Perhaps you thought he might validate your own view that the comment should have been ascribed to some nameless or “anonymous source”? Simple logic dictates that the parameters of the interview are set before the tape is rolling; as I and others have pointed out, being ‘off-the-record’ is not something to be invoked retroactively.

  • 10.
  • At 12:50 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Middle Road wrote:

This story cannot be more dead. Why are you still flogging it?

  • 11.
  • At 01:59 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • ARBEN Camaj wrote:

No other democrat nominee in thirty years, was able to defeat republicans with left wing rhetoric. I agree it is all about judgments. Obama is backed by a bunch of left wingers like Kerry etc that are trying to kidnap the leadership of the Democratic Party, despite the fact that they were directly responsible for the badly lost elections. On the other side, Hillary is backed by one of the most successful democrats in the history of the democrats, Bill Clinton & a broad supportive base..

  • 12.
  • At 02:24 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • John Lewis wrote:

A new debate will come soon and the pundit will talk about a knock out punch. They forget that it is always second guessing. Now everyone think of Reagan as he is meant to win. He was not Reagan until he became Reagan.

The problem with Obama he has become so calculated. This has became his problem. People want an average guy and he lost that sense. He is not as comfortable in his skin as he used to be. I understand that he is under pressure but he is not showing what he is made off.

Everyone is asking why he hasn't sealed the deal but the answer is simple; No one know fpr sure how an Obama's America look like once he is elected... Never mind, Penn and Rove are doing just that right now!

  • 13.
  • At 02:41 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

Samantha Power said her remarks about Clinton are inexcusable. Finally she told the truth for once. It just goes to prove that her mouth is in the service of her emotions, not her brain. What does that tell you about the value of the courses she teaches. And what does it show about Obama's judgement in having her as a close advisor. Is this the kind of people we can expect him to surround himself with if he gets into office? How about the recently retired Reverend Jeremiah Wright who was his minister for 20 years. Will the media start broadcasting some of his anti American anti white racist invective he preached to his congregation or will it continue to give Obama a free pass on just a mild rejection of some of his spiritual advisor's "divisive" words?

Of course Hillary is having her share of disasters with her associates, first this week it was Spitzer and now Ferraro. It's starting to get a little nasty but it has a long way to go and as the months and weeks before the convention wind down and the remaining delegates dwindle to a precious few, sooner or later they will have to start really turning up the heat on each other. It is long overdo for them to go all out at it and I for one can't understand what they are waiting for.

BTW, the only thing I found distinguished about Nick Robinson was how he stuck out like a sore thumb when he made a complete jackass out of himself at President Bush's press conference. Maybe he thought it was Prime Minister's Question Time in The House of Commons and he was a minister in the party opposite. He humiliated himself, his employer and his nation with his boorish insulance when given the rare privelege to ask the President of the United States a question. But he paid for it in a London bar some time later when after what must have been more than a few rounds, a drunk threw a plate of curried chips at him because he hadn't brought the troops home from Iraq yet. Now what do you suppose made the drunk think Robinson was anything more than just another drunk at the bar? His story on his blog site, not mine.

  • 14.
  • At 04:41 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • David Cunard wrote:

Perhaps Justin would address the Jeremiah White situation which has arisen, on at least one "respectable" American news channel:

Obama supporters (and Justin!) should listen to the Rev. White's words carefully and consider how much influence he has had on the Illinois senator, a member of White's congregation for twenty years, and who officiated at the wedding of Barack and Michelle. What the minister says makes Geraldine Ferraro's remarks pale in contrast. If anything needs publicity, then the impact of this man on a potential President needs to be taken into account.

  • 15.
  • At 05:22 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Helen M Rohde wrote:

I agree with her 100% she got it right!

  • 16.
  • At 05:36 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • tc wrote:

This is unrelated to Samantha Powers, but it's a question I would really like answered. Why do you think that Clinton has been winning the more populous states, and Obama has been winning the more rural ones? And within those more populous states, why has Obama has been winning the urban areas, but not the states themselves?

I've heard a few arguments--- caucuses v. primaries, the level of each candidate's political organization within individual states, etc.--- but I don't think either of these arguments give a comprehensive analysis of why this is occurring. I think Matt Bai has an interesting argument coming out in the New York Times magazine this weekend on the role of racism in the vote's distribution:
What's your analysis, Justin??

  • 17.
  • At 09:57 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Ferraro Was Right wrote:

Geraldine Ferrao had it spot on.

Obama would not get a sniff of the presidency if he were a white first-term senator.

He wouldn't even be considered for the VP slot.

He does have a total lack of real experience - not that Hillary has much either in my opinion. If she were a white male first-term senator she would not get a sniff of the presidency either.

It is on par with some of our ex-councillor first-time MPs running to be leader of the Conservative or Labour parties - it would be treated as a joke. It would be like David Lammy (who actually has a lot more experience than Obama) running to be PM.

  • 18.
  • At 11:38 AM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Andrew Allison wrote:

With all due respect, Nick Robinson should resign :>)

  • 19.
  • At 02:42 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

E Murphy - I don't think I've ever heard such a rationalised and reasoned response on a blog before!

Ferraro Was Right - you're just wrong....

  • 20.
  • At 03:02 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Thomas L Sjovall wrote:

It is just to bad for Miss Power.
She is one smart lady.
I must say she was never at the top of the Obama foreign policy team.
What she said brings home the fact that lot of people hate Sen. Clinton.
As of today 50% of U.S. voter's will not vote for Clinton.

  • 21.
  • At 03:02 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Des FitzGerald wrote:

Actually she wasn't sacked over calling Clinton a monster she was sacked because she made a statement that if Obama wins it is not sure he can meet his stated policy of removing troops from Iraq. But the Scotsman chose not to report that bit!

  • 22.
  • At 03:17 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • David Hussein wrote:

So "Ferraro was right" ..
"Obama would not get a sniff of the presidency if he were a white first-term senator...

..It is on par with some of our ex-councillor first-time MPs running to be leader of the Conservative or Labour parties - it would be treated as a joke. It would be like David Lammy (who actually has a lot more experience than Obama) running to be PM."

David Cameron won a safe Tory seat in 2001. Could well be the next prime minister in Britain. No ones laughing. He has less political experience and less life experience than Mr Obama.

But you think, along with Ferraro, that Obama's sucess is down to his colour. That is funny.
If a white male candidate with the charisma, intelligence AND experience of Obama was running, the nomination would have been signed and sealed long ago. Any advantages he gets as a black man (forinstance, getting more votes from the black community) are well and truly lost by the fact that everyman and his aunty magnifies any of his mistakes or "failings". He has to defend the very name he was given for goodness sake.

Folk like you try and pretend that racism doesn't exist because you are too frightened to look in the mirror and see your own bigotry.

For what it's worth I am a white male. I don't think Barack Obama is getting any favours, and I don't think he needs any. He is certainly not perfect, but he would make a da*n fine president.

  • 23.
  • At 03:49 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Jonathan Clark wrote:

George W. Bush would not have had a sniff of the Whitehouse if he was black.

Funny how racism works isn't it?

Perhaps not laugh-out-loud funny.

A sitting senator hasn't won the presidential election in nearly 50 years but all of a sudden pundits are very very interested in how much senatorial experience a candidate has. Why is that? Of course the remaining candidates are all senators but Obama has been taking these hits since 2007.

I don't think it is Obama's lack of Washington DC experience people are scared of.

  • 24.
  • At 05:26 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Doug MacHutta (R) wrote:

Today, marh 14th I'm listening to the preacher/pastor of Senator Obama and I am shocked,...nah, I'm appalled at his sermons, he sounds more like an Iman who hates America, hates democracy, hates white folk (specificaly and in general) and even hates Christianity as most of us see it. G.D. America? Has everything we as a country have ever done or accomplished missed this ignorant, racist, hate mongering non Christian creature? This 'preacher' has single handedly obliterated any idea I had as a Republican who went to Obamas events to now vote for him as president.
Please Justin, what is your take on this, and I would enjoy hearing others comments. Doug

  • 25.
  • At 05:43 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Nate wrote:

I agree with Nick Robinson's analysis of the Scotsman situation. Sam Power evidently forgot one thing during that interview: that she was speaking to a journalist. No offense meant, journalists, but it IS a dirty and sometimes cut-throat business, and an interviewee would be best served to remember that.

Regarding the idea that Obama is only doing this well because he is black, the notion is ridiculous. What about the Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton nomination campaigns? They were black, and they didn't do very well in the race Obama is in now - as recently as 2004 in Sharpton's case!

  • 26.
  • At 06:00 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Martin Johnston wrote:

#20 You are actually wrong about David Cameron's experience - he has over 20 years since working in the Conservative research deprtment in 1988. But then I still don't think he's up to the job so!!

By the way racism does exist but it works both ways. I've seen tokenism of the worst kind within both the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement - and usually from patronising middle-class lefties. People should be picking a candidate on their merits not on their race, colour, religion or gender. I suspect, as many do, that large number of voters, for both Clinton and Obama, are not picking on the merits but on the gender or race of the candidate.

My main bugbear is that I do not actually find either Obama or Clinton inspiring. Clinton - well she's using the name - if she were running as Hillary Rodham - we would be saying - who? Obama - one speech - can be attention-grabbing - but the more that I listen to the man and read about him - the less inspired I am. the reeptive use of teh word "change" without explainiig
wht he raelly means, the vague promises, the bakc-tarcking and twsiting - it reminds me very much of a politician from these shores - Mr Anthony Blair.

The US election seems to have been reduced to a childish American Idol with different banks of supporters screaming for their chosen candidate. taht wouldn't be a problem if we had serious discussion - but there is none. It is yah-boo polarised politics of the worst kind.

I've said before that the I believe that neither candidate on their own can win. Many Clinton supporters will vote McCain if Obama is elected and vice versa.

In fact, I'd now go further - I honestly wish a real experienced candidate would step forward and be drafted into the nomination process.

That is of course Al Gore - the one figure that I believe could unite the Democrats.

  • 27.
  • At 06:45 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Götterdämmerung wrote:


A little late, but the whole furore over Gerry Ferraro has actually prompted my little grey cells. Have you considered the parallels between this race and the race in which Mrs Ferraro made her name?

Here we had a solid, reasonably boring, establishment-backed party grandee, with highly questionable electoral appeal, taking on a charismatic, 'feel-good' newcomer, promising 'New Ideas'. It was a tough, competitive primary season.

And here's where the comparison ends: in 1984, the establishment candidate actually managed to *win* the nomination.

Some Democrats may not be openly prepared to acknowledge that Obama has saved them from going down to a Mondale-esque landslide defeat in November, (assuming he gets the nomination, but I think we can take that as almost a given by this stage) but that is what he has done. In years to come, I believe that many will wonder how Hillary was ever in competition for the nomination to begin with. Well, maybe not. But I can dream. The questions remains whether Obama can do what Hart did not, and win the Presidency.

And let's just hope that Obama doesn't get up to any monkey business with a latter-day Donna Rice....

  • 28.
  • At 08:23 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Brett wrote:

Mysterious three dots... "wouldn't have used it" because a.)story size wasn't big enough? b.) would need that contact again? or c.)wouldn't break the "rules"? In any case, congrats to the Scotsman (this once anyway) for ridding us of Power (at least temporarily), an adviser "from hell". Power, like the equally cunning Niall Ferguson, has made a lucrative career stateside by defending empire and rationalizing or ignoring the glaring crimes of American foreign policy (like the Brits before us). From her ideological academic perch at the Carr Center and in right wing publications like Time magazine she has repeated the themes of her most famous book, 'A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide'. The title is quite promising, but no, it's not a survey of the genocidal tendencies of American foreign policy. In fact, except for a brief oblique reference to East Timor, it totally avoids any mention of the American role in mass killings around the globe over the last half century in places like Southeast Asia, Central America, Middle East, Africa, well just about everywhere, actually. Instead it focuses on situations in places like the Balkans where blame is directed at others and the U.S. role is downplayed. This makes it possible for her to suggest that even though the U.S. response has often been 'imperfect' or lacking 'vigor', etc., nonetheless America is still the major part of the solution to this "problem from hell" - instead of the major part of the problem, as much of the rest of the world might see it. So no tears for the departure of 'Sam' please. But still she was probably right about monstrous Hillary - who shares the same machavellian imperialist policy orientation as Sam - but then again, it takes one to know one, as they say in America.

  • 29.
  • At 09:12 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

John Edwards, white male ex-candidate, is a one-term ex-Senator and did quite well in 2004 and 2008. So yes, both Clinton and Obama would likely have gotten this far if they were white males, and any implication that they are getting a pass because they are not white males is sexist and racist.

Keith Olbermann had a great essay last night illustrating why these kinds of comments are intolerable and need to be addressed directly.

  • 30.
  • At 09:48 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Andy wrote:

I reckon Sam Power should have kept her job. I don't particularly like her or Obama but if that's what she felt then it should stand. She had reasons for saying it and why should things said in the heat of battle be so judged.

In its own way is it any worse than the nonsense that Senator Clinton has spouted on her role in N Ireland's peace process.

  • 31.
  • At 01:54 AM on 15 Mar 2008,
  • andrew frost wrote:

to me the question is did she print it to embarrass the obama campaign . was this politically motivated.
would she have printed what clintons lot said.
because there is a pretty big UK press love of clinton.
for historical reasons,i suspect.
but undestand this UK it is not your vote and no matter how much you want to see america have a female president it won't happen this time.
look how she has devided her own party.

and you think she will somehow unite the whole country. most republicans already hate her. now half the democrates do to.
polling shows most think he has a better chance at the general election but are voting for her anyway.
ferrero should consider whether clinton would be where she is if she were not a woman .
there is numerical evidence this is the case.
and for more eloquent reasons to look closer at obama read david hussein' post .thank you david where ever you are.
the whole election has been marred for me by seeing what I perceive as gross racism by the UK press. living in the US I am embarrassed by the british journalists.
and to the bbc staff. carry on like this and we have 4 more years of republicans. with whatever that brings.
incase you guys did not figure it out.
republican primaries are over so when people in the remaining states look to vote they can only vote for the democrats whether or not they are a republican or democrat. And all the republicans I know who can reregister in time are going to so they can vote for hillery. cause then they know come november she's the one they want to run against. so go pull the wool from over your eyes and get real. clinton is a lost cause unless your a republican.

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