Saturday, March 08, 2008

When off the record means on the record

Or is it the other way around and does this show the differences between journalism on either side of the Atlantic?

One of Barack Obama's advisors is forced to resign over remarks made to the Scotsman newspaper in an interview.Samantha Powers was quoted as saying that Hillary Clinton was a "monster".

The comments given in an on the record interview to Gerri Peev.

The story as told by Fraser Nelson is as follows

It was an on-the-record interview but after Powers misspoke she instructed Peev “that’s off the record”. Peev had made no such agreement, and ran with the story

After the remarks were picked up by US websites the Scotsman reports that

Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who made the remark, said: "With deep regret, I am resigning from my role as an adviser to the Obama campaign. I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor and purpose of the Obama campaign. And I extend my deepest apologies to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama and the remarkable team I have worked with over these long 14 months."

Kirsty McLuckie writing in the paper thinks it was justified in publishing the comments

SOME say it is unfair to have quoted the member of Barack Obama's campaign team who blurted out "Hillary Clinton is a monster" to a Scotsman journalist and immediately claimed it as off the record as well as off the cuff. But don't believe that anyone who is anywhere near a presidential hopeful at this stage in the game ever says anything that isn't carefully scripted. Even the denial that it was ever said will have been worked on by a team of advisers before the off-the-cuff

But was the paper right or should it have used its discretion?

The affair has also shown up the difference between UK and US journalism.Iain Martin says the affair shows that

American hacks are often too polite and trusting of politicians' motives. Only this late in the race for the nomination is the press asking serious questions of Obama

For him the differences are that on the one hand

The Americans, who have a knock-about tradition from the last century which they like to forget, take pride in having constructed a full-blown 'profession', equal to the law and medicine, with academic posts, a literature on the subject and very self-important prize ceremonies. Fine, but I blame Watergate.

Whilst on this side of the pond

the Brits as a breed have tended to be more rumbustious, cheekier, a little more inquisitive and wary of the powerful. There are excesses, but overall the sense is of British journalism being noisier and more vibrant. Competition is fierce, which until the age of the internet it was not in the US. And that might be the problem.

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