Friday, March 14, 2008

Truth to Power?

Chris Bowers has a coniption over the fact that Obama advisor Samantha Power was forced to resign after the Scotsman quoted her calling Hillary a "monster." The quote was accurate, but Power claimed she didn't know she was on the record.

After the Scotsman explained its decision as to what is and is not on the record, Bowers complains:
There seems to be no appreciation that Peev and her editor were personally responsible for ending someone's political advisor career over something really, really stupid. This strikes me as very much hiding behind vague institutional rules and regulations in an effort to elide personal responsibility.
Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left doesn't buy it, citing the standard principle that everything is on the record unless previously agreed otherwise:
If Chris does not know this most basic rule of journalism, if Samantha Power does not know it, then they have no business, in Power's case, representing a political campaign, and in Chris' case, critiquing a journalist. This critique from Chris is simply an absurdity.
(Via Memeorandum.) Certainly this is rule about what is on the record is valid when dealing with a presidential campaign, where Power was a key advisor giving her off-the-cuff assessment of the rival candidate. That's an important and arguably newsworthy statement.

At the same time, over the course of more than two decades in journalism, I've learned that it's best not to play "gotcha" by quoting people's casual remarks. As a reporter, I want sources to feel that they can trust me, and to be comfortable enough to talk freely. You learn more that way, even if you can't report everything you learn. To "burn" a source by quoting their casual remarks in a one-on-one conversation is not going to encourage sources to trust you.

Still, by the standard rules of the game, Bowers has no basis of complaint against the Scotsman. If he wants to complain, he should complain about the Obama campaign's gutless decision to sack Power on the basis of that one remark. After all, Hillary's well-known bad temper is enough to justify the "monster" label. So Obama fired Power for speaking the truth.

Also without basis is Bowers' effort to portray Power as a victim because of the damage to her "political advisor career." Oh, puh-leeze: She's a tenured professor at Harvard. Samantha Power almost certainly makes at least twice what that Scotsman reporter makes.

Among the principles of journalism that Chris Bowers has probably never heard of is this one: No journalist shall ever feel pity for tenured academics.

Yeah, that's my own private principle, but I think it's a good one.

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