Alex Massie

Journalism 101

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When is "off the record" actually off the record? Dana Goldstein says "shame on The Scotsman" for publishing Samantha Power's description of Hillary Clinton as "a monster". But this is not a matter of shame, nor necessarily, as Goldstein suggests, of the foreign press "stooping to play gotcha with secondary advisors".

It may well be that Power's comments came at the end of an interview which mainly focused on her new book. I don't know. But I do know that you don't really get to take a mulligan when you make a blunder in an interview. If power had prefaced her characterisation of Hillary as a monster with the phrase, "Now, what I'm about to say is off the record..." then that would be one thing and it would be a breach of trust or etiquette for the paper* to print her comments. But you don't normally get to determine what is and what is not off the record after you've said your piece or simply because you realise you've made a blunder.

Now, even allowing for that, you can say that this still a marginal call but there's a long distance between a marginal call and a shameful breach of trust.

I wish Power hadn't said what she said, largely because, despite his abundant flaws, I'd rather see Obama win the Democratic nomination than Clinton, so it's a shame that she's made this marginally less likely. But I'd have still printed the piece if it had been my call. That's because it's a legitimate story - especially in the aftermath of the Goolsbee and Susan Rice flaps.

*Disclosure: Over the years, I've written hundreds of pieces for The Scotsman and used to be on the staff of its sister paper Scotland on Sunday. But beyond being a contributor, I'm not affiliated with the paper these days.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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