Obama, MSNBC and Mediaite: Missing The Point
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite seems to think that I’m ”fainting and fanning” because of a bunch of “suddenly-cool kids jumping the velvet rope ahead of me.”
Meaning, he takes exception to my piece this morning about such MSNBC stars as Rachel Maddow, along with other lefty commentators, refusing to discuss their super-secret meeting with President Obama.
At the risk of sounding uncool, Christopher seems to be conflating two very different issues. Erik Wemple first reported on the meeting for the Washington Post, with this key passage:
Journalists make a profession of agitating for openness, for the sharing of information, for speaking with public officials and reporting back. In this case, though, attendees aren’t doing a lot of reporting back. Most of MSNBC’s prime time lineup — Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell — attended the Tuesday session, yet MSNBC won’t talk about it. Two individuals from the opinions section of The Washington Post — Jonathan Capehart and Greg Sargent — had seats at the table but won’t tell a dear colleague what went down. A spokeswoman for Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, another alleged attendee, gave this response: “Since the meeting was off the record, Josh is not available to speak about it.” Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame also allegedly took part and also won’t talk: “Sorry, but I don’t discuss who I do and don’t meet with. Thanks, markos,” he e-mailed to the Erik Wemple Blog.
Now that’s compliance for you. The blackout from these “influential progressives” – as the White House so boosterishly calls them — raises an historic prospect. Could this be the first White House meeting with journalists in which more information about the proceedings came from the White House than from the journalists?
If Christopher thinks this is the traditional definition of off the record, he’s off base. Off the record doesn’t mean denying that the conversation took place, as Markos Moulitsas did. Nor does it mean totally stonewalling, as the MSNBC and Washington Post folks did.
Instead, the one appropriate example was that of Josh Marshall, who acknowledged that the meeting would happen and wouldn’t talk about it. In an era in which reporters are increasingly prone to being told “off the record, I have no comment” and other such nonsensical denials, this is a growing trend. It is certainly up to reporters to decide what ground rules that they are comfortable with and which ones they are not. But to feel the need to erase an off-the-record conversation from history, as if it were a disgraced Trotskyite, and refuse to acknowledge that it even occurred is bizarre.
After all, to repeat a line, I quoted from Wemple earlier: “Could this be the first White House meeting with journalists in which more information about the proceedings came from the White House than from the journalists?”
Maybe Christopher doesn’t have a problem with this Brave New World, but I do. And it’s not because I feel excluded, or that perhaps the White House doesn’t find me as cool as Al Sharpton (I’m not. Even though we do have a lot in common: He was friends with James Brown and I once owned a James Brown cassette). It’s because this is bad for a functioning press that attempts to hold political leaders to account.
Anyone always has the right to ask for a conversation to be off the record, and journalists should be free to accept or deny such a request. But to apply that label to the mere existence of such a meeting in a venue as public as the White House–as opposed to, say, meeting with Deep Throat in a Rosslyn parking garage–is, frankly, indefensible.
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