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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Off The Record?

Samantha Powers was forced to resign as an advisor to Barack Obama because she mistakenly asked a British journalist not to report her comment about Hillary Clinton ("She's a monster..."), after the words left her lips.

The journalist, a writer from The Scotsman did not agree to any post facto utterance, reported the remark and Powers was forced to resign by the Obama campaign.

Everyone seems to agree that Powers erred and that what looked like a high-flying career which seemed destined to become a cabinet post is not in eclipse.

But The Scotsman was right to publish since it should not be the job of journalism to make politicians and their spokespersons appear better or smarter than they are.

As Janet Malcolm wrote in her essential book "The Journalist and The Murderer," the nature of the relationship between the journalist and an interviewee is one of duplicity and connivance. The journalists' arrangement is frequently based on the unspoken implication that they will present the interviewee's side of events. In Washington, this is an unspoken and frequently unquestioned assumption that politicians and journalists are "on the same side" even if the tone can be adversarial. Both share the same environment; both need each other to survive. Yet the public interest is frequently ignored in this relationship.

Good for The Scotsman. Too bad for Samantha Powers. But my guess is that someone who is as smart and as committed as Powers will eventually find forgiveness by an Obama Administration, but not by an Obama campaign.

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