What we say it means, seems to be the answer from Marcus Brauchli, editor of The Washington Post, who was challenged today in his online chat about what he knew, when he knew it and how does he describe what he knew in connection with the flap that continues to haunt The Post.
When the political paper of record was caught selling access for anonymity, Brauchli tried to claim ignorance. He said at the time that he didn’t know the salon sessions (pronounced sa-lahn se-shahn, I presume) were “off the record.” According to a “correction” at the New York Times, he did.
On Sept. 12, an article in The Times reported that Charles Pelton, the marketing executive at the center of the plans, had resigned from The Post. That article, referring again to Mr. Brauchli’s comments at the time, reported that he said he had not understood that the dinners would be off the record.
However, in a subsequent letter to Mr. Pelton — which was sent to The Times by Mr. Pelton’s lawyer — Mr. Brauchli now says that he did indeed know that the dinners were being promoted as “off the record,” and that he and Mr. Pelton had discussed that issue.
During an online discussion, a reader took him to task, accusing Brauchli of lying. Brauchli objected to that characterization.
When these events were planned, we intended that the information from them would inform and shape our coverage, without attribution. That is not, under our rules, off the record. They were later promoted as "off the record," and I knew that before July 2. As I have said repeatedly since then, I failed to reconcile the language and the intentions, which I should have done. The notion that I lied to the New York Times "hoping not to get caught" is absurd.
What does “information from them would inform and shape our coverage, without attribution” mean? Off the record, I think most journalists would agree, is that which can inform the coverage but without informing us. In other words, when information is given off the record you can’t give that information to readers, whether you identify the source or not. But certainly if a reporter believes the information to be true, she is not going to write something that contradicts it. Rather, most reporters will use that information to get other sources to corroborate it on the record.
Brauchli seems to be splitting hairs. I’ll look forward to hearing others’ views on this.