People Should Talk on the Record!


Earlier this week, the Treasury Department invited some bloggers—myself among them—to meet briefly with Secretary Geithner and I guess some other officials. But due to a security snafu, I wasn’t able to get into the building and hence didn’t make it to the meeting. Felix Salmon was there and offers an interesting writeup, but by the ground rules of the conversation he wasn’t able to quote anyone or cite specific names. Mike Allen was also there and, given the ground rules, likewise offered a writeup that didn’t feature specific names or quotes. Instead he did a loose paraphrase characterized as a “mind-meld” but that Tim Fernholz and other more policy-minded people who were there said was substantially inaccurate.

Brad DeLong glosses this as part of why “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Politico.” And certainly it is a case study in why you can’t go run and panic after reading a thinly sourced item in a traffic-hungry publication. But part of the issue here, it seems to me, is that DC officialdom ought to realize that its obsession with off the recordy-ness has some serious downsides. Treasury did two meetings this week, one that was with professional blogger types and one that was more with professional economists who also blog, and most of the attendees seem to have come away quite impressed. If that’s the case, wouldn’t people able to listen to a recording of the full session likely also be impressed? And wouldn’t it be easier to clear up misconceptions that Allen’s writeup may have created?

Structural shifts in the media industry away from the “three TV networks and a bunch of local newspaper monopolies” model have shifted the balance of power away from journalists and toward flacks. Consequently, if people want to hold off the record briefings with “senior officials” plenty of writers are going to show up. But merely because people can get away with that kind of thing doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.