Off the Record . . . well, sort of

By now everyone has heard about Dubya’s little mishap on the bicycle.  When asked to comment by reporters, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry said “I hope he’s OK. I didn’t know the president rode a bike.”  (Frankly, neither did I.)  This comment was innocuous and entirely appropriate for media consumption.

What happened next is just silly.  Kerry, while off the record, made a comment suggesting that the president’s fall was a result of his training wheels falling off.  Now, no matter which way you lean politically, you have to admit that that’s an easy joke that simply couldn’t be passed up.  It’s a gimme; the kind of no-brainer, topical humor late night monologue writers have fantasies about.  Frankly, if I fell off of my bike, half the guys I know would make a similar comment.  And so would I if the situation were reversed.

The fact that I even am aware of Kerry’s “off the record” remark is bullshit.  You see, I only know because internet gossip hound Matt Drudge posted Kerry’s remarks to his website.  Perhaps Drudge needs a remedial course in attribution and journalistic ethics.

When something is “off the record” it is typically “provided to inform a decision or provide a confidential explanation, not for publication.”1 In other words, it’s not appropriate to even publish the comments, let alone attribute them to the speaker.  Drudge, of course, clouds this issue with the ridiculous claim that there was confusion over whether the remarks ought to be treated as on or off the record.  If we allow for a moment that this was the case, the following question arises: If you’re a journalist, and you have the option of publishing something which might have been off the record or not publishing it, wouldn’t you err on the side of caution based on your journalistic ethics?  Sure you would.  Unless, of course, you’re willing to sacrifice journalistic ethics to take a cheap shot at someone for political purposes.  Then, I guess it’s fair game, right?

I wouldn’t even care about this story — most major media outlets ignored it, as they should have — except now it’s entered the conservative echo chamber and there is an attempt to let it snowball into a substantive campaign issue.  The Washington Times reported on Drudge’s story, keeping it alive.2 A few days ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Mayor Richard Daley felt that “Kerry’s remark symbolized a hate-filled brand of politics.”3 Give me a break, Dick.


So, the story that shouldn’t even have been a story is getting some legs.  I hope Drudge is proud of himself.

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