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Off The Mark With Off The Record?

We learn this morning of President Bush’s new strategy for dealing with that pesky Washington press corps: private, off the record meetings with reporters.

At least two such sessions have taken place in the past week, and they included reporters from the Washington Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Cox Newspapers, ABC News, and The Washington Post

Why the new strategy? One reporter said “Clinton did it toward the end of his second term. A little bit of legacy-building, post-impeachment, post-Monica.” Another felt it was a way to reverse Bush’s sagging public support. Most everyone agrees that it is due, in large part, to the well-known fact that Bush is more loose, friendly and personable in person than he is during major press conferences.

The meetings do pose one dilemma, however: Although reporters will be eager to snatch up the opportunity to meet with the president, the off the record sessions do violate a informal code of ethics amongst reporters that serious policy discussions with the president be on the record.

    Critics say reporters should not subject themselves to being influenced or “spun” under ground rules that prevent the comments from being relayed to the public. But many news organizations say the sessions give reporters a rare opportunity to observe the president up close and to gain insight into his thinking and concerns.


    Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief, said he did not know if any of his staff had been to such a session. But he showed concern over where such discussions might lead. “If people are going to make small talk about kids and vacations, it is not a big deal,” he said. “But when you get in to policy discussions, it can be.”

The New York Times has declined to participate. DC Bureau Chief Philip Taubman said, “As a matter of policy and practice, we would prefer when possible to conduct on-the-record interviews with public officials.”

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