Should you grant a source’s request for “off the record?” What if he asks after the interview is over?
That’s a judgment call. Ask yourself how important the information is.Is it worth a front page banner headline?Is it worth burning a source of reliable information?
Will you get better info later by granting the request.
We’ve found that a few sources will:
1. Tell you almost anything if you don’t identify them.
2. Mean ‘off the record’ if you won’t identify them.
When we covered Washington:1. Pentagon officials leaked defense strategies to us.
2, State Department officials did it, too.
We agreed that they wouldn’t be identified.The President even made an amazing admission.He admitted he had authorized a CIA-FBI operation.They were to kidnap a fugitive who stole millions of dollars.He hid in a country where we had no extradition agreement.
Some asked for answers to be on ‘deep background.’ That meant you couldn’t use what they told you.
It was for your understanding of strategy or policy only.
They implied they were sharing this because they trusted you.
Be skeptical of their motives. They are probably conning you.
They may only aim to mislead you or leak disinformation.
We always suspected their motives were less than honorable.
We once taped a Congressman off-the-record.
He knew we were taping but said ‘off the record.’
We later played back parts we wanted to publish.
Surprisingly, he agreed to the controversial parts.
In such interviews we agree what ‘off the record’ means.We ask they request it before they answer a question.
Elected officials have told us nasty things about other officials.
Afterward, they realize this could damage their own careers.
When asked not to publish, we did as they asked.
We had already decided against publishing as it was petty.
But we always ask for a favor if we agree to do this,
One official leaked ‘executive session’ secrets to us for years.Our agreement was that we would never:
1. ID him as the source.
2. Publish details that would lead back to him.About 25% of what he told us was worth publishing.
But that 25% led to much other critical information.
We protected another source years later.
He told us of a disgruntled cop’s plot against us. That was quickly quashed after we talked with the mayor.
Such choices are rare. It helps to know you have choices.These kinds of tips are in my “Compelling Writing” eBook.For details email JerryBellune@yahoo.com