Off the Record.

Last week, the Obama administration held an outreach event at the White House with black bloggers. The meeting didn’t get much attention at the time, but that changed when the NYT’s Media Decoder blog reported that portions of the event, which were supposed to be on background or completely off the record — including phone video of a drop-in from President Obama — still ended up on some of the bloggers’ sites.

This seems amateurish. But Jill Tubman of  Jack and Jill Politics, the popular politics blog, pushed back  on some of the eye-rolling on their post on the meeting, in an odd post saying that the attendees just couldn’t be expected to abide by the rules.

So the bottom line here — I don’t have the details on what parameters were put out there — I wasn’t there. But you cannot seriously expect to put a bunch of black people in a room at the White House, then surprise them with a random visit from the first black president and not expect some excitement. And excited black bloggers in this day and age tends to mean excited blogging, complete with exciting photos and videos shared with their communities who will also then become very excited vicariously. (This is sort of the point, right?)

Lookahere — the mainstream media would have you believe that black bloggers are “unprofessional”. And they are right in the sense that we are not your journalists of yore. We are ordinary people who blog and thus may or may not be acquainted with what are now in the rapid-fire, real-time social media-driven world we live in — outdated expectations and mores about how we will and will not speak to our communities about what happens when we meet with members of our larger African-American community who happen to work at the White House. Or wherever/whatever.

Hmmm. So here’s what the agenda for the meeting, handed out to the bloggers in attendance, looked like.

So yeah. The ground rules for the meeting are pretty expressly stated there.

There’s a serious conversation to be had about access and the way the White House reflexively places all sorts of otherwise innocuous communication on background — think of the increasingly prevalent attribution to  “top administration officials,” which can obfuscate important contextual details in news stories — but that’s not the same as resorting to  ex post facto indignation about the agreed-upon rules, or deciding to flout those rules because they became inconvenient later.

Also, just as an aside, here’s CPL, the JJP blogger who originally posted on the summit, in the comments of Jill’s post.

Sounds like Real Clear Politics and Ta-Nehisi are more angry about the fact that they didn’t get an invite to the White House.

Yeah, that’s it. They’re just bitter haters.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • CuteLittleMe

    Welp..more than likely they won’t be invited back and unfortunately for others their crass and insensitive decision will unfortunately weigh when potential black press/blog/media groups are considered. Quite honestly, I would have expected a response like that from MediaTakeOut. Then there’s this:

    “But you cannot seriously expect to put a bunch of black people in a room at the White House, then surprise them with a random visit from the first black president and not expect some excitement”

    Actually, I would expect it. It’s called being professional, seeing as their blog comes off as being informed and cough *pseudo* cough intellectual in most cases.

    Also, I am sure that there have been many others who have been asked in a variety of situations to “keep it to themselves” even though the details that they were receiving were extremely juicy and privileged info [not to be discussed] and were able to successfully do so. The fact that they clearly can’t hold water will more than likely inhibit them from experiencing some other really awesome stuff. Kudos to them for their poor judgement.

    Oh and I am not a blogger so no need to paint me as jealous of their achievement of being invited to the Whitehouse, evidently it wasn’t based on much since MediaTakeOut was there…but I digress. They shouldn’t take someone thinking about the future of the black community and how our media folk are portrayed as “hating”..that honestly shows their inability to look at the bigger picture.

  • Jack & Jill tried to come up with a million excuses, but there’s really no defense for blogging about something that was supposed to be off the record.

    Bloggers constantly scream abt how they aren’t taken seriously & they are marginalized in the MSM – yet they break one of the biggest rules in journalism. You wanna be considered a journalist? Great, then follow the rules.

    Next they’ll be whining & crying abt why they aren’t invited back to the White House. Oh well, they did it to themselves. I hope other bloggers are paying attention & taking notes – “off the record” means something.

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  • Naima

    *slap to the forehead, hold for a sec and proceed to drag hand down rest of face****

    Damn fam…way to fuck it up for other black bloggers who DO WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

    The only time I would say reporting on something dubbed “off the record,”or “no attribution,” after the fact is when you have successfully convinced the primary source that your story can’t be reported without that juicy tidbit. Sometimes it works, other times you just chalk it as a loss and move on.

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  • April

    Just left a comment at JJP. You’re right that the post’s excuses were weak (especially since CPL contends she followed the “on background” directive for the most part–why wasn’t that said up front?). And it’s always bad form to dismiss critique with “You’re just hatin’.” In fact, perhaps that saying should be retired.

  • tedra

    Hm. I am going to differ a bit here.

    Ta-Nehisi and many (most?) of the Postbourgie folks are either trained as or working as journalists–and can thus be expected not only to know the rules, but to have internalized them (as professionals do, and should).

    Presumably CPL doesn’t have that background. And although I haven’t followed this (so I could be missing something), based on the description *in this post*, it seems to me that CPL did some things that have long been an unspoken expectation of some of the best bloggers: (1) acknowledged that the person writing is a *person*, with feelings and a sense of identity that color his/her approach to events/politics; (2) told the audience something that they would otherwise not be able to find out about (precisely because of those rules) and that they, too, would find interesting on a personal level as well as (perhaps more than) a political one; (3) identified as much as/more with his/her readers than with the important people that his/her blogging allowed access to; (4) violated “professional journalistic standards” in the interests of (ahem) truth.

    That said, sure, the consequences might be unfortunate. J&J might *not* be given access of that sort again. The WH might not do more of these blogger outreach things. They might do blogger outreach but not with the “black blogs.”

    BUT. First of all, it seems to me that if the WH (or the general reading public) sees the behavior of one or a few bloggers as representative of “black bloggers” generally, then the problem isn’t that said bloggers weren’t being good race men or women; the problem is that the WH/public is being racist. If the reaction is broader than that, and applies to bloggers generally, then the racism charge isn’t relevant, but we’re still dealing with a fundamental tension between one of the major characteristics of political blogging as an activity/milieu that is in any way different from professional/corporate journalism.

    I think the basic questions here are about the still ongoing problem we, as a society have, with categorizing blogs. We *know* the difference between a “major newspaper,” a “local newspaper,” a “tabloid,” a “newsmagazine,” and so on. That blogs are still not categorized as easily as paper periodicals is a *good thing*, if one that will inevitably end. It’s part of why people read blogs as well as, or even instead of newspapers, and is therefore part of why blogs get invited to the WH. That is, the reason blogs are “big” right now is b/c bloggers blend and cross genres, which means that the “professional expectations” attributable to *different kinds of blogs* are still being worked out–and that bigness is part of what gets “the blogosphere” attention.

    That said, I’m sure that the WH was also inviting blogs in the same way that they might invite journalists: here is a publication that has a readership, we can help get our message out, etc. But I think it’s naive to believe that anyone in the blog chain of information–WH, writers, readers–doesn’t also realize that part of the appeal (and thus power) of blogs is that their difference from traditional journalistic outlets isn’t just that one is delivered on a screen and the other on paper.

    I agree that bloggers have professional and practical obligations to respect their sources (though I’m not sure I’m 100% in agreement with Snarksdale and the commenters above me about what those obligations are). But I think we should keep in mind that sources *also* have professional–and practical!!–obligations when they deal with bloggers, one of which is the recognition that bloggers don’t always follow the same rules journalists do.

    • tedra

      I should add that I do think that the claim that Ta-Nehisi is jealous is a stupid one, though. I would assume that his criticism is coming from his own sense of blog/journalistic ethics, which is quite an admirable (and clear) one–but one that is definitely pretty close to the “traditional columnist” standards.

      • Persia

        At the same time, you can’t have it both ways– you can’t agree to something being ‘off the record’ and then say ‘I’m a blogger, that’s just how I roll.’ Well, you can, but you’re opening yourself up to criticism, and you’re going to lose trust. I’ve long been in the camp that news sources shouldn’t use ‘off the record’ sources at all unless absolutely necessary, but if that’s your belief, you shouldn’t attend a super-secret blogger party. Even if it’s at the White House.

        • tedra

          Why does the WH get to have it both ways–to say “we want to talk to the bloggers because they have the street cred of keeping it real” *and* to say “but we expect you to follow the rules of traditional journalism”?

          And why do people who read blogs act as apologists for those in power rather than for the folks who are providing them the content that they clearly enjoy?

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  • Leigh

    I agree w/the analysis in the OP. What I don’t understand is why the WH is hosting a call that in its entirety is either OTR or “On Background”? That just seems ridiculous. Is this common?

    • tedra

      Agreed. I’m sure it is. It’s part of the thing that pisses me off most about politics, actually: people not having the balls to stand behind their own words.