Now, there are journalists that get carried away with the excitement of an
off-the-record conversation. Subjects can lie just as easily off the
record as on it. But it's absurd to say that the only worthwhile
conversations between journalists and the powerful are on the record. Off
the record conversations allow politicians to say things that they cannot say
publicly because the Fed Chairman or the Secretary of State or the Schools
Chancellor cannot be seen to say certain things as they are trying to affect
outcomes--they are, as the economists like to say, endogenous to the
system. Restricting their ability to explain things off the record would
restrict the supply of information available, not expand it.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Megan McArdle chimes in with the news that David G. Bradley's practice of selling corporations, journalists and government officials access to each other is perfectly okay because she's been to the meetings and she says so. She grinds her utter lack of professionalism or ethics in her audience's faces by titling the post "Information Wants To Be Free." She has some sort of argument, but this is the same person who didn't see any conflict of interest in having a boyfriend who was a once and future employee of right-wing astroturf organizations and defending the same organizations, because she said so. She also defends off-the-record conversations, because releasing information might interfere with the interview subject's plans. Here's the relevant part, because I am really hoping I misinterpreted the passage.
Posted by Susan of Texas at 12:45 PM
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If you have any understanding of
Off the record conversations allow politicians to say things that they cannot say publicly because the Fed Chairman or the Secretary of State or the Schools Chancellor cannot be seen to say certain things as they are trying to affect outcomes--they are, as the economists like to say, endogenous to the system
it's most likely wrong, because that makes no sense at all.
Plus, as clever pseud. points out at FMM, NO ONE IS SAYING THERE SHOULD BE NO OFF-THE-RECORD CONVERSATIONS, which MM so courageously defends and thoughtfully explains.
Off-the-record comments are essential because employees and officials often want to correct (what they perceive to be) a wrong within their organization, and want to be free to reveal inside info without fearing retribution. A journalist then SEEKS TO CONFIRM that info through other means, but at least the journo has been alerted to it.
MM, posing in her smarty pants, by which I mean panties, seems unaware of the validated, and therefore suspect, nature of off-the-record info acquired in sponsored, paid-for, monitored, legitimized settings.
How useful, how NOT saturated in self-serving propaganda, is info obtained from an official whose company or organization is paying (or being paid) to have him present it?
Is her fealty to "the market" so complete that she doesn't see the difference between sponsored revelations and private, risky ones?
You make the call.
Let's not neglect ridiculing her weak understanding of economics jargon ("endogenous"), using it to sound pompous rather than to communicate, while also citing circa mid-1990s Internet bubble marketing jargon ("information wants to be free"). She writes like she really doesn't understand the meaning of either term.
Information has as much value as those paying attention want to give it. If a public official has information that a lobbyist might want, the lobbyist might be willing to go as far as bribing that official to obtain it. But if the information is common knowledge, of course it is free (without price).
As participants in a "Salon" are given exclusive access to decisionmakers and journalists, maybe there isn't bribery going on in plain sight. But clearly the information being exchanged among a small circle of participants is of value, or else why would people pay to attend?
"Endogenous" used in MM's way makes me grit my teeth, because all the word means is that causation flows both ways. The Secretary of State
affects foreign policy, and foreign affairs and affect what the Secretary does. Making a comment on or off the record may have different effects on the foreign policy, but, 1) as has been said, no one's suggesting that off the record remarks should be banned, and 2) the "endogeneity" exists because it's intrinsic to the system of foreign affairs.
Oh well, it's just jounalism ethics. When will she need those?
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