The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Public speakers wishing to remain anonymous - Jesus!

Give Scalia his due: goons snatched tapes on his behalf, but he never tried to stop journos naming him as the guest speaker!

Contrast this with the tale of the public-speaking engagements of a certain CIA agent. According to the Clovis News-Journal (April 16) [1],
Three lectures by a Central Intelligence Agency officer were canceled on Wednesday after a local newspaper editor refused to withhold the agent's name in a planned story.

How, you might ask, did this editor discover the name? One of Karl Rove's boys?

The guy,
Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico Editor David Stevens said he questions the legitimacy of the security concern since the agent's name and photo have been posted in public places at Eastern New Mexico University for more than a week. The Portales News-Tribune published the agent's name last week after it was provided in a press release from the university, which has been promoting the event.

Oh. Not-so-secret agent, then.

The News-Journal is part of the Freedom group, apparently.

First - yet more proof, if any were needed, that America's spies are off the reservation - in more ways that one.

Agents going round the backwoods with I'm a spy. Ask me how. written on their backs - presumably authorised by Tenet. (Not, of course, that he would remember having done so.)

And spinners talking truly embarrassing bollocks:
"If the university wants to put posters up, we have no problem with that," CIA Public Affairs Officer Tom Crispell said. "We do have a problem with a CIA agent's name being gratuitously placed in the press. I think it's absurd."

Crispell said his main concern is that The Associated Press or another wire service could pick up the story in the Clovis News Journal or the Portales News-Tribune and that the agent's name could then be distributed to national and International media outlets.

If the few seaworthy rust-buckets of the Russian navy were sailing up the Potomac, would the CIA have a clue?

Second - cojones from the Fourth Estate. Yay! A Tree Grows in Clovis.

At the same time, the Poynter Forums (all pieces dated April 15 - no permalinks) have another twist on Scalia: speakers at big meetings who announce their remarks are off the record.

The editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, Andrew Silow-Carroll, asks
Are there any guidelines for when speakers at "public" events declare from the podium that their remarks are "off the record" or "not for publication"?

One example he cites is this:
At a morning session on Iraq, a junior State Dept. official informed the room of about 60 people that his remarks were not for publication.

A follow-up from Roland Martin gives an example from the 2000 Democratic Convention:
We attended a luncheon where Bill Richardson was speaking. We were allowed into the luncheon to shoot B-roll and to do interviews. When Richardson got up to speak, he spoke openly. Then when he was about to make an important point about the upcoming election, he looked up and said, "This is off the record. Are these your (looking at Rep. Jim Clyburn) cameras? Can we go off the record?" His press person rushed over and said, "Turn the cameras off." I told her, "No. We didn't agree to an off the record conversation. We were invited in and you can't just change the rules." Unfortunately, the freelance photographer had already turned the camera off (he was in a separate part of the room than me).

And, also from Jim Sweeney of Government Computer News:
Our reporters go to hear government officials speak at a conference and at the beginning of their presentations the speaker says they are off the record.

Our executive editor's position is that we are not bound by this because 1) we didn't agree to it beforehand and 2) it's ludicrous to speak before a room filled with people and ask to be anonymous.

When one thinks of anonymous briefing, it's spinner and hack closeted away, or in the booth of some bar. Clearly, the envelope is being pushed with a vengeance - and not only by the White House spin machine.

Of interest, however, is the long-standing British phenomenon of Chatham House rules - that I mentioned on September 19 2003 - which contemplate large meetings with statements made being treated as anonymous by those attending.

There may well be circumstances where this sort of arrangement is justifiable. The scope for abuse is all too evident.

  1. Clovis, NM, that is.

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