October 9, 2013
President Obama (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
President Obama (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Yesterday afternoon, word leaked out that President Obama had convened another off-the-record meeting with journalists. This time, the attendees tilted to the right. The National Review’s Robert Costa tweeted that he’d joined a “small group of journalists” at the session. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York this morning tweeted that he’d attended as well. The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone and Politico’s Dylan Byers both report that Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, Post columnist Kathleen Parker and Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer also showed up.

The White House held another such session on Monday, which included Washington Post editorial page Editor Fred Hiatt (who is the Erik Wemple Blog’s boss).

Ho-hum, right? These things go down all the time. Sometimes they’re with ideological allies from the world of cable news, sometimes with New York Times editorialists and sometimes with conservatives.

When asked about yesterday’s session, White House spokesman Eric Schultz responded in an e-mail, “In addition to giving press conferences and interviews, the President meets on occasion with groups of reporters and columnists for off-the-record discussions. We don’t provide lists of participants.”

The Erik Wemple Blog previously addressed the pitfalls of off-the-record sessions with the president of the United States: If he says something newsworthy, there’s a good chance it’ll leak, via whispers or someone who seeks authorization to put a tidbit or two on the record. And if he doesn’t say anything newsworthy, well, why go in the first place?

Given the degree of skepticism that greeted news of progressive journalists meeting under these quiet terms with President Obama, York clearly felt compelled to explain his presence at the session, so he tweeted away:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit York for the long-form Twitter transparency. The trouble with his explanation, though, is its reliance on and adherence to every cowardly public official’s rationale for speaking to groups of people off the record — namely, that it enables them to express their views in a “more open way.” Or, in another common refrain, to have a more “frank” discussion.

That’s always garbage. The president calls these off-the-record sessions so he can plant his agenda in the heads of willing reporters — whether they be conservative, liberal or centrist — without any fingerprints. That’s it. There’s no more to it. Reporters may benefit by understanding what motivates the president, what irks him and what he feels about the media. Yet the off-the-record ground rules tilt the equation in the president’s favor, and he relies on his standing as the president of the United States to secure compliance from reporters and commentators. Judging from this tweet by Costa, the Journo Off-The-Record Program is among the Obama administration’s most successful initiatives:

 

To fact-check that, it is not an “honor” to be spun by President Obama. Or by anyone else.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.