The Washington Post

NYT reporter spits at Hill staffer’s ‘background’ stipulation

Got unsolicited e-mail saying Pelosi will stay from Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “On background, as source close to Pelosi,” email began.

— Mark Leibovich (@MarkLeibovich) November 14, 2012

Don’t see that sort of tweet every day.

The skinny is just as is appears: New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich had received an e-mail from Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, promoting today’s much-traded story that the congresswoman will stay on as the House’s top Democrat. Hammill was following a great Washington tradition, attempting to “background” the quotes in the e-mail — that is, making them attributable to a “source close to Pelosi.”

Well, Leibovich had never signed on to that arrangement. He blasted it out via Twitter, outing Hammill as the “source close to Pelosi.”

Twitter, said Leibovich in a quick chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, is a great platform to expose the “preposterousness” of how the Washington flack-journo complex operates. In this case, the e-mail was clearly a mass affair, heading out to “hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters,” assumes Leibovich. And it came over his transom, says Leibovich, as the ”news of this was well out the door.”

As to the ground-rule dimension of the affair: “Can someone unilaterally declare something on background ... without consent of the reporter? I would say you can’t,” says Leibovich. That said: “I meant this in the context of the day-to-day absurdity of these transactions rather than making any grand statements about whether to honor unilaterally mandated ground rules.”

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


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