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.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
It's in the details: Five ways to enhance your kitchen makeover
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Border collies: A 'mouse trap' for geese on the National Mall
Play Videos
Bao: The signature dish of San Francisco
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
What you need to know about Planned Parenthood
Play Videos
How to save and spend money at college
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
Europe's migrant crisis, explained