Anthony Scaramucci contends that his vulgar remarks published by the New Yorker last week — which the White House cited as a reason for his removal as communications director — never should have become public.
A friendly reminder to anyone who interacts with journalists: Conversations with reporters are presumed to be on the record, unless both parties agree otherwise.
Still, it is possible to see how Scaramucci — and others — might have made an assumption about the “spirit” of the call to Lizza, in which Scaramucci referred to Reince Priebus as a “f---ing paranoid schizophrenic” and accused the then-White House chief of staff of disclosing sensitive information to the media. Lizza tweeted on the night of the call that he “can confirm that Scaramucci wants the FBI to investigate Reince for leaking” but did not mention speaking to The Mooch himself.
On CNN the next morning, Lizza discussed tension between Scaramucci and Priebus but again did not bring up the call — until Scaramucci phoned in to CNN and on live TV proceeded to describe part of the conversation.
“When I was speaking to you last night, Ryan, I said it was unpatriotic that you weren't telling me who the leakers were,” Scaramucci said. “You may have caught it the wrong way. I was teasing you, and it was sarcastic. It was one Italian to another.”
Lizza then explained that Scaramucci had called and pressed for the names of White House officials who told Lizza about a dinner involving President Trump and several Fox News personalities. Even at that point, however, Lizza seemed reluctant to reveal much of what he and Scaramucci had discussed.
“I want to be careful about what I say about that,” he said. Lizza added that Scaramucci “obviously publicly confirmed that we talked last night, and I'll just speak specifically to what he said, what he was referring to — just the part of our conversation that he talked about on your air.”
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota appeared to conclude from Lizza's caution that the phone call had been off the record or on background and that Lizza was honoring a promise to Scaramucci.
“Ryan, I appreciate what you're doing,” Camerota said. “There are rules, obviously, that we follow in journalism, and I appreciate that you are following those rules.”
But Lizza tells me that he actually was not following rules or respecting any kind of unspoken understanding about the “spirit” of the call. He was just trying not to give away the goods too soon.
“I didn't discuss the interview publicly, including on CNN, until we published it at NewYorker.com because I didn't want to scoop myself,” he said.
In other words, Lizza always planned to publish Scaramucci's remarks. “It would have been a gross violation of journalistic ethics to suppress the news from that interview,” he said.
“Just to be sure,” Lizza added, “I talked with Scaramucci again before publication, and he agreed the conversation was on the record and that I had every right to publish it, though he was not happy about it.”
Scaramucci told HuffPost that he feels burned by the New Yorker, but the reality is he burned himself.