What does “off the record” mean?
My understanding is, it means you aren’t going to quote someone. That whatever conversation you have is only meant to improve your understanding of a situation. Or person. Otherwise, what would be the point of ever having an off-the-record conversation?
Still, even though I’ve been in this business 40 years, I don’t traffic in hard news much, and there are details of the off-the-record tradition I’m uncertain about. Can you even say the conversation occurred? That 45 minutes were spent sitting in a certain office on the 5th floor of City Hall last Halloween, talking to a particular elected official who, shall we say, didn’t have the best week? I believe I can.
Can I mention what I said? I wasn’t off the record. I made some suggestions. How about talking about the challenge of being a mother while running one of the largest cities in the United States? “It might humanize you,” is what I actually said. Tact, not my strong suit. I prefer to think of it as being blunt.
Officials sometimes try to slip a shiv, anonymously, into their adversaries without leaving any fingerprints. “A high city official said...” It’s also a fig leaf for the frightened. If you don’t trust yourself, or anyone else, or if you are so thin-skinned you can’t risk that anything you say that might be held in an unflattering light.
Elected officials are sometimes torn between seeking the attention they crave and receiving the scrutiny they shun.
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