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Eric Deggans Headshot

Was Obama Advisor Felled by Act of Journalistic Malpractice?

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I just got a call from Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz so I guess this is a real issue.

Media blogs are buzzing a bit over some folks implication that Samantha Power, a well-known foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, wound up resigning today over a comment which journalists should not have printed.

I've also heard a little discussion about this on other journalism email listservs. The way the story has been reported so far, Powers tried to take back her already infamous quote about Hillary Clinton seconds after she said it. "She is a monster, too - that is off the record - she is stooping to anything," the Scotsman quoted her as saying. Before that, she had said ""We f***** up in Ohio...In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win."

I know the whole issue of on or off-the-record comments is complex for non-journalists. As a reporter, I try to be explicit with sources when a conversation is on or off the record -- off the record comments are usually for my ears only, unless the source agrees I can tell others, usually without their names attached. I rarely allow people to take back important things they've said on the record. If I'm talking to someone who is not particularly media-savvy, I may not be so didactic about rules.

But Power is hardly that. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has appeared on the Daily Show and posed for a pictorial in Men's Vogue. We're at a point in the campaign where the world's media is on full-fledged "gaffe mode" -- looking for the slightest verbal slip-up by any person connected to either candidate in a tight race. If anyone should know how to conduct herself around a reporter she doesn't know in a situation like this, it should be Power.

The bottom line, is that off the record conversations occur after both the source and reporter have agreed -- hardly something you can do when the source throws in the request after they've already said something. If I had been that reporter for the Scotsman, I would have printed Power's comments, too -- and felt bad for her when the inevitable forced resignation went down.

Read more coverage and reaction to Samantha Power's resignation