Kurtz on Off-the-Record Discussions and Network Interviews with the President

A few interesting items in Howie Kurtz’s online WaPo chat yesterday, Critiquing the Press:

Washington, D.C.: When Walter Pincus revealed off-record discussions between Josh Block and three reporters, did he rat out any of his Post colleagues?

Intelligence Pick Blames ‘Israel Lobby’ For Withdrawal (Post, March 12)

If one reporter at the Post, sitting in his cubicle, promises a source confidentiality, and a reporter in an adjacent cubicle overhears the conversation and can figure out who the source is, can that second reporter write a story free of that privilege?

Howard Kurtz: Reporting on an overheard conversation would be flat-out unfair. But there are times when journalists have had to report on the confidential sources of other journalists, even in their own newsroom. I, for instance, had to question who Washington Post reporters had used as sources in the Valerie Plame affair (as well as those used by Bob Novak, Matt Cooper, Tim Russert, Judy Miller et al). I did not know who the sources were until that information emerged in the court proceedings and Bob Woodward eventually acknowledged the administration source who told him about Plame’s CIA role.

Herndon, Va.: Does the president, or any subject for that matter, get to decide who interviews them? Or does the network decide?

Howard Kurtz: The network decides. In this case, Kroft made the pitch because he had interviewed Obama during the campaign and after the election, so he had developed a relationship with the Obama team. In the last administration, it was Scott Pelley who interviewed President Bush.