What is Off the Record?

When we polled PRNewser readers this past April and asked if they go off the record with the media, 50% said, “Yes. It’s a great way to build relationships and help reporters,” while 25% said, “No way. It’s too risky for me, my clients, or my company.”

In a story in The Atlantic, NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd and managing editor for NBC News’ Washington bureau Albert Oetgen look into the differences between “off the record,” “on background” and “on the record.”

They often can mean different things to different people, and of course, that’s when trouble can arise, as it did for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who lost his job after Rolling Stone feature story had him and his staff criticizing top White House officials, including the White House President.

Here’s how Pete Williams, the network correspondent covering the Justice Department and Supreme Court for NBC News described the terms:

There is ‘On The Record.’ Quoting verbatim with attribution: ‘Santa Claus is a fraud,’ said Pete Williams.”

“There is ‘On Background.’ You can use the information without attribution, or with generic attribution: ‘Santa Claus is a fraud,’ said a network correspondent.”

“There is ‘Off The Record.’ You know it, you can shop it around, act on it, but you can’t report it, until you get it somewhere else.”

“Where the thing begins to get hazy is around the idea of Deep Background, the shadowy territory between On Background and Off The Record: ‘NBC News has learned that some network correspondents think Santa Claus is a fraud.'”

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments.