Obama Advisors & Off the Record Comments

The Associated Press reported today that Samantha Power resigned on Friday as Barack Obama’s advisor after being quoted as calling Hillary Clinton a “monster.”

This situation brings to light a very important topic in public relations- off-the-record comments. Power’s comment was made during an interview with The Scotsman: “She is a monster, too- that is off the record- she is stooping to anything.”

Power’s fatal flaw is making a statement, then saying it was off the record. That’s not how you do it, and no reporter is obligated to abide by your after-the-fact “off the record” rule.

As a rule, I don’t think it is a great practice to make off-the-record comments, and I don’t routinely advise clients to make them.

Although I don’t advise them, I understand that you can develop a rapport and a mutual trust with a reporter and you feel comfortable making them. Prior to saying anything you don’t want published, ask the reporter about his/her policy regarding off-the-record comments. Some reporters don’t allow them. The reason is because most often, they are not able to publish comments that can’t be attributed to someone, or must be attributed to an anonymous source. Although we all see anonymous sources quoted occasionally in newspapers, there are strict guidelines that reporters and editors use prior to publishing those comments.

If you feel comfortable enough to make off-the-record comments, this is how I recommend you do it:

“The following information I’m going to tell you is off the record.” Then say what you’re going to say. When you are finished making your off-the-record comment, say, “This concludes my off-the-record comment,” or words to that effect.

When in doubt, I refer everyone back to plain old common sense: if you don’t want to see something printed in the paper or put on TV, don’t say it.