Reply: I did not for two reasons: First, though reporters sometimes let people go off the record in interviews, they usually do so in highly limited circumstances and for brief periods. I can’t remember the last time I sat down for an entirely off-the-record schmooze-fest like the one Holder demanded.
Further, after somebody tells me something off the record , I usually say: “Why can’t that be on the record? Why can’t I use your name for that?” The source often agrees to let his name be used. But by making “off-the-record” the default mode in journalism, reporters get to learn all sorts of nifty stuff while denying their readers the same privilege.
Further, pols and their operatives study the press at least as much as — if not more than — we study them. Master political operative Lee Atwater would go off the record continually, even with reporters who he knew would break their off-the-record pledge. I once asked him why.
“Because they believe it more if you tell them it’s off the record,” he said with a sly grin.
Journalists should never forget that they exist to serve their readers, viewers and listeners, not their sources.
The second reason I didn’t go to the meeting is that I heard it was going to be a cash bar. Also, I wasn’t invited.
Dear Dr. Politics: The New York Times recently quoted unidentified sources saying that “some in the West Wing” wish Holder “would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit.” Another said, “The White House is apoplectic about him, and has been for a long time.” Will Holder be thrown under the bus or off the sled or wherever they throw people these days?
Answer: I doubt it. At least not in the immediate future. There is a difference between “the White House” and “the West Wing” being apoplectic about a guy and “the president” being apoplectic about a guy. The White House is a big place with a big staff, lots of egos and lots of agendas. Barack Obama does not report to his staff; they report to him. And if he likes Holder, then Holder stays, at least until Holder is ready to go.
Further, the role of the attorney general has changed dramatically in the years since Watergate. An attorney general is no long seen as the president’s lawyer, but as the nation’s lawyer. And it is not as easy as it once was to muscle an attorney general out of the job.
Besides, Obama is in his last term and has much more freedom to be unpopular over certain issues. He knows Republicans are not going to go to the mattresses to defend the press. The Republicans like the press as much as they like pellagra.
Dear Dr. Politics: Do you think it was proper for John McCain to fly to Syria to engage in private talks with rebel forces, including what may have been a group of terrorist kidnappers?
Reply: Are you daring to question the judgment of a man who thought Sarah Palin was ready to become president and commander in chief on Day One and have her finger on the nuclear button?
McCain is only a problem when he has a free Sunday. On those rare weeks when he has not been invited to appear on a Sunday talk show, he feels free to go to extremely sensitive world trouble spots to see if he can screw things up.
Then, when he gets back, he is invited to go on the Sunday talk shows to defend himself. Even Sen. Rand “I’m Not My Father and That’s OK” Paul, R-Ky., has grown upset by McCain’s behavior.
Noting it is important to vet the rebels in Syria before we arm them to the teeth, Paul recently said: “Well, apparently we’ve got a senator over there who got his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re going to do vetting those who are going to get the arms.”
And when Rand Paul starts to make sense, you know how seriously messed up things must be.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.