YOUR NEUTRAL APOSTROPHES SICKEN ME

Joe Nocera (no relation):

[Steve Jobs] went on to say that he would give me some details about his recent health problems, but only if I would agree to keep them off the record. I tried to argue him out of it, but he said he wouldn’t talk if I insisted on an on-the-record conversation. So I agreed.

Because the conversation was off the record, I cannot disclose what Mr. Jobs told me. Suffice it to say that I didn’t hear anything that contradicted the reporting that John Markoff and I did this week.

And there you go: In one fell swoop, Joe Nocera reported the contents of an off-the-record conversation. He said the off-the-record remarks had the same meaning as something he and another journalist previously wrote. Nocera even goes on to admit what he did:

I had just been handed, by Mr. Jobs himself, the very information he was refusing to share with the shareholders who have entrusted him with their money.

And he went right ahead and reported it.

“Off the record” means the journalist cannot report the substance, facts, details, gist, or any other meaning imparted by the off-the-record conversation. You can reveal the conversation happened, but you can’t reveal what was said. Some reporters have a hard time distinguishing these two states; I assume they’d have just as hard a time distinguishing the fact that a defendant in a court case entered a plea and reporting what that plea was. (This actually happened in the Homolka–Bernardo case. Wired couldn’t differentiate those two concepts. Wired’s side of the story was documented, I recall, on a Gopher site that no longer exists, but I see now somebody has written a précis.)

Usually, I complain that the Kids Today think going off the record means they can write “Steve Jobs refused to comment. But, off the record, Jobs candidly admitted he has serious digestion trouble in the wake of his surgery and has suffered numerous infections as a result.” But now we’ve got the Times doing it, so I guess the bar has been permanently lowered.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.07.28 14:26. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2008/07/28/nocera/

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