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Jerry Brown: Off Work But On the Record

When is something on or off the record?

Jerry Brown seems to have gotten caught in the ever-problematic trap of politicians saying something to a reporter and thinking that it is private when, in fact, no restrictions were placed on the information.

It stems from his comparison of Meg Whitman’s seemingly limitless resources to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist. Brown made the statement to a KCBS radio reporter, Doug Sovern, but Brown had been jogging when he ran into Sovern while the latter also was out for a bike ride.

Per Politico, Brown says that the conversation was off-the-record, even though Sovern insists no conditions were placed on his remarks.

“Nobody had a pencil,” Brown told a San Francisco radio station. “Nobody said, ‘By the way, is this a
statement that you’re making to the public?’”

P.R. reps consistently instruct clients that nothing is off the record, but that advice never seems to be heeded. Nor is it really practical in the give and take and flow of information in politics, entertainment or whereever. But Brown is emerging into a statewide campaign of heightened scrutiny, so he better get used to it, in the same way that Carly Fiorina better get used to the idea that if she’s in a studio and there’s a mike attached to her lapel or a camera is staring at her, someone is watching.

It reminds me of a time last year, at a party following the White House Correspondents dinner, when I spotted White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and went up to him to ask his reaction of how the dinner went. He was polite and cordial, despite President Obama’s earlier ribbing, but when I started to grab for my notebook he started to shake his head. Wanting to get a general sense of how people felt about Wanda Sykes’ remarks, I said, OK, how about off the record.

“There is no such thing as off the record,” Emanuel said.

Then he went on to chat with a CBS News journalist who was there with him — presumably off the record.

It’s a good lesson. There is no such thing as off the record…until there is.

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