What Does “off the record” Mean?

It’s been true since the days of the Town Crier: be careful what you say or it could become part of public discourse.

An article I wrote back in 1995 (“How Much Should You Say in An Interview?”) postulated that there’s no such thing as “off the record,” and that suggestion is even more applicable today.

The prevalence of video recording devices makes it possible for whatever you think you’re saying “in private” to be captured without your knowledge and pushed out to multiple thousands of viewers within seconds. Even the best public speakers can be caught off-guard, such as then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Speaking to an intimate group of major donors, the candidate made disparaging comments about those in small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, where “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

With that backdrop, a classic public relations maxim is still relevant: “There is no such thing as ‘off the record’ when a reporter for The New York Times is present.”          Back >