When Supreme Court Justice Scalia spoke recently at Time Warner headquarters, he insisted it be "off the record." And so gossip columnist Lloyd Grove, who attended the event, published a "hypothetical" account, describing what Scalia "might have said." Bob and Lloyd discuss his end-run around the rules.
BOB GARFIELD:: Shortly before Thanksgiving, Time Warner hosted the latest in its series of semi-public newsmaker events. The guest was a real get - the notoriously press-averse Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And many in the invited crowd of nearly 100 business leaders and reporters hoped it would yield a goody bag of juicy quotes. But moments before the event began, Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons announced that, well, they'd changed their mind. The event was now off-the-record and could not be reported. Two days later, Lloyd Grove, writer of the Lowdown gossip column for the New York Daily News, wrote an article in which he detailed Scalia's comments in the subjunctive tense, writing of a hypothetical event at which Scalia might have taunted the gathered media by remarking, quote, "The press is the only business not held responsible for its negligence," and might have said about the Gore versus Bush election decision, "What do you expect us to do? Turn the case down because it wasn't important enough?" Lloyd Grove joins us now to discuss his journalistic and linguistic defiance. Lloyd, welcome back to the show.
LLOYD GROVE:: Hey, Bob. How are you?
BOB GARFIELD:: Now, before we discuss what you did, tell me what "off-the-record" means.
LLOYD GROVE:: Well, as I understand it, off-the-record means you can't use it. I guess arguably it can inform what you write based on other sources, but in order to have an off-the-record agreement, it must be agreed to by all parties. So if I was sitting in an interview with Dick Parsons and he said, "Can we go off-the-record?," it would be up to me as the journalist to say, "Yes, Dick, we can," or, "No, Dick, I think we should stay on-the-record," and then the interview would proceed accordingly. So saying "off-the-record" before a large group of people just doesn't wash, in my experience.
BOB GARFIELD:: Well, evidently not, because [LAUGHS] you certainly [LAUGHS] decided to ignore it, at least up to a point. In your piece, you wrote what Scalia might have said had he been addressing a hypothetical audience. Did [LAUGHS] you immediately decide to do that?
LLOYD GROVE:: I immediately decided I would do this, not as a way to, you know, try and get around Dick Parsons' off-the-record announcement but really as a way to twit him for it. And, in fact, all the quotes I use from Scalia were direct, and I don't think anybody mistook them for being otherwise.
BOB GARFIELD:: Now, before you joined the New York Daily News as a gossip columnist, you did similar work for the Washington Post. And certainly the Washington journalistic culture puts up with a lot of off-the-record and not-for-attribution nonsense every day in official briefings by government officials, who might be the Secretary of State, but you have to read between the lines to figure it out. Before you ever ran into the Scalia situation, had this whole off-the-record thing gnawed at you?
LLOYD GROVE:: Yeah, and the Washington Post from time to time had tried to make a stand against this nefarious practice. I remember when Ben Bradley was in charge of the paper, they printed a picture alongside a story in which such a briefing was discussed and a high federal official, unnamed, and there was a picture of some various officials and Cyrus Vance, who was identified in the caption as "a high federal official."
BOB GARFIELD:: [LAUGHS] And at the time was Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State.
LLOYD GROVE::: That's right. And - [OVERTALK]
BOB GARFIELD:: [LAUGHS]
LLOYD GROVE:: - this is sort of something that people roll their eyes about in Washington. Every so often news organizations make a stand and say they won't attend such briefings. But after a few times of that, everybody reverts to form.
BOB GARFIELD:: All right. Now, fair enough. But I have to say you had another option, and that is, whether Parsons was right or wrong, when he said, "This is all off-the-record," you could have gotten up from your seat and just walked out of the room, in effect, declaring "I do not care to attend a briefing under these ground rules."
LLOYD GROVE:: Though I had another option. I could have offered to go to jail to protect my confidential source, Justice Scalia. [LAUGHTER] [LAUGHS] I mean, I was there covering a public event. And frankly, writing a gossip column five days a week, I don't have the luxury of attending events just for my own edification. If I go somewhere, I'm going to write about it. I have to. And if somebody tells me in advance that I can't write about something before I go, and that's the ground rules, then I ain't going.
BOB GARFIELD:: So on top of everything else that Time Warner did in this event, they were just rude to you because they were stealing your time.
LLOYD GROVE:: [LAUGHS] No. In fact, it all worked out rather well, I think.
BOB GARFIELD:: [LAUGHS] All right, Lloyd. Well, as always, thank you for joining us.
LLOYD GROVE:: My great pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD:: Lloyd Grove writes the Lowdown column in the New York Daily News. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Coming up, a political dust-up over cable a la carte and a film of a future where a media monolith called "Googlezon" rules the news.
BOB GARFIELD:: This is On the Media from NPR. (FUNDING CREDITS) END SEGMENT B STATION BREAK 2 (MUSIC) * SEGMENT C *