A U.S. general and a political journalist have had their less-than-flattering comments become the talk of the interwebs.
The former is, I could argue, someone who should uniquely understand the value of information control. The latter is in a profession that often relies on failures in information control in order to demonstrate its value.
While holding two different perspectives on this concept, in both cases, the general's and the journalist's media behavior cost them their jobs, one by way of a public dismissal (of the most public variety) and the other through a speedy resignation.
And, in both cases, the most naïve and hackneyed of all possible excuses was deployed.
Yup... General Stanley McChrystal's handlers and WaPo's David Weigel said they were "off-the-record" when their comments came back to bite them via Rolling Stone (McChrystal) and during participation in a since-scuttled listerv for journalists (Weigel).
People actually still believe in this concept?
When a journalist is on assignment, as the Rolling Stone reporter most certainly was, there is no such thing as "off-the-record." Ever. That journalist is there to observe, contextualize, and present what occurred.
As to Weigel, what did he think would happen when he distributed his severely worded opinions about his beat and people he covered on a listserv of 400 journalists? To quote Sam Whitmore, "At it's most granular level, journalism is not a team sport." Whether Ezra Klein's "JournoList" was intended for centerish-to-left-wing reporters or otherwise, it was a bad move.
(Furthermore, what's with Weigel's pre-WaPo fascination with rodent copulation metaphors and did he think that a handful of people, even in DC, would catch the All the President's Men reference?)
When I was much closer to media relations, especially when I was professionally judged almost exclusively by my success in that activity, I came to tell clients that nothing was ever off-the-record and to think otherwise was dangerous. Years later, the soundness of this approach was confirmed when I attended a journalism conference recently and one very senior reporter was demonstrating to everyone how a handheld audio recorder could easily be disguised as a mobile phone.
As newsrooms get thinner, the competition more fierce, and citizen-journalists more eager, the concept of going off-the-record while on assignment (and even off assignment) will seem a quaint anachronism.