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December 21, 2014

Reporters to Dem Flacks: Don’t Do It

Several Democratic communication directors and press secretaries were working hard on their private Democrat press listerv today.

The topic: Do any Democratic flacks use boilerplate language to declare every email exchange off-the-record unless otherwise stated? If they do, is this auto-OTR effective?

HOH has yet to encounter such an annoying signature, but according to this email thread (that we really shouldn’t have seen), there are spokespeople out there who apparently use it.

“Without exception, everyone using a disclaimer … uses this: The information contained in this email is provided for background purposes only and is not for attribution or direct quotation unless specifically indicated,” said the curious Democrat who asked the question.

“I don’t believe any reporter would take a written ‘off the record’ on an e-mail [signature] seriously,” one respondent said. “It would only draw attention to what you wrote.”

It’s a fair point, so we took the question to some D.C. reporters. We asked them if they would honor the boilerplate language? Or would the signature make you want to punch them in the face and never work with them again? Or would the reporters have an entirely different reaction altogether?

“Punch, followed by a quote including the disclaimer,” one reporter said.

“Send them a dead fish,” another said.

“I would write back to the first [email] I ever got and say I did not agree to that,” a co-worker said. “It would also make me wary of ever working with them on anything. Also, I would embarrass them in HOH, especially if they are a taxpayer-paid [public information officer]. It makes it seem like they cannot do their job effectively, frankly, because it shows a lack of knowledge about how the system works.”

“I would want to punch with a hurricane of fists and fingernails,” a Hill reporter said. “That said, I stipulate with EACH email what the ground rules are for my question. Eff that footnote disclaimer.”

“If everything was on background, and this person consistently gave me quality information I couldn’t get anywhere else, then I would have no other choice,” a health care reporter tells us. “But there aren’t that many people who’d qualify for that category.”

“HA. OMG. What losers,” said a reporter covering the influence industry in Washington. “That is the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

“That’s bulls–t,” a political reporter said.

“That’s as stupid as calling savesies on a seat. You’re an adult. Act like one,” a longtime D.C. reporter snapped.

“I think this is some lazy flackdom that is not binding. I believe it falls upon the person being interviewed to establish the terms of the conversation from the beginning, and I don’t think a line in your signature does it,” a White House reporter told us. “However, I would probably give the person the benefit of the doubt and give them a heads up that I’m going to quote them once I get around to writing the story if the source is someone that I don’t want to burn.”

A couple other hacks replied that if they ever saw that kind of disclaimer, they would include a signature at the bottom of their own email declaring that everything in the exchange will be “on the record.”

Also, communication professionals, this unscientific survey has determined that no reporter has ever read a signature all the way through.

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