This morning, we all woke up to two news stories that illustrate it’s never a bad time to remind our clients of the basic rules for dealing with the media.
- The first story is that of presidential adviser Steve Bannon’s interview with the left-leaning The American Prospect, “Bannon ridicules White House adversaries in wide-ranging interview,” and takes positions seemingly at odds with his boss. There seems to be some suggestion that Bannon believed the discussion was off-the-record, even though the reporter said no such arrangement was asked for or agreed to. The nature of Bannon’s remarks would lead one to believe that he would have liked them to be off the record, of course.
- Secondly, the New York Times also reports today in Trump Lawyer Forwards Email Echoing Secessionist Rhetoric that the president’s personal attorney, John Dowd, had forwarded a controversial email to several people, including members of the media. Obviously unhappy, Dowd asked the Times if the publication was “sticking your nose in my personal email.”
- Of course, this all comes on the heels of the July 27 bombshell in the New Yorker, Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon, which we trust you are fully aware of and which led to Mr. Scaramucci’s firing.
If former owners of media outlets, high-powered D.C. lawyers and White House Communications Directors mistakenly believe their communications with reporters are merely friendly conversations, “civilians” like us can be forgiven for not knowing the rules. So it’s a good time to remind our friends and clients of The First Rule of Dealing with the Media:
Assume you are on the record.
Particularly if you instigated the communications, it is safe to assume that you know you’re communicating with a person who is paid to report what other people say.
On the record means that they can use what you say and attribute it to you by name.
If you want your discussion to be off the record, i.e. the information can’t be used or attributed to you, you must establish that by mutual agreement before the information is relayed. If the reporter doesn’t agree to make the information off the record, it’s not off the record.
Retroactive off the record is not a thing.
So if you have said something that you wish you hadn’t, it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle. (In fairness, some reporters may take mercy on you if you ask them nicely to put something off the record after you’ve blurted something out, but they are under no obligation to do so.)
If you get a call from a reporter that you weren’t expecting and you aren’t prepared, feel free to ask if you can call them back in 5 minutes (or however much time you need) and use that time to gather your thoughts and write down what you want to say. And then, most importantly, CALL THEM BACK.
It’s also worth noting that Texas is a one-party consent state, according to the Digital Media Law Project, so it’s legal for a reporter (or anyone) to record your conversation without your consent.
Like all of us, reporters have a job to do. Their job is to gather information and report it to the rest of the world. Love them or hate them, they’re a crucial part of our American ecosystem.
But make sure, when you talk to a reporter, to remember this: You. Are. On. The. Record.
At Muse Communications, LLC, we help lawyers, law firms and legal services companies tell their story and grow their business through content marketing and highly targeted media relations. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.