Leaks and Such

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In a story I wrote early this week I called the dissemination in the media of the audio of Obama’s San Francisco fundraiser a “leak.” NYU’s Jay Rosen, who co-created the website that Mayhill Fowler works for, contends that it wasn’t a leak. Rosen pointed out to me that in today’s print edition of the New York Times (I can’t vouch for this as I haven’t seen the dead tree version of the Times today and am on the road so relying on the virtual version) an anonymous Obama source told Kit Seelye that “from time to time, people do blog from events closed to the media.”

I couldn’t find a story from today online, but I did find a story from April 14 by Kit which smartly covers Fowler’s decision to blog about it even though she’s an Obama supporter. Kit’s story doesn’t include the quote Rosen sent me, but it does note that the unnamed person who invited Fowler to the event has since told her that fundraisers are always off the record.

Rosen also pointed to a San Francisco Chronicle story today where campaign spokesman Bill Burton contradicts that:

“Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said Tuesday that while the San Francisco event was closed to traditional media, it was not off the record. The campaign has not denied or challenged Fowler’s version of the event. Burton said there’s an expectation now – even at private events – that everything will be recorded and posted.”

Traditionally fundraisers have been closed to press and off the record. But, in this new Internet age of bloggers, fundraisers – especially for Democrats – have become an increasingly grey area of on or off the record, closed or open to the press. The situation puts the Obama campaign in an awkward position because, frankly, if the major news organizations knew the campaign was knowingly letting in bloggers to these events they would demand open press access – after all they are the ones paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel with the campaigns: why should some blogger get access that their reporters don’t?

As for my usage of the term leak – I did not mean it in a derogatory way. Indeed, leaks to my mind are often a hallmark of good reporting. If I gave Jay or Mayhill offense, I apologize. I used the term in the literal sense: “To permit the escape, entry, or passage of something through a breach or flaw,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. The campaign did not intend those comments for mass consumption or they would’ve invited the media and deemed the event “open press.” The fact that the comments leaked out is a good thing for journalism even as it forces us to question access and coverage in this new digital age.

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