"Jackass," And The Value Of Off-The-Record

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ABC's Terry Moran broke some news he wasn't supposed to last night when he tweeted that, during a CNBC interview, President Obama had called Kanye West a "jackass" for breaking on-stage at the VMAs and grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift. The tweet that was posted, then deleted, Politico reports, was:

TerryMoran: Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a "jackass" for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT's presidential.

ABC later said the comment was off-the-record and Moran tweeted it prematurely as ABC was reporting on CNBC's interview. Presidential or not, unless I'm mistaken, pretty much everyone agrees that Kanye was being a jackass. Kanye apologized. Obama's descriptor isn't all that politically charged. But Moran called him out for using such base language while holding such high office. Trouble is, it wasn't supposed to be public, so maybe the expectations for presidential comportment should be relaxed.

Off-the-record comments are given lots of treatment by analysts of the journalistic profession, and most of it deals with the risks and benefits associated with reporting their content. But there's another function off-the-record agreements serve, particularly in a sit-down interview settings, and even more particularly in ones being taped on video: they allow the interviewer and the interviewee to be themselves. The public personas dissolve for a minute, the interviewer and interviewee get to know each other a bit, and the whole interview is improved by it. The two relate better, and they get in the habit of saying what they actually think.

If Obama takes heat for this, he might be more cautious about being himself around reporters. Which is a shame, because "jackass" is probably a good term for Kanye's drunken mic-stealing, not that Kanye would appreciate it, and we're all better off if the president loosens up.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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