CURL: Top WH Official Asks To Go Off The Record. Journalists Report What He Said Anyway.

Journalists who cover the White House sometimes serve as “pool” reporters. In an effort to limit the number of people involved at any given event, one reporter is designated to report back to other journalists, delivering information that they all can use as if they were present.

That’s what Cheryl Bolen of Bloomberg News did on Saturday. In a report to other White House correspondents, Bolen wrote: “Pooler passes along these comments on background from a source familiar with the president’s health. ‘The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.’”

The quote came from an anonymous source, as Bolen noted. Some reporters were unsure what to do with the information — which contradicted the rosy picture President Trump’s doctors had just laid out during a press conference at Walter Reed hospital, where the president was taken on Friday for treatment after testing positive for COVID-19.

“This anonymous quote was sent to the White House pool reporters,” Washington correspondent for New York Magazine Olivia Nuzzi wrote on Twitter. “It arrived in my inbox and the inboxes of other reporters who cover this White House. I do not know where this quote came from, and why this anonymous person has the authority to contradict the president’s doctors.”

“CONTEXT: Behind the scenes, the White House has been fighting with reporters who have shared information from anonymous sources since we learned about Trump’s illness. But as you can see, the White House is sharing information from anonymous sources with us, too,” Nuzzi wrote.

Nuzzi continued: “The press and the public are struggling with this fundamental problem: we do not know who we can trust to receive reliable information about the health of the President of the United States.”

But then Nuzzi said: “UPDATE: Immediately after the press conference ended and before the anonymous statement was sent out, Mark Meadows briefed reporters without cameras—but he was caught on a feed asking to be off the record.”

In a video posted on YouTube, Meadows can be seen meeting with a small group of reporters after Saturday’s press conference at Walter Reed. At one point he says “off the record” and then offers more information, including the “very concerning” quote.

The rules for “off the record” are sketchy. Normally, when a source asks to go off the record, the reporter must agree to the condition first. But there’s no guarantee the reporter won’t report the information — the only consequence would be that the source would no longer trust that reporter.

But there’s nothing in the loose code of ethics that says a reporter who doesn’t agree to the precondition — say, overhears a source telling another reporter something off the record — can’t use the information. Still, there’s danger there. When I covered all eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the president once came back to the media’s section on Air Force One and talked at length off the record. Some journalists reported what he said, and Bush never came back again (although he did call select — and trusted — reporters up to his Air Force One office for off-the-record sessions).

The New York Times reported on Meadows’ OTR comment. “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” Mr. Meadows told the reporters, asking not to be identified by name. “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”

“In keeping with the ground rules he had set, Mr. Meadows’s remarks were attributed, in a pool report sent to White House journalists, to a person familiar with the president’s health. But a video posted online captured Mr. Meadows approaching the pool reporters outside Walter Reed after the doctors’ televised briefing and asking to speak off the record, making it clear who the unnamed source was,” The Times reported.

Then The Times cited some anonymous sources, apparently honoring their request to go unnamed. “The comments infuriated the president, according to people close to the situation, and he intervened directly to counter the perception that he was sicker than the White House had admitted. Within hours, he posted a message on Twitter saying, ‘I am feeling well!’ and called his friend and personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to have him convey a message to the outside world. ‘I’m going to beat this,’ Mr. Trump told him.”

Reuters followed with some more anonymous quotes.

“Meadows, whose initial comments were delivered on condition that he not be identified, altered his tone hours later, telling Reuters that Trump was doing ‘very well’ and that ‘doctors are very pleased with his vital signs.’ Meadows did not clarify the discrepancy in his comments. A Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said the president was not happy to learn of Meadows’ initial remarks,” the news agency wrote.

Trump’s chief of staff later walked back his assessment, telling Reuters that Trump was doing “very well” and that doctors were pleased with his vital signs. “The president is doing very well. He is up and about and asking for documents to review. The doctors are very pleased with his vital signs. I have met with him on multiple occasions today on a variety of issues,” Meadows said.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire

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