Thursday, April 23, 2009

Obama official to speak 'off the record' . . . live on the internet

On April 28th, General Counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative Tim Reif will be speaking on a Cato Institute panel about "Restoring the Pro-Trade Consensus". If you're in the Washington-area, you can stop by Cato's downtown building and hear the discussion in person. If you're not nearby, according to Cato, you can "Come back to this page to watch the event live."

There's just one catch: Mr. Reif's remarks are "off the record", or so we are to believe.

The details of how one can speak covertly live on the internet are still sketchy. For one, if a panelist is responding to something Reif says, can one report their remarks -- even if it's clear from their response what it is they are responding to? ("I disagree. We shouldn't put babies in blenders.")

A lot of absurd questions come to mind for a reason: because it's absurd to speak "off the record" at a public event, during a panel discussion, live on the internet. To use the phrase in that context is to demonstrate one does not know what it means. As Washington City Paper editor Erik Wemple writes, "You cannot speak into a microphone and be off the record at the same time."

The most frustrating aspect of the absurdity? That there's no chance the "General Counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative" will say anything remotely of interest or newsworthy to justify the supposed "off the record" nature of the remarks.

"[D]on’t think for a moment that Reif, or any other government official operating under the same rules, will use that off-the-record protection to say amazing and insightful things about U.S. trade policy," writes Wemple. "He’ll go common denominator all noon long. Because it’s a public event."

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