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Obama’s leaked comment breach of integrity

According to ABC, President Obama has dipped his toes into pop culture. Last week, after Kanye West rudely stole the microphone from innocent little Taylor Swift after she won her first VMA, the President reportedly called the hip hop star a “jackass.”

Was it justified? Probably. Obama was simply providing a reason for why a famous rap star would make “a perfectly nice” little girl cry. And no one, except maybe Kanye himself, seems to be particularly enraged about this comment, as the interruption was clearly rude.

Obama spoke like a normal person would have. However, normal people do not have to represent their country. He realized this, and so he followed his statement with a comment intended to cover his own tail, asking reporters to “cut the President some slack... I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my plate.”

But why should he have needed to cover his actions? Obama was in a closed session with reporters talking “off the record.” That record includes the Twitter record for journalist Terry Moran, who posted the comment, which spread across the Internet possibly faster than Kanye’s original comments and the successive Internet meme. ABC has since offered an official apology for their breach of journalistic integrity, posting a comment that discusses the expectations of privacy involved in an off-the-record session.

For journalists to maintain the respect that they once held, they need to adhere to the values of the profession. Conversations that are off the record should stay as such to maintain a level of trust and a rapport that would be impossible otherwise. While the future of traditional journalism seems uncertain, breaches like this one can only further erode what remains.
This erosion is already being multiplied by blogs like TMZ, which first published the entire audio clip of Obama’s comments, and then later posted the video. The record was clearly running.

The question that comes out of all this is whether off-the-record conversations can continue to exist, or if they are just one piece of the multi-faceted journalistic tradition that is being killed by our new, pervasive digital world.