I continue to wonder whether off-the-record can work anymore.
At a closed Davos session, I witnessed a bizarre anti-American meltdown by a government official. It went on for sometime before I finally had it and called this person on it, saying that the rant was anti-American and that I was offended. I’m not telling you anything more — including what else I said — so as not to identify the official because the session was off the record, as I was firmly reminded by a WEF person and as the moderator reminded the room five seconds after the event (which is to say that they knew this was newsworthy). The rule is clear and I’m respecting it.
But the next day, the official’s outburst was the topic du jour among all the dozens of people at the meeting and they talked about it with more people. And all those people are powerful: journalists, media executives, business titans, government officials. So the off-the-record rule is no shield for a brain fart. The people who witnessed it could and very well may affect that official’s career.
The argument for making things off-the-record is that participants will feel freer to talk and to be candid. And that seems to make sense. But at a place like Davos, you’re still talking among people who can affect policy, business, brand, media, and careers. And they talk. Just because it’s not in the press or on blogs doesn’t mean such a lapse won’t have an impact.
Now add to this the live nature of media today. Someone could have broadcast that moment live or Twittered it as it happened. No one in that room did or likely would because we all want to be invited back to Davos. Yes, that motivates me to follow the rule. But at any other event that is supposed to be off the record, there is surely someone in the room who won’t care. And once it’s out online, it’s out.
All this is further confused because my own policy is that I am generally on the record — my life is an open blog — unless I label something, which I try to do to be clear and which usually involves someone else’s information or privacy I want to respect. This had an impact on a session I moderated, which fell under the off-the-record cloak. But I said I was on the record and at least one other person piped in and said she is always on as well. Then someone who didn’t pipe up got quoted on a blog (no big deal, by the way). So it’s hard to know who and what are off-the-record nowadays without a scorecard.
Life is simply becoming more public. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.