Updated: July 6, 2013 6:22AM
You are fair, and we are unbalanced.
Dear Dr. Politics: Did you attend the recent off-the-record meeting between Attorney General Eric Holder and journalistic big shots to discuss the disturbing seizure of phone records and emails from reporters?
Reply: I did not for two reasons:
First, though reporters sometimes let people go off the record, they usually do so in limited circumstances and for brief periods. I can’t remember the last time I sat down for an entirely off-the-record schmooze-fest like the one Holder demanded.
Further, after somebody tells me something off the record or even on background, I usually say: “Why can’t that be on the record? Why can’t I use your name for that?” The source often agrees to let his name be used. But by making “off-the-record” the default mode in journalism, reporters get to learn all sorts of nifty stuff while denying their readers the same privilege.
Further, pols and their operatives study the press at least as much as — if not more than — we study them. Master political operative Lee Atwater would go off the record continually, even with reporters who he knew would break their off-the-record pledge. I once asked him why.
“Because they believe it more if you tell them it’s off the record,” he said.
Journalists should never forget that they exist to serve their readers, viewers and listeners, not their sources.
The second reason I didn’t go to the meeting is that I heard it was going to be a cash bar. Also, I wasn’t invited.
Dear Dr. Politics: The New York Times recently quoted sources saying that “some in the West Wing” wish Holder “would step down.” Another said, “The White House is apoplectic about him.” Will Holder be thrown under the bus or off the sled or wherever they throw people these days?
Answer: I doubt it. There is a difference between “the White House” and “the West Wing” being apoplectic and “the president” being apoplectic. The White House is a big place with lots of egos and agendas. Barack Obama does not report to his staff; they report to him. If he likes Holder, then Holder stays, at least until Holder is ready to go.
Further, the role of the attorney general has changed in the years since Watergate. An attorney general is no longer seen as the president’s lawyer, but as the nation’s lawyer. And it is not as easy as it once was to muscle an attorney general out of the job.
Dear Dr. Politics: Do you think it was proper for John McCain to fly to Syria to engage in private talks with rebel forces, including what may have been a group of terrorist kidnappers?
Reply: Are you daring to question the judgment of a man who thought Sarah Palin was ready to become president ?
McCain is a problem only when he has a free Sunday. On those rare weeks when he has not been invited to appear on a Sunday talk show, he feels free to go to extremely sensitive world trouble spots to see if he can screw things up.
Even Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has grown upset by McCain’s behavior.
Noting it is important to vet the rebels in Syria before we arm them to the teeth, Paul recently said: “Well, apparently we’ve got a senator over there who got his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re going to do vetting those who are going to get the arms.”
When Rand Paul starts to make sense, you know how messed up things must be.