Donald Trump is both addicted to media attention and prone to lying to suit his own needs. There is no reason—none—for journalists to allow him to harangue them off-the-record. So stop.
What, exactly, is accomplished by “off the record” meetings between journalists and political figures? A simple breakdown:
Politicians gain: A chance to convince journalists of their point of view with no risk to themselves; a chance to ingratiate themselves with the press; a chance to flatter and impress journalists, which may lead to more sympathetic coverage in the future.
Journalists gain: A sense of self-importance; a sense of access to power; the belief that they have gained an “understanding” of someone powerful that is deeper than what is generally offered to the public; the belief that this access will pay off for their journalism, somehow, one day, though it is impossible to guess how or when or if it will.
The public gains: Nothing.
In fact, the public gains less than nothing. Off the record meetings, by definition, do not produce any news that can be reported to the public, so naturally the public does not gain any useful journalism to consume. But the public also loses something. These sorts of cozy meetings between the press—the ones who are supposed to be using their access to fight for the public’s interest—and the powerful people that the press is supposed to be keeping in check are bad. They are actually, actively bad! They erode the public’s trust in the press. They do not produce any usable journalism as a direct result of taking place. And they inevitably produce softer coverage of powerful figures. (Every journalist will deny this. They will say that their coverage is unaffected by these sorts of humanizing, closed-door meetings. The fact that politicians continue to ask for such meetings is proof enough that they work. These meetings work thanks to human nature, which is to treat our personal acquaintances with more deference than others, and journalists are still humans, at least a little bit. The solution is not for journalists to pretend that they are not subject to human nature, but instead for them to refrain from going to these meetings.)
Often, members of the press will say they go off the record meetings because that is the only sort of access they can get. Bullshit. If the press collectively stated that they would not attend off the record meetings of this sort, the meetings would stop happening. And fuck spending your time on things that cannot produce anything you can report, anyhow! Fuck that, you coddling, star-sucking wretches! Don’t do it!
Now let’s talk about Donald Trump. If any powerful politician in history has ever been in a position to be talked out of holding off the record meetings with the press, it is Donald Trump. Why? Because he is an inveterate press whore! He craves press coverage like addicts crave heroin. If the political press corps informed him that they would only speak to him on the record, guess what he would do? He would speak on the record! He can’t fucking help it! So make him do it!
The fact that Donald Trump appears to be a semi-fascist strongman and that independence of the press is therefore even more important than usual is a topic I am not even including in this screed, because if you bring that up journalists will say you are being partisan and they cannot engage in such partisan crusades. Fine. Do it for all the other reasons. See you in the camps.
Today, Trump had an off the record meeting with editors from Conde Nast—some of the most powerful magazine editors in America. Among them is Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Speaking to Politico, Carter expressed his sense of ennui with this task: “I don’t know what there is to learn from this. Obviously there’s a novelty aspect to the whole thing. I don’t think he’s gonna say anything new here that he hasn’t said before.”
So don’t fucking do it. Have some respect for yourself and the audience you serve.