Heading into Super Tuesday a story broke that suggested GOP frontrunner Donald Trump was flip flopping on his tough stance on immigration and his take no prisoners approach to building “the wall” along America’s borders. The story, courtesy of BuzzFeed, cited an off-the-record meeting, chalk full of audio tapes, that recorded a conversation the billionaire had with the New York Times (NYT) editorial board in January. During the first hour of the Fox News GOP debate on Thursday, Trump was asked to set the record straight.
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“I will say, though, in terms of immigration -- and almost anything else -- there always has to be some, you know, tug and pull and deal,” said Trump.
He then chided those who allegedly violated the creed of all journalists who promise to uphold and honor “off the record conversations.”
“I may have discussed something like that with the New York Times, but I would never release off-the-record conversations. I don't think it's fair, frankly, to do that to anybody.” Trump also said, “I think being off-the-record is a very important thing. I think it's a very, very powerful thing.”
Indeed, the venerable New York Times has now become part of the wild mudslinging and low brow antics that has engulfed the race for the White House. It has also raised new questions about what exactly journalistic privacy entails.
On Wednesday, the paper’s Public Editor’s Journal dealt with the controversy on behalf of a question from reader Ken Fitzpatrick who asked, “Can you please elucidate why the NYT is conducting any part of an interview with a presidential candidate off-the-record?”
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To the paper’s credit, they asked Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal to weigh in. In a nutshell Rosenthal said editorial board meetings are conducted as “informational sessions” not necessarily for the “purpose of writing articles.”
Fair enough. However, comments on the situation from The Times’ Executive Editor Dean Baquet suggest a more worrisome picture. He said that he found the idea of an off-the-record agreement when there are “30 people in the room” to be difficult to enforce and probably impractical. Both conversations were reported in detail in the paper’s Public’s Editor Journal.
So what remains murky is that so-called “off-the-record” conversations between reporters and subjects may not really be off-the-record if the BuzzFeed account is accurate.
What was not murky during Thursday’s debate was Trump’s stance on immigration. When pressed about his flexibility on immigration and a potential wall, Trump was crystal clear.
“It's going to get built. And by the way, Mexico is going to pay for the wall. I can tell you that. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.”