The Press: Busted Backgrounder

The "background" briefing has been a Washington fixture for years, a two-sided convenience through which officials can be more candid than usual with reporters in return for having their identities hidden in such collective cliches as "official circles" or "informed sources." Though their ostensible function is to inform, backgrounders are frequently misused.

The Administration can easily exploit the sessions to promote a policy line or send vague hints to other capitals, while retaining the option to deny the whole thing later. Last week the Washington Post deliberately broke the unwritten rules for backgrounders and again called the whole practice into serious question.


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