The Press: A Semantic Jungle

Few terms are more widely used or abused than "off the record." Even veteran Washington correspondents, who bump up against the term most often, have trouble agreeing on exactly what it means. Last week James ("Scotty") Reston, New York Times Washington correspondent, gave his definition (in describing Adlai Stevenson's recent request for an off-the-record talk with newsmen): "Everything discussed would not even be talked about outside, let alone printed."

But does "off the record" really mean that?* Reston himself admits that, when he thinks his editors should know it, he often passes along off-the-record information to them on a confidential basis....

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