TIMES AND POST...

TIMES AND POST PART WAYS ON BUSH'S PRIVATE SESSIONS. Did anyone else notice something intriguing about The Washington Post's article today -- flagged below by Garance -- about President Bush's private off-the-record sessions with reporters?

The Post obviously viewed the president's campaign as newsworthy -- after all, they wrote a story about it. At the same time, though, The Post reporters who first knew about the sessions -- the ones that were invited -- were constrained from talking about them. So Post reporter Charles Babington went to outside sources to get a story that his newsroom colleagues already knew about. From The Post:

White House officials said they also hoped the meetings' mere existence would remain under wraps. That proved impossible when journalists from The Post who were not participants in the session, as well as those at other publications, learned of the meetings from sources outside the paper and began to report on them.

Does that strike others as a bit strange? The Post (or at least its employees) agreed to withhold information from readers that it clearly viewed as news, in exchange for whatever it would gain from these private sessions. Now, one might argue that the basic principle underlying arrangements such as this one are defensible. After all, reporters at least sometimes agree to withhold information from readers -- such as the identity of sources -- in order to have off-the-record conversations that ultimately result in more information going to readers than otherwise would have been possible.

Yet this isn't just any ordinary source, of course. It's the president of the United States. Isn't the prospect of withholding news from readers about the president too serious an omission to be justified by whatever supposed benefits the sessions bring? Also, unlike when an investigative reporter gets hard info from an anonymous source, these sessions aren't about transmitting hard info; they're about reporters gaining "insight into his thinking and concerns," as The Post put it. But will readers really benefit from this, given that these alleged insights are based on conversations the reporters can't disclose in the first place?

The Times, for its part, decided depriving readers of such info couldn't be defended. The paper wrote:

The New York Times, which was invited to attend a session today, has declined to participate.

Philip Taubman, the Washington bureau chief for The Times, said in a statement last night: "The Times has declined this opportunity after weighing the potential benefits to our readers against the prospect of withholding information from them about the discussion with Mr. Bush..."

I think I'm with The Times on this one. What do others think?

--Greg Sargent

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