For Quentin Peel in Saturday's Financial Times, who in the context of Jacques Chirac wanting an abort/retry/ignore/fail on his Iran comments in an "off-the-record" interview last week, notes --
The trouble is that all the rules of attributable and non-attributable briefings - on which most political journalism relies across the globe - are getting abused. The assumption that an official will speak more truthfully if "off the record", or indeed on "deep background", can no longer be taken for granted.
A senior US official was doing the rounds in London last week, seeking to sell President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy. Speaking off the record, he insisted that the insurgency in Iraq would never have happened if it were not for the outside influences of al-Qaeda and Iran. "That is not an assertion, it's a statement of fact," he said.
Only a few weeks before, however, the same official admitted to a different audience that the violence was overwhelmingly home-grown in Iraq. But that was on deep background.
The latter deep background interview is consistent with the bleak National Intelligence Estimate ("the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics") but of course it was the former quote that was intended to make its way into the papers.
But no third cheer for Quentin, because he doesn't name the official. It was most likely someone in Condi's entourage during her extensive Middle East and European trip for just over a week ago, but it could also have been Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in London the previous week. Anyway, the practice will only stop when reporters start to burn their bad sources.