OFF THE RECORD by Norman Pearlstine


The Press, the Government, and the War Over Anonymous Sources
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A former editor in chief of Time Inc.—also a principal in the battle between the press and prosecutors in the Valerie Plame case—rehearses and defends his role in the drama.

The generic title misleads a bit: Pearlstine deals mostly with the Plame case (its antecedents, its intricacies) and with the Scooter Libby indictment and trial. But he does focus on some other issues and cases. He wishes that news organizations were more explicit and consistent with their sources; he urges a more common vocabulary. He explores, for example, the differences between anonymous and confidential sources and appends guidelines recently adopted by Time Inc. He believes everyone involved could avoid much pain—ethical, legal, even punitive—if there were more clarity about terms like background and deep background. He takes swift glances at numerous other cases, from Watergate to Janet Cooke (who fabricated prize-winning pieces for the Washington Post), to Dan Rather’s botched story on President Bush’s National Guard service, the CIA secret prisons, NSA eavesdropping, even the embarrassing Sports Illustrated story about the University of Alabama’s new football coach, fired before he ever coached a game for alleged sexual improprieties. But most of these cases are illustrative only. What Pearlstine really wants is to explain his decision to turn over to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald the notes of Time reporter Matt Cooper at a moment when Judy Miller, the New York Times reporter (who comes in for some harsh treatment here), elected to go to jail instead. Pearlstine says that his was a legal and ethical decision: Time Warner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, so Pearlstine decided to submit to the lower-court’s decision. Thus, Time released its files, Cooper testified and Libby was found guilty. To his credit, Pearlstine quotes his severest critics—and usually resists the urge to counter.

Pearlstine wishes to report what happened; he also wishes to burnish his tarnished armor.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-374-22449-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2007


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