In a classic Friday afternoon document dump, Privy Council Clerk Kevin Lynch quietly released the results of his official internal investigation into “Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Diplomatic Information” – more compoundwordfully known as the Brodie/Wilson/NAFTA/Obama/Clinton/AndDon’tForgetCTV leak … thing. Colleague Wherry has the highlights, at least as far as Brodie (not exactly exonerated, but not hung out to dry) and Michael Wilson (pretty much off the hook).
I have to admit that I found the bits about the frantic post-hoc fact checkery by certain media outlets to be just as fascinating to read about than the Three’s Company-esque series of cumulative meta-misunderstandings between Foreign Affairs, PMO and the Canadian embassy. I’m not sure, however, about the recommendation that CTV’s antics appear to have inspired:
3. Any future undertakings signed by media representatives for admission to budget lock-ups should clearly indicate that comments made by any Government of Canada officials and/or ministerial staff during such lock-ups will be made on a background- not-for-attribution-basis only, and are to be considered and treated accordingly.
The purpose of a budget lock-up, conducted under strict rules of confidentiality, is to allow journalists to understand budget material prior to its release, and give them time to prepare their stories. During the lock-up, federal officials and ministerial staff are present to provide substantive explanations on complex budget information. Officials act on the understanding that they are providing background information to the media and that their comments will not be attributed to them; these lock-up rules have generally been understood and respected by both media representatives and government officials.
However, to ensure even greater clarity of these lock-up rules for everyone involved, it is recommended that any future undertakings signed by media representatives clearly indicate that comments made by any Government of Canada officials and/or ministerial staff during such lock-ups will be made on a background not-for-attribution-basis only, and are to be considered and treated accordingly.
Now, that may sound reasonable – and, in fact, it may be entirely reasonable. But I can’t help but think of those occasional, anomalous situations where an ostensibly off-the-record conversation with a government official does result in a revelation that would be considered news in any other context. Note: I mean real news — like an off-the-cuff admission of criminal activities, or something that would impeach a politician or public office holder on a crucial claim. By that standard, though, I doubt I would’ve reported Brodie’s comments, since I would’ve assumed he was just trying to impress the cool kids with his exclusive, insider information – and it’s not like he would’ve been talking to me, anyway.
Wait, what was my point again? Oh, yeah. I think most journalists – and, for that matter, most government officials (shoutout to PMO Officials One and Two, you sly, nameless dogs) – have more sense than to blather on about stuff that could end up the stuff of sensationalized stories, or to run with said blather without making at least some effort to confirm that it was accurate. I’m not sure if signing a waiver – which would, presumably, carry with it the potential of legal sanctions if one violated the terms – is the best way to ensure that loose lips don’t sink – or save sinking – ships.