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The Treasury meeting and the meta-Treasury meeting

There's been some meta-discussion over a recent meeting between reporters, bloggers, pundits and Treasury officials. The meeting existed under the worst of all media rules: Background.

On-the-record is, well, on the record. Somebody tells me something and I tell you. Off-the-record is just the opposite: Somebody tells me something and I can't tell you that I was told this. I can be informed by it, but no one knows how I got the information. The disadvantages of this are obvious. But the advantage is a much more honest and free-flowing conversation.

Background has neither the transparency of being on-the-record or the freedom of being off-the-record. It means I can tell you that someone told me this ("a senior Treasury official"). I really don't understand why people use it.

But use it they do, and all the time. My favorite background offer from this administration came in an e-mail the night before HealthCare.gov launched. It was a lot of standard information on the new site that I could attribute to an "administration official" if I so chose. Why they wanted anonymity to say things like "HealthCare.gov is a new, easy to use website that helps consumers take control of their health care and make the choices that are right for them by putting the power of information at their fingertips," I'll never know. Was Gibbs seriously going to chew someone out for going on-the-record with that?

At any rate, the Treasury meeting was on background. The best summary I've seen is Shahien Nasiropour's piece at The Huffington Post. The one thing he doesn't include but I'd emphasize was the "senior official's" comment that the biggest threat facing the world economy over the next five years isn't risk but insufficient risk: Companies, government and individuals will be too cowed by recent economic traumas to take the sort of sensible risks necessary for growth.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 20, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
 
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Comments

My prediction is that finance will take more risks, thus other sectors will not be able to take risks for fear of repeated recessions.

Posted by: julie18 | August 20, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

"I really don't understand why people use it."

It's the Fifth Rule of Bureaucracy: If you have to say something, say it in a way that says nothing but sounds as if you said something.

Posted by: tomcammarata | August 20, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

They won't take risks because there is no demand because people don't have any money, dumbass. The economy isn't sucking because we all have PTSD and can't think straight, it's because we can think straight that we won't spend money that we don't have. Is this hard for Ezra to grasp?

Posted by: redscott1904 | August 20, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

"too cowed by recent economic" BAILOUTS "to take the sort of sensible risks necessary for growth." Agreed.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 20, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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