Explaining why Treasury briefings are off the record
Reuters blogger Felix Salmon writes Friday about the off-the-record sessions that the Treasury holds with business journalists.
Salmon writes, “Putting the whole conversation on background makes it almost impossible to turn the briefing itself into a news event, and that in turn allows officials to speak without worry that their words will end up being used against them in the kind of fevered political-media frenzy which regularly appears out of nowhere and nothing in Washington.
“What’s more, Treasury officials in general, and the Secretary of the Treasury in particular, really can and do move markets when they start talking about things like the dollar. There is a lot of value to open conversation, but it’s pretty much impossible to have an open conversation, in public, on the record, with a sitting finance minister of any country, especially when sensitive topics like the dollar or capital adequacy standards are on the agenda.
“That’s all in theory; in practice it’s even worse, at least with this Treasury. During the Great Moderation, Paul O’Neill would happily chat away to reporters, on the record; he would occasionally find himself in hot water for doing so, but he was never very important. Politico and HuffPo didn’t exist in those days, but even if they had existed, they wouldn’t have covered Treasury. As a result what O’Neill said never really mattered that much. Plus, he liked engaging in wonky Socratic dialogue with FT reporters.”
Read more here.