Samantha Power and the Poison Pen

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 4:06 PM EDT

(Samantha Power is a friend, so factor that in as your read.)

How weird is it that Peggy Noonan, of all people, argued for Samantha Power not to lose her job with the Obama campaign after she let the truth slip out? Ok, after she bellowed to the skies her anger and frustration at Senator Clinton. I'm all paranoid now, what with the Limbaugh-ites giggling about voting for Hillary so they won't have to face Barack in November, but the piece rings true. I think she actually means it.

Noonan's argument is:

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A) Campaign staff are human. They're exhausted. Of course they end up loathing the competition. On the rare occasions when all of those three collide, cut them a break.

B) For all her mega-accomplishments, Power is a political newbie and (unbeknownst to Noonan) perhaps the most honest, and earnest, person on the planet. So again, with the break.

C) (And the most interesting point) Journalists should not swarm her because we're always complaining that political operators speak only in well-rehearsed soundbites of nothingness. When someone goes off script for once, we chop them off at the knees.

Sounds good, but ... according to The Scotsman, Power knew she was on the record. I tell my students everyday that you can't let folks go off the record after they've said something, so Noonan should be more specific; exactly which officials do we cut a break, and in what circumstances? As David Corn points out, Capitol Hill types regularly call the opposition everything but a child of God in his presence. They just make sure to do it off the record and he doesn't print it even though it would make him more famous.

D) Noonan suggested that Clinton take this opportunity to sheath the claws she's been sharpening on Obama's back for so long and not make Power the poster-girl for his ineptitude and cunning. Unfortunately, her campaign did just that and Power resigned just minutes after Noonan finished filing. Not that it would have made any difference.

The gotcha! is all that matters these days. There's little difference between outing Power during a weak moment in one of a hundred book interviews she's been giving, and publishing a photo of her with the back of her dress caught in her underwear. There have been many times in my career when I didn't report something bone stupid a subject had said or done while on the record, not if all that was to be gained was a little notoriety for me. They were the right calls. I don't regret any of them and I plan to end my career without ever having the opposite regret. Sometimes journalists need to be ruthless assholes. Only the reporter from The Scotsman who got this scoop knows if this was one of those times.