Q: What if a source wants to take back what they said?



Much like on the schoolyard, there are no “take-backs.” 
If a source is talking to a reporter, it is presumed to be on the record unless otherwise stated. If a source says something he or she later regrets, the reporter can still use the information. 

This is particularly true when talking to a public official or a business leader. These individuals are most likely to make newsworthy statements that reporters can’t, and shouldn’t, ignore. 

A great example was when the newly appointed White House Chief of Communications Anthony Scaramucci called New Yorker reporter Adam Lizza and delivered an expletive-laden tirade about a leak — then acted surprised when the account was published. Scaramucci was fired after 11 days. 

However, if you learn anything in this class, know that the lines are often more blurry than they seem. 

Publishing information after a source explicitly asks you not to would likely destroy a reporter’s relationship with the source. And it might not be worth it. What if the information in dispute isn’t that interesting or newsworthy? What if the reporter is cultivating the source for a much bigger story, and so might use this experience to gain trust in pursuit of the larger scoop? 

So, a reporter may, under some limited circumstances, decide not to publish.

I’ve also seen and experienced cases when journalists are dealing with regular citizens — not public officials — who aren’t media savvy and didn’t realize the ramifications of what they were saying on the record. In general, I don’t hold regular folks to the same standard as public officials, depending, of course, on the circumstances and information they are sharing.

These sources didn’t have the benefit of a News Literacy class to base their decisions on. But now you do, and you can think twice about what information you share on the record.