In defense of “background”

Often it’s better to know that someone is saying something without knowing precisely who than not to know about it at all.

The institution of blind or “background” quotes certainly can be, and often is, abused, especially as a means of making personal attacks without being accountable for them.

But I can’t figure out what Atrios and Steve Benen think is wrong with this Roger Simon story about a Republican Senator worried about the increasing irrelevance to voters’ concerns of the Republican message. It’s not earth-shattering news, but it’s mildly interesting analysis, and the nature of the source gives it some authority. Of course no one in his right mind would say such things for attribution unless he wanted to make himself into a Zell Miller or a Joe Lieberman.

Benen and Atrios can huff all they want about “courage,” but they don’t have to run for re-election or deal with the rest of the Republican Caucus. I’d rather have someone saying this stuff on background than not saying it at all or saying it off the record. Would it really have been better for Simon to suppress the story rather than accepting it on background? I can’t see why.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com