For the record, Trump is a little off-base

Word leaked out several days ago a recent meeting Donald Trump held with the New York Times editorial board included assertions by the bombastic billionaire that what he’s saying on the campaign trail about illegal immigrants may not be the same as what he’d do if elected.

Trump’s opponents, especially Sen.Ted Cruzjumped all over that, calling on Trump to allow the Times to release the recording of the “off-the-record” conversation.

“If you’re sitting in Manhattan telling the New York Times that you’re lying to the voters, the voters have a right to know,” Cruz said when word first surfaced.

Trump, when confronted in Thursday night’s debate, was aghast at the suggestion, saying he has the “utmost respect” for the bond between journalist and interview subject.

“I may have discussed something like that with the New York Times, but I would never release off-the-record conversations. I don’t think it’s fair, frankly, to do that to anybody,” Trump said. “I think being off-the-record is a very important thing. I think it’s a very, very powerful thing.”

Trump’s right, it is a very important thing – to the interviewee. Few, if any journalists, prefer off-the-record to on-the-record and Trump’s assertion that he’d never ask the paper to violate that is a bit misleading. It is he, not the Times, who benefits from the backroom discussion and it would likely be his choice to give the go-ahead to release the recording.

Margaret Sullivan, the Times’s public editor, dove into how the recording surfaced and word leaked out about Trump’s allegedly wavering stance. What Sullivan called “an accident waiting to happen” was holding a session for both news and editorial purposes and the fact that Trump wanted some of his comments, specifically around tariffs on imports, to be on the record. That mix, said Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, who attended the meeting, should have been seen as a red flag. Baquet said when there are “30 people in the room,” it’s going to be tough to stop all leaks of what went on.

Some folks, including some in the media, were aghast that a major outlet such as the Times, would grant the cone of silence to a major political figure. The Times editorial board, like many outlets, offered the off-the-record chat to Trump, as they do to many candidates, as a way to gather information for endorsements and other editorial stances.

Here at CommonWealth, we often have sit-downs with policymakers and, in an effort to make the conversations more free-flowing, offer that the discussion is off the record, though if the subject prefers to talk for attribution, we certainly go along with it, as most other media outlets would.

Rarely, though, does word of what was said become public unless the subject wants it to be public, and for a news leader such as the Times to have someone break that promise, bodes ill for future sit-downs being recorded if attendees are promised a sealed room. Even if the interviewee says one thing not for attribution and another for public consumption.

While Trump would not say exactly what he said, he intimated that stances in politics, like business, are always open to negotiation. His apparent off-the-record declarations to the Times were similar to what he said on the record in an interview in January with the Washington Examiner.

“They are very strong positions,” Trump said about his immigration stances. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to negotiate a little bit, but I guess there will always be some negotiation. But they are very strong positions, and I would adhere to those positions very strongly. That doesn’t mean that at some point we won’t talk a little bit about some negotiation. Who wouldn’t do that?”

Where Trump falls down is in his defense of the media’s First Amendment rights when it comes to the closed-door talks.

If Trump “wants to call up and ask us to release this transcript, he’s free to do that, and then we can decide what we would do,” said Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal. But the phone hasn’t rung yet.




A legislative committee recommends raising the statewide smoking age to 21. (Masslive)

A Herald editorial joins in the chorus of those calling on a House-Senate conference committee to repeal entirely a 1989 law that suspends the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug crime. The House version of the bill would retain the sanction for those convicted of trafficking heroin and other hard drugs.


Three MIT-affiliated experts say the Flint water crisis could happen in New England communities that do not pay enough attention to water infrastructure issues. (Boston Globe)

Four Boston city councilors say they will not support a measure granting a 10-year extension of  the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s urban renewal powers. (Boston Globe)

Police are spending a huge amount of time at three group homes in Haverhill responding to reports of runaways. One home received 234 police visits last year. (Eagle-Tribune)

New plans for the plaza outside City Hall in Boston include a ferris wheel, an urban beach, and a winter ice park. (WBUR)

New Lowell Mayor Ed Kennedy pushes for a business improvement district downtown. (The Sun)


A study commissioned by MGM suggests a better location for a third casino in Connecticut would be the southwestern section of the state rather than the north central area, which is closer to MGM’s proposed casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Masslive)

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission puts off until at least April a decision on a non-Indian casino in southeastern Massachusetts. (Herald News)


Evergreen headline on Globe story on last night’s Motown rumble: “Insults fly during GOP debate.” Frank Bruni is astounded at the vulgarity of the debate. Does the size of Donald Trump’s penis matter?” he asks. (New York Times) David Brooks thinks Trump can be stopped. (New York Times) Paul Krugman saw a clash of con artists on the debate stage. (New York Times)

Mitt Romney unleashes a scathing attack on Trump. Adrian Walker says Romney would have more credibility if he hadn’t welcomed Trump’s backing in his campaign four years ago. (Boston Globe) BU’s Rich Barlow says Romney had the right message but he was the wrong messenger. (WBUR) Gov. Charlie Baker won’t talk about Romney’s speech. (State House News)

A Globe editorial applauds Baker’s declaration that he will not support Trump if he is the Republican nominee.

PolitiFact says there is no evidence to support Trump’s statement that the 9/11 hijackers sent their girlfriends and wives off on planes just before they took off on their deadly missions so the family members could watch the carnage. Trump has repeatedly used the story as support for his position that the US should target family members of terrorists.

Maine holds caucuses this weekend, but they’re not getting much attention. (Boston Globe)

Secretary of State William Galvin says Bill Clinton and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell did not violate any laws on Tuesday by campaigning close to a polling place. (South Coast Today)


Sales are up 61 percent at Smith & Wesson in Springfield. (Masslive)

Liberty Mutual profits fell 72 percent last year. (Boston Herald)

Patriots Day, the Mark Wahlberg movie, takes over a huge warehouse in Peabody for shooting. (Salem News)


Outgoing Mashpee schools chief Brian Hyde will receive a $425,000 payout. (Cape Cod Times)

Some Andover High School parents are shocked by a dating/sex survey given to students. (Eagle-Tribune)

The budget officer for the Northboro-Southboro School District steals $450,000 to feed his drug habit. (Telegram & Gazette)

Suffolk University’s board of trustees has hired a prominent Boston PR firm in a new sign that the board’s battles with President Margaret McKenna are not over. (Boston Herald)


The Massachusetts Health Connector shuts down a copycat website, but it looks like more may be on the way. (CommonWealth)

A third government safety investigator finds safety problems at Pembroke Hospital. (Patriot Ledger)

Many prestigious teaching hospitals, including Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s, are doing a poor job of dealing with a life-threatening bacterial infection called C. diff that sickened more than 100,000 patients in 2014. (Consumer Reports)


Boston Mayor Marty Walsh backs an MBTA fare hike. (State House News) His administration didn’t send anyone to testify at the hearings that the T held on its proposed fare hikes. (CommonWealth) Richard Dimino, the CEO of A Better City, calls for a phased-in price hike for T passes. (CommonWealth)

Masslive examines overtime abuse at the MBTA.

A coalition of transportation advocates is pushing for legislation that would allow cities and towns to ask residents to approve new taxes for specific transportation projects. (Masslive)


Area prosecutors say they have hundreds of encrypted smartphones that could help them solve murder, rape and other cases if the FBI prevails in its battle with Apple. (Boston Herald)

A former nanny from Randolph is sentenced to three years in prison for stealing $280,000 from the family she worked for in Boston. (Associated Press)


Michael Ferro, the new majority owner of the Chicago Tribune, is giving his ownership stake in the crosstown rival Chicago Sun-Times to an as-yet named charitable trust. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)