Kathleen Kingsbury of the NYTimes editorial page is proudly announcing that instead of following their historic practice of talking with the candidates off-the-record and then announcing an endorsement they will be utterly “transparent.”
On Jan. 19, the @nytimes editorial board will publish our choice for the Democratic nomination for president. It won’t be the first time we’ve endorsed a candidate — we’ve been doing that since 1860 — but we aim to make it our most transparent endorsement process to date. Historically, endorsement interviews are off-the-record — meaning nothing said leaves the room, other than the board’s final judgement.
[But now,] in a first for @nytopinion, all presidential candidate interviews will be on the record and filmed. Next week, we’ll be publishing the full, annotated transcripts online.
What an awful idea, sure to neuter whatever influence the NYTimes might once have had.
Here’s the problem. Under the off-the-record system a candidate could sit down with some smart people and say things like “look, I know tariffs won’t help but the WTO will knock them down anyway and I need to appeal to my base.” Or, “taxes on billionaires won’t raise enough to fund everything I want but to raise taxes on the middle class we need the middle class to know that everyone is going to pay their fair share.” Or “Our troops are demoralized and the plan isn’t working.” If everything is recorded, none of this can happen.
Indeed, what possible value-added can the NYTimes make with a “transparent,” “public” process? Everything that will be said, has been said.
In contrast, a non-transparent, off-the-record process can reveal new information because less transparent can be more honest. The off-the-record system isn’t a guarantee of useful information, as the NYTimes has its biases and the off-the-record system only works because it is coarse, but coarse systems can reveal more information.
The demand for transparency seems so innocuous. Who could be against greater transparency? But transparency is inimical to privacy. And we care about privacy in part, because we can be more honest and truthful in private than in public. A credible off-the-record system leaks a bit of honesty into the public domain and thus improves information overall. Too much transparency, in contrast, makes the world more opaque.