People tend to treat a known journalist as a cross between a father confessor and a carrier of bubonic plaque bacteria.
Over the years I’ve come to expect people to come into my office, sit down confidentially, spill their guts about some extremely juicy bit of gossip and then, in the full knowledge of what I do for a living, add, “And that’s off the record.”
This still occasionally happens at public boards I may be covering. Where I am forced to remind the offender: “There is no off the record at a public meeting. If you don’t want it in the newspaper, don’t say it in public.”
I remember once that I was covering a banquet and I wandered into the men’s room. As I was in the midst of doing what men do in the men’s room a well-known local politician came into the facility, walked to the back and I heard the stall door open and close.
Soon noises erupted from that location that sounded like an elephant giving birth.
I moved to the basin to wash my hands.
The noise in the stall rose to a crescendo that could have been the same elephant dying of an extremely painful affliction. If there had been a crowd in that lavatory, every last one of them would have fallen silent in something approaching awe.
I began drying my hands. As I moved toward the door, from the stall I heard: “That’s off the record!”
In our troubled land today we have the phenomenon of the Trump supporter who when out and about in polite society, such as a family gathering, or a book club, or a meeting of the local chowder and marching society, innocently mentions something vaguely positive about the president. At which point silence falls, eyes flutter and mouths drop open as if the offender had passed gas like a tenor trombone.
The love (or even just the toleration) of Trump has quite literally become “the love that dare not speak its name.” Except, of course, at Trump rallies, or Tea Party gatherings or wherever Deplorables meet to hatch their nefarious schemes and sacrifice bullocks to the Lord of the Flies.
I suspect that this phenomenon is at work often when pollsters ask people whether they are going to vote for Trump. He is a guilty, I hesitate to say, pleasure, for many people. But many people fear to advertise their sympathy for him when they are often treated like pariahs by friends and even spouses. Given that is true, there may be a significant number of people who don’t tell pollsters or anyone else how they feel, and only express their true feelings in the privacy of the voter’s booth.
That way they don’t have to be shunned by their friends, denied sex by their wives (the Trump voter is more likely than not to be a man) and avoid being treated as though they just walked into a small room populated by persons of delicate sensibilities—and passed gas.
And that’s off the record!