(May 1) Vice President Mike Pence’s staff ought to drop its absurd plans to penalize a reporter for revealing that Pence’s staff knew masks were expected for all visitors to the Mayo Clinic, which Pence visited while maskless.

The threatened retaliation is petty and baseless.

Pence was subjected to considerable national criticism, probably overblown, for walking through the clinic’s halls as the only person without a mask. He later explained he didn’t need one because he is regularly tested for the coronavirus, and his wife Karen later added that he had been unaware of the mask requirement before his visit.

Steve Herman, a reporter for Voice of America, thought Karen Pence’s explanation sounded fishy. If the vice president did not know, he said, it must have been because his staff failed to tell him, because his staff absolutely did know of the requirement. In a tweet, he noted, “All of us who traveled with [Pence] were notified by the office of @VP the day before the trip that wearing of masks was required by the @MayoClinic and to prepare accordingly.”

Even if the whole controversy was too much ado about too little, Herman’s point was relevant. Mike Pence’s staff knew better about the masks, and its explanation after the fact is inconsistent with that.

ence’s staff should have stopped digging at that point. Instead, according to multiple reports, it threatened retaliation against Herman, including a potential ban from further travel on Air Force Two.

The threat is unwarranted. Pence’s staff justifies it by saying Herman broke a generic agreement that the pre-visit directives should be treated “off the record.” But this is a mistaken application of the off-the-record designation, especially in this particular case. “Off the record” is a conditional designation, not completely inviolable…. If the person giving the information lies, the agreement is null and void. Otherwise, “off the record” becomes a shield for anonymous liars. It lets sources “play” reporters without consequence….

[The full column is here.]


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