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Ground rules of the interviewing game

Reporters and readers need a glossary to thread their way through the unwritten code governing press interviews. Here are generally accepted ground rules: On the record. The official can be quoted by name.

Background. This is usually taken to mean that the person interviewed is to be identified simply as ``an administration official'' or ``a Pentagon official'' or similar designation. The reporter may throw in the word ``senior'' or ``key'' to indicate rank. Trying to be as explicit or authoritative as possible, he may also add something like ``an official closely involved in the budget process'' or ``an official with long experience in Asia.'' But he must be careful not to divulge the official's identity.

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Deep background. This is the most enigmatic classification but in general is assumed to mean that the official cannot be quoted at all. The reporter must use the material only on his own authority or employ a formulation like ``It is known that'' or ``It has been learned that.'' Some reporters attribute such information simply to ``sources.''

Off the record. None of what is said can be used. The reporter in theory has learned something and is the wiser for it -- but the reader is not in on the information.

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