The communication between journalists and sources can be straightforward or challenging. Sources may respond promptly to media inquiries or take several days. Journalists may have to endure waiting times or go to great lengths to secure interviews. Sometimes, communications occur unexpectedly, with a secretary returning a call instead of the intended official. When both parties agree to speak, they may opt for off-the-record conversations, a traditional journalistic practice where one party provides confidential information in exchange for the other party’s promise not to disclose it.
However, this practice can be problematic as it may prompt journalists to abuse it. In the United States, big newspapers verify sensitive information acquired by journalists with a team of investigators before publication. In Argentina, off-the-record discussions are common, particularly during times of crisis, where political leaders often resort to this form of communication. In some cases, officials who speak to critical journalists choose to meet in suburban areas, at bars, or restaurants, fearing surveillance.
Off-the-record conversations have shed light on confrontations between high-ranking politicians, which others had previously sought to keep hidden. During the Kirchnerist government’s era, off-the-record statements were frequent. A leak caused the dismissal of one of the government’s most beloved ministers, and there were instances where officials acted covertly to undermine their rivals. The fear of being spied on sometimes compels officials to take extreme precautions, even when speaking off-the-record. Despite several attempts to ban the practice, many politicians, even those affiliated with the government, continue to use it.
Recent events have shed light on tensions within the government, with some leaks affecting Minister of Economy Sergio Massa. Concerned about off-the-record leaks damaging his credibility, Massa called President Alberto Fernández, accusing his inner circle of undermining his work. While some believe Massa may resign, others predict he will step down once he has successfully managed the economy. Meanwhile, Cristina Kirchner allies have attacked those who challenge her succession plans, and reports suggest that Axel Kicillof may run for office if he receives support.
In the opposition, tensions continue to simmer between Mauricio Macri and Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. The two met recently to discuss campaign strategies, with Rodríguez Larreta admitting that the PRO must field one candidate in the primaries against radical Martín Lousteau. While he expressed a desire to support Jorge Macri, he also conceded that he had issues with Lousteau.
Sometimes it’s simple: the journalist calls and the source – a minister, a second-line official, a spokesman or even a president – responds quickly. Other times it takes days. You have to stand guard or transit offices until the meeting takes place. There are also appointments that materialize in a curious way. The journalist insists with messages on the official’s phone and receives no response until, suddenly, the cell phone rings, but the person calling or writing is not the official but his secretary. “You wanted to communicate with…”. In general, a time is agreed upon for a phone call or a place for a face-to-face conversation. All this occurs when the journalist and a source agree to a dialogue orff the recordan old practice of journalism that consists of one of the parties entrusting sensitive information and, in exchange, the other party agrees to publish it with the confidentiality of the informant.
It is true that the resource at times becomes too lax and that journalism abuses it. In the United States, when a columnist obtains sensitive information, the big newspapers put an investigative team behind it to verify with other sources that the version is true. In Argentina, politics moves a lot to the beat of the off (some leaders do not know any other way of communication), especially when going through times of crisis and the tension between the protagonists of power deepens.
“If you want we can talk, but only in off”, usually put the leaders first. In the worst moments of the Kirchnerist onslaught against the media, for example during the discussion of the Media Law in 2009, Kirchnerist officials who agreed to speak with critical journalists preferred to do so in hotels or bars far from downtown; in some cases, even, in suburban restaurants, where he sat with his back to the windows and with cell phones outside the table. There are those who maintain these cares to this day, for fear of being spied on.
He off It allowed us to discover the fierce fights that broke out between Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner at the very beginning of the administration and that many wanted to hide, including a sector of journalism itself. The letters that the vice president later published and the threats by La Cámpora to leave the Government put an end to the era of leniency and realized that, in truth, what had been published until then was little next to the drama that the presentations of the vice president and those of her political group undressed.
The government was marked by the off. A leak caused Fernández to throw out one of his most beloved ministers, Matías Kulfas. Martín Guzmán said that they operated against the agreement with the IMF. Just to cite two cases, among dozens. Cristina despises the off, as Nestor Kirchner despised them before. But none could fight them: even La Cámpora uses them. Oscar Parrilli recounted more than 15 years ago that Kirchner wanted to ban them. He wasn’t the only one who had that fantasy. It also happened during the presidency of Mauricio Macri and was repeated after the arrival of Gabriela Cerruti as Alberto’s spokesperson, that she asked to close them, perhaps forgetting part of the content of his own books. Impossible task for everyone. The politicians who are not seduced by the off are counted on the fingers of one hand.
Sergio Massa crossed a few days of anger, the most difficult since he was sworn in as Economy Minister, and it was caused, coincidentally, by several off-mic leaks. According to him, from Albertist officials who seek to condition his management and separate him from the presidential race. That anger erupted last Sunday, when he read the newspapers and he thought he guessed the hand of internal enemies in the opinion columns. The most mentioned, although not the only one, was Antonio Aracre, the presidential advisor who promotes an exchange rate unfolding. Massa assures that this alters the already altered markets and that they conspire with his roadmap.
That same Sunday, Massa read the criticisms that Martín Guzmán, his predecessor, made on Página 12. “Alberto sent it”, they conjectured close to the minister. Guzmán issued a stark warning: he said that part of Massa’s new measures will cause inflation to rise further. The interview came just at the same time that some men enrolled in Albertismo dared to say: “In the end, Guzmán was better for us.” Will Massa know that Alberto Fernández continues to consult the economist? It’s possible.
He called the President and made several reproaches, they say that in a more than elevated tone. He reminded her that he took over the Palacio de Hacienda in the most worrying phase of the crisis. “They are operating on me. I bank the shots from outside, but not my own, ”he told her. There are those who assure that he slipped the possibility of leaving. The conversation, with different words but with a similar spirit, was published in various media. The versions came out of the massista environment. It is seen that there off good and there off badthey ironized in the albertista wing.
The Minister of Economy sees ghosts everywhere. He shudders when you talk about devaluation. He promised Cristina that it wasn’t going to happen, at least not abruptly. His alliance with her, although it is not at the best moment because the inflation goals are far from being met, is what allows him to continue to be excited about fighting for the presidential elections. “I have already said 200 times that the role of minister is incompatible with that of candidate,” he said yesterday on the Early Saturday program on Miter radio.
That definition, recurring in him, is logical with a speculation that was made in Christian circles until recently: they said that the plan was to calm the economy, start lowering inflation and that, once that happened, Massa would present the resignation to get on the candidacywithout moorings.
The jump in inflation in February to 6.6% and the probability that the figure will continue to break records in March (the year-on-year rate would once again be the highest in 32 years) cooled the initiative. Now there is talk that the times moved to April or May. The rise in prices adds to the shortage of dollars in the Central Bank, and to the anguish over the drought, which is made explicit in the desperate maneuver for public bodies to get rid of bonds in dollar bonds, including the sensitive box of the ANSES.
Massa’s days of anger also had to do with the steps of Daniel Scioli and the installation of his presidential candidacy. Scioli is the political figure that Massa detests the most, it could even be said that above Macri’s. Scioli maintains an agenda parallel to that of ambassador in Brazil, he walks through the canals, and even -as he revealed Clarion last Sunday- organize barbecues to receive the President. As if that were not enough, it emerged that Scioli assures that it will be easier for him to be president in 2023 than in 2019.
In the Palacio de Hacienda the walls tremble. “Don’t talk about my candidacy anymore,” Massa lowered the line. Several of her officials are questioned. Matías Tombolini is one of them. It is better not to repeat what the Christians say about him. It won’t be long before the campers are going to pounce on the Secretary of Commerce. Another who is beginning to be in the league of those questioned is Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí, the campaign strategist. “He talks to us about rating, metrics and concentrating on management. Does he know that we are on the edge of the precipice?”, they question him.
Cristina opens the umbrella and returns to play “Wado” De Pedro and the governor of Chaco, Jorge Capitanich, while La Cámpora publicly attacks the re-election wishes of Alberto Fernández. Máximo Kirchner managed to get into the discussion that Axel Kicillof is thinking “of his own” and that he should not be so selfish as to rule out the possible leap of his to fight for the presidential elections.
Kicillof, that this week he was reunited with CristinaHe said privately: “If they want me to be a candidate for president, I will go. I’m not tied to any chair”. Her boss doubts. Kicillof today would be guaranteeing him continuity in the main district of the country. Although Javier Milei does not currently have a candidate for governor, the single ballot could drag votes that in the 2021 contest went to Together for Change.
Turbulence continues in the opposition. The Macri-Rodríguez Larreta meeting was talked about all week. It happened on Friday at the Tennis Club Argentino. They talked 55 minutes. There was a breakthrough. The head of Government assumed that the PRO cannot go with more than one candidate in the internal with the radical Martín Lousteau. He left the door open to end up supporting Jorge Macri, the former president’s dolphin, although he admitted that he has a problem with Lousteau, with whom he -at the same time- does not stop taking photos. “I am not here to negotiate”Macri warned. The mayor asked for time.
But time, as is well known, flies.
In conclusion, the world of journalism and politics is one full of intricacies and complexities. The use of off the record conversations can be both a valuable tool in uncovering sensitive information and a potential pitfall for journalists who may abuse the trust of their sources. However, it is clear that in Argentina, off conversations are a part of the political landscape and can often reveal the inner workings and tensions within the government. From ministers to presidential candidates, everyone seems to have their own agenda, and the power struggles and maneuverings can often become turbulent and unpredictable. It will be interesting to see how these dynamics continue to unfold in the coming months as Argentina approaches the next presidential election.