Off-the-record interviews are tricky for journalists. They are often the best way of getting somebody important to speak frankly. But then what are you meant to do with the information? The usual tactic is to sprinkle your articles with quotes from “senior officials”. The difficulty is that, depending on the contacts and scruples of the journalist involved, the phrase “senior official” can cover anyone from the US Secretary of State, to the doorman at 10 Downing Street.
So it is with some hesitation that I am about to offer you gobbets from a long interview that I have just done with a “senior official” dealing with the Middle East.
The discussion struck me as particularly interesting because of the extremely dark view the individual concerned had of the future – and of the role played by Iran. If this particular senior official had been an Israeli or an American or even a Briton, I wouldn’t have been too surprised to hear such views. But he is none of these. My interviewee has a longstanding and continuing involvement in the Middle East peace process and personal knowledge of all the major protagonists. So I expected him to say something like this: “The situation is worrying, but there are areas we can make progress in. In particular it is vital to make a new effort on the Israeli-Palestinian problem and to engage Iran and Syria.”
Not a bit of it.