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That Thing I Said? Off the Record!

Hedge fund folks seem to have some thin skin when it comes to the press.

Case in point? This situation where a hedge fund is upset that a business magazine printed a story about its letter to investors. The fund has asked a court to force the magazine to reveal its source. The magazine has said it doesn't want to.

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As a journalist, you can probably guess where I come down on this. But it got me thinking about another situation we faced recently.

A noted hedge-fund manager was giving a speech. Tickets were being given to the public on a first come, first-served basis. We sent a reporter who snagged one of those public tickets and sat in on the speech, along with a couple hundred other people.

After the event, a PR person ran up to our reporter and declared that the whole event was off the record. Well, retroactive off-the-record declarations don't go far with us. "Off the record" can mean different things to different people ("not for attribution" vs. "not used at all" is the usual confusion). But one thing is clear: It is not a magic incantation that can make statements or actions disappear. It's an agreement made prior to the exchange of information between journalist and source.

We did the story. The PR person for the hedge fund guy complained. We stood firm. A couple of blogs and a major business magazine quoted the speech at length a few days later so we weren't alone in our judgment. Just first.

But the idea of giving an off-the-record speech to a couple hundred people from the public is a little weird. Similarly, sending a letter to a fair number of investors (my guess) and getting upset about it appearing in the press seems equally naive. Maybe it's something about the hedge fund mentality. Maybe it's just two guys who are control freaks. Go figure.