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In works of fiction, the Intrepid Reporter character is often faced with sources that are less-than-willing to divulge their information. Unless they are an Anti-Hero wishing to resort to unconventional tactics, the character is typically at a loss for options. Until, that is, their source mutters three simple words: "off the record". After that, the journalist is typically given some crucial clue or piece of evidence that they can't outright publish but will typically lead them one step further in their hunt for the big story.
The use of this trope is close to Truth in Television, but fiction works tend to treat these three words as a legally binding contract. In Real Life, a journalist's code of ethics, and the code of the agency they work for, typically prevents them from revealing "off the record" sources and information, and any journalist that does reveal their confidential sources or information can easily find themselves without a job. However, those three words don't legally prevent the journalist from revealing anything, and "off the record" information is still commonly published, especially when the information is especially revealing or damaging. In addition, a journalist is usually not considered to be under any obligation unless the "off the record" nature of the talk was agreed to beforehand. If someone says too much and then says "whoops, that was off the record" when he realizes his mistake, a good journalist may reply "I didn't agree to that."
Expect this trope to pop up predominantly in crime dramas, but may make its appearances any time detectives and/or reporters are involved.
- In Thank You for Smoking, Nick Naylor thought most of the information he gave a reporter was in confidence. It wasn't.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in the second Live-Action Movie, April O'Neil asks the police chief for information about who or what caused the damage in downtown New York, and then uses this phrase. The attempt was unsuccessful; the police chief refused to divulge any information.
- At the end of The Life Of David Gale, after the video proving Gale's innocence is revealed to the public, the female protagonist receives a videotape proving that he framed himself and was part of a conspiracy to undermine capital punishment. Naturally, it's marked "Off The Record". Given an earlier conversation with him in which she promises to keep "off the record" statements off the record, it's implied that this video will never reach the public.
- In Death: Eve Dallas and Nadine Furst use this trope many times. Fortunately, Nadine has a lot of integrity, so it's okay. In fact, Nadine says at one point that she ought to pay Trina a thousand bucks to tattoo the words "Off The Record" on Eve's ass.
Live Action TV
- CSI: This trope makes an appearance in almost every episodes, many times more than once
- Doctor Who: In an episode, the Brigadier remembers after talking to Sarah Jane that she's a reporter and says it's off the record. She asks why he told her, and he says, he just needs to talk. Whereupon she asks him to get her access to a certain think tank.
- Veronica Mars: She is the school's reporter, so much of her information comes in the form of this trope
- Supernatural: Sam and Dean sometimes pose as reporters to gather information about possible cases. Off the Record is an easy way for them to get the cop/victim/coroner/etc. to admit something they wouldn't otherwise say for fear of public humiliation -Which, given some of the strange and demented ways the monsters in the Supernatural Verse kill, isn't all that ridiculous.
- Lois Lane seemed to ask for "off-the-record" quite a lot in Superman: The Animated Series.
- The musical I'd Rather Be Right had the song "Off The Record," in which President Roosevelt drops many revealing tidbits about himself and his administration, always being careful to add, "Don't print that -- it's strictly off the record." (This number was also featured in the Biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy.)
- As explained by Officer George Bruch about 12 minutes into this video, "Off The Record" is like the Unicorn; it does not exist.