The Cutline

Why did Reuters wait to publish story of Sarkozy telling Obama that Netanyahu is ‘a liar’?

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Sarkozy with then-Senator Barack Obama in 2006. (AP)

French President Nicholas Sarkozy told Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Cannes last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a "liar" who is difficult to deal with.

"I cannot bear Netanyahu," Sarkozy told Obama. "He's a liar."

According to Reuters, the "private conversation" was "overheard by a small number of journalists but not initially reported."

But after the French press reported the remarks on Tuesday, Reuters decided to run them--even though the news service admitted that a Reuters reporter "was among the journalists present" and was able to "confirm the veracity of the comments."

The decision raises several journalistic questions:• Did Reuters refuse to publish Sarkozy's comments initially out of fear of their potentially explosive impact on French-Israeli relations?
• Did they consider the exchange between the two world leaders off the record--even though it took place before a microphone at a public forum?
• Did the Reuters journalist not speak up until after the report surfaced online?
• Or was it something else entirely?

When reached by Yahoo News, a spokeswoman for Reuters said she could not comment.

The scene recalled a 2009 incident in which President Obama was captured on video calling the rapper Kanye West a "jackass" during a CNBC interview taping. An ABC News reporter saw the feed and tweeted the remark, and the video was leaked by Politico. Both the tweet and leak were later deleted, setting off an ensuing discussion of what qualifies as an off-the-record comment when it comes to covering world leaders.

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