You have every right to be pissed off and my point was to agree with you.
To clarify, I always considered background conversations opportunities to clarify facts as the term or notion implies. Answering questions vs. spinning a yarn, but in a capacity where I wasn't necessarily going to be quoted. Especially in the case of things like earnings news, acquisitions, layoffs, etc. that can be a useful mechanism for answering questions. Not dissimilar to fact checking.
FWIW, the last time I ran PR (at a fairly prominent SaaS startup), we completely eliminated embargos. Our goal was to provide information to those interested in the most transparent and authentic way possible. Worked better than any mechanism I've ever seen.
One of the reasons I got out of PR is because of what you're describing. Practiced badly, it attempts to control, pitch, and spin. Not fun, and not particularly interesting either.