Yesterday Rick Green, the editor of The Des Moines Register, and Laura Hollingsworth, the newspaper’s publisher, had an opportunity to interview President Barack Obama on the condition that it was off-the-record. Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki described the call as a “personal check in with a publisher and an editor.”
Rick Green posted a blog post lamenting the White House decision (made officially, not by the campaign):
But despite at least 28 campaign stops and 11 days in our state, we never could convince his [Obama's] team to carve out a few moments for our editorial board –- in our office, on the trail or even in a barn somewhere in Iowa.
Which takes me back to Monday afternoon’s call from the White House, inviting us to chat with President Obama this morning.
It was a “personal call” to the Register’s publisher and editor, we were told. The specifics of the conversation could not be shared because it was off-the-record.
Of course, we immediately lobbied his campaign staff in Des Moines for a formal, on-the-record call. We were told it was not their decision; it came from the White House. We requested that the White House be asked to reverse course so whatever the president shared with us could be reviewed by voters and our readers.
No reason was given for the unusual condition of keeping it private.
Their experience with Mitt Romney was quite different. An hour-long on-the-record interview with the editorial board. The only thing he asked was that it not be videoed, but the audio was recorded. After pressure was applied the White House relented and released a transcript of the interview for publication.
Some questions and thoughts…
I’ve had off-the-record meetings with candidates and politicians before, but never in my capacity as editor of CaffeinatedThoughts.com it has usually been at different events and fundraisers. On behalf of American Principles Project I had, with several others, an off-the-record meeting with former Governor Tim Pawlenty where he was given the option of being on or off the record. His campaign manager chose off the record which I believe still to this day was a mistake.
Having an interview with a newspaper or some other news site without it being on-the-record is a colossal waste of time for the newspaper/news site. I can’t think of why you would conduct an entire interview like that. What would be the point? The Des Moines Register looks to make an endorsement, but they can’t refer to their interview with the candidate? Bogus. I made it clear before I made an endorsement that an on-the-record interview was a requirement (I had the ability and enough pull to expect that prior to the Iowa Caucus, in the general election not so much, but The Register does). I wasn’t going to make an endorsement before meeting with a candidate and personally vetting them. I certainly wouldn’t make it public without my readers being able to see the fruit of that vetting.
Rick Green went out of his way to state this interview wouldn’t hurt him and that it being off-the-record wouldn’t impact their endorsement decision. I would be shocked if they endorsed Mitt Romney, but already it seemed to me that they were making an excuse for the President.
Also when he would go on-the-record on with MTV and Jay Leno later this week this decision seems odd. Why would they not want to go on the record for a paper in a swing state?
When they announced that the White House had released the transcript of the interview…. does that mean they released The Des Moines Register to publish their own transcript or that they provided the transcript to The Des Moines Register? If it is the latter that seems really hinky.
So expect an Obama endorsement to be forthcoming from The Des Moines Register.