On Tuesday, President Barack Obama refused to go on-the-record in an interview with the publisher and editor of The Des Moines Register, a prominent newspaper in Iowa. The Register is a left-of-center publication.
Rick Green, the paper’s editor, wrote that Obama called him and the paper’s publisher from Florida on Tuesday, but the White House told him the discussion would be off-the-record and “no reason was given for the unusual condition of keeping it private.”
“The Des Moines Register’s publisher and I spoke with President Barack Obama this morning — but we can’t tell you what he said,” Rick Green, the Editor of the Des Moines Register wrote. “Our expectation is that the answer to one of the most important questions the Register ever can ask a politician — ‘Why should you be our president?’ — deserves to be shared with voters. It’s unfortunate that did not happen today.”
This week, Obama will give on-the-record interviews to Jay Leno and MTV and in recent weeks has given on-the-record interviews to radio hosts like “The Pimp With The Limp” and television shows like “The View.”
Green wrote that Obama called the Register on Tuesday, four days before the paper issues its endorsement, “from Florida, on the heels of a morning campaign appearance and about 14 hours after his debate with GOP nominee Mitt Romney.”
Green said “the conference call lasted nearly 30 minutes” and Obama “made a genuine and passionate case for our endorsement and for reelection.”
The Register, Green said, “lobbied for months to get both candidates to appear before our editorial board to analyze the important issues confronting Iowa, the rest of the country and the world.” He noted “Romney appeared before our board Oct. 9” and “the audio was digitally recorded and posted on” the paper’s website.
Green said the paper “immediately lobbied” Obama’s campaign staff in Des Moines for “a formal, on-the-record call,” but “were told it was not their decision; it came from the White House.”
“We relented and took the call. How could we not? It’s the leader of the free world on line one,” Green wrote while noting he was frustrated to be “handcuffed by rules related to what could be shared.”
After the interview, Green wrote this letter to Obama’s team:
“Thanks for making today’s call happen,” I wrote to spokesperson Erin Seidler. “It was very beneficial, informative and wide-ranging. I appreciate the hurdles that needed to be cleared.”
However, “one note of feedback for you and the Obama Team: It should have been on the record. You would have wanted this 30-minute conversation to be shared with the rest of Iowa. I understand all the worries, the fears and potential implications. … I know how one slip-up could lead to a (news) cycle-changing ‘gotcha.’ But you and I both know Iowa is coming down to the wire and the polls are incredibly close.
“What the President shared with us this morning — and the manner, depth and quality of his presentation – would have been well-received by not only his base, but also undecideds. From a voter standpoint, keeping it off-the-record was a disservice.”
Obama leads Romney by two points in the RCP average of the polls in Iowa in part because of polls that have given Democrats as much as six times the advantage they had over Republicans in 2008. Iowa has been trending toward Romney. Obama and Romney will both campaign in the crucial state on Wednesday.
Green said Obama’s refusal to go on-the-record with the paper would not “play a factor in our board’s final endorsement decision” because “that would be petty and ridiculous” and the paper takes “far too seriously what’s at stake this election and what our endorsement should say.”
Voters in Iowa, though, may factor Obama’s refusal to on-the-record with the state’s most prominent newspaper in deciding whether to endorse Obama for a second term.