President should have spoken on record to paper


President Barack Obama’s disappointing exchange with the Des Moines Register perhaps speaks louder than the decision the newspaper will make in endorsing a candidate. As the Iowa paper prepared to make its endorsement, the editorial boards of the paper set up interviews with both presidential candidates. But Obama’s campaign required that the interview with the president be off the record, unavailable for disclosure to the public.

“We relented and took the call,” Rick Green, editor and vice president of the Register, wrote on his blog. “How could we not? It’s the leader of the free world on line one.”

Green’s piece, which gained much traction among media blogs Wednesday, stated he emailed Iowa campaign spokesperson Aaron Siedler, saying “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.”

The campaign caved, perhaps strategically, and released a full transcript of the conversation without explanation.

The request for the conversation to be off the record, hence hiding from the taxpayers and people of the nation to whom a “leader of a free world” is accountable to, should never have happened, yet the campaign’s actions did not remedy the situation.

The off-the-record, no-just- kidding-because-we-look- good, let’s-go-on-the-record decision by the campaign was simply a distant cousin of what Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple called “sinister … quote approval.”

Perhaps more amusing is the fact that the transcript of the conversation read more like a stump speech with preened answers made for TV a sound bite.

So what exactly was the president’s campaign afraid of? A moment of candidness that might have slipped through?

Sorry, public officials who are elected to serve the people. You may not try-before-you- buy how your own statements sound, for it corrodes the basic integrity and trust you owe to the people you serve.

When public officials speak to newspapers, whether it’s to seek an endorsement or answer questions, they are speaking to the people who the officials are accountable to. Thus by telling a newspaper they must have a pre-doctored, over-coached answer, public officials are not upholding the transparency they owe to those they serve.