The big journalism story of the day isn’t the endorsements in the presidential election that continue to come in but this editorial by Rick Green of the Des Moines Register. In assessing whom the Register would endorse for president the editors asked both the president and Gov. Romney to meet face to face with them. Gov. Romney did; the president made time for a phone conversation. The prerequisite the president made for the conversation was that the conversation be off the record. Here are some of Mr. Green’s comments on the conversation and the terms:
Romney appeared before our board Oct. 9. We literally met in a barn on a family farm owned by Jeff Koch, just west of Van Meter.
We had a wide-ranging conversation in a little under an hour of access. He squeezed us in just before a campaign stop that spotlighted his agriculture policies. With the exception of one final question (“Why have you earned the Des Moines Register’s endorsement?”) his camp said the interview could not be videotaped, which has become our typical practice with politicians meeting our editorial board. But the audio was digitally recorded and posted on DesMoinesRegister.com.
We repeatedly –- and politely — have asked Obama 2012 campaign officials in Iowa and Chicago for the same access to the president. I believe it earned serious consideration. But despite at least 28 campaign stops and 11 days in our state, we never could convince his 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.
We relented and took the call. How could we not? It’s the leader of the free world on line one.
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.
I think there are a number of tacks that could be taken on this. For example, who the heck is the Des Moines Register? Or who cares about newspapers any more? However, I’m also reminded of Greener’s Law: never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
I think that the re-election campaign, for whatever reason, bungled this and may be mismanaging other communications with newspaper editorial staffs. Iowa is not in the bag. As of the most recent polls it is a toss-up—tied dead even. Des Moines is the state capital and, consequently, the Register probably has more influence than most cities of a quarter million people.