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Obama vs. Des Moines Register


Whoa. The editor of the Des Moines Register wasn’t happy that their call to discuss an endorsement with the president was off the record. Nor were they happy the president couldn’t meet with them in person. (Their conversation with Romney was a) in person and b) recorded and posted on their site in its entirety). An excerpt:

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.

And as we weigh with our editorial board this critical decision about who to endorse, it was necessary for us to discuss the challenges confronting our state, nation and world with the president -– even when handcuffed by rules related to what could be shared.

However, after our call, I did send a note to the communications chief of the president’s Iowa campaign. I asked that it be shared with others who decided to shortchange readers and voters everywhere from hearing the president’s very thoughtful and specific responses to our questions focused on rebuilding the national economy, imploding the gridlock that has gripped Washington, his priorities for a second term and the importance Iowa plays in winning a second term on Nov. 6.

“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.”

It’s important that I emphasize the White House’s decision won’t play a factor in our board’s final endorsement decision. That would be petty and ridiculous. We take far too seriously what’s at stake this election and what our endorsement should say.

And I write this not to poke the president’s team. I get that he’s busy. I understand the demands of running a country and a competitive campaign.

Instead, this blog, I hope, reveals in a transparent way the rigors of covering a heated presidential race in a critical swing state and the circumstances that unfold far from the view of our readers.

Yet, it also speaks to the transparency all voters should demand from the candidates. They want more than just repetitive sound bites on the campaign trail or rehearsed one-liners from debate stages.

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.

That was Tuesday. Today, Team Obama gave the paper permission to post the transcript.


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