The Corner

Obama to Iowa Paper: We Can Only Talk If It’s Off the Record

President Obama, who has gone on the record for interviews about rapper Nikki Minaj and pop hit “Call Me Maybe,” wouldn’t allow a wide-ranging discussion with the Des Moines Register to be on the record, the paper announces:

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.

The Register’s experience with Romney was a little different:

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

It’s not shocking for a meeting with an editorial board to be off the record (we’ve had portions of some at National Review off the record). But Obama has been stingy about holding press conferences, and generally giving the press access. From an ABC News report earlier this year:

[Towson University professor Martha] Kumar says that President Obama has held 17 solo White House news conferences at the White House so far, more than President George W. Bush (11) at this point in his presidency, but fewer than President Bill Clinton (31), President George H.W. Bush (56), and President Reagan (21).

The total of solo press conferences he’s had anywhere — such as on foreign soil after a summit — is 29. George W. Bush’s total is 11 — he didn’t hold any solo press conferences outside the White House up to this point. Bill Clinton held 40 solo press conferences in his first three years; George H.W. Bush held 72; Reagan held 21.

President Obama has been far more reluctant to engage in impromptu back and forth with reporters, at photo sprays and the like. President Obama has taken questions at 94 such events.

For Bush Jr. that number was 307; for Bill Clinton, 493; for Bush Sr., 263; for Reagan 120.

Mr. Obama has given more interviews: 408. His predecessor at this point had given 136 interviews, while Bill Clinton had given 166. Reagan gave 164. (Numbers for George H.W. Bush are still being researched.)

Yep, sounds exactly like the most transparent administration in history.

UPDATE: The campaign has released the transcript of the conversation. 

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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