The Des Moines Register’s Editor, Rick Green, last night published some details around an interview that the Register’s editorial board held with President Obama Tuesday morning. An interview they could not, at first, talk about publicly. An off-the-record conversation that they say will contribute to their endorsement decision, and the conditions of which will not affect their decision. Since Rick’s original online post, the White House has released their own transcript of the conversation.
To his credit, Rick was clearly frustrated with the White House for putting such severe restrictions on the 30 minute telephone interview. He is convinced that Iowans need to hear what the President had to say, and that Iowans would be influenced positively by what Obama shared with the editorial board. The Register has been consistent in their effort to promote transparency in government, and should be applauded for their efforts.
Obviously, the President’s campaign (did we say “White House”? Are the two the same?) was sensitive to the impact that even a handful of words can have in the world of instant communication. But this administration has been a paragon of secrecy since moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the 2008 campaign promise of transparency has proved not only to be a ruse, but largely ignored by both campaigns in 2012 and the mainstream media.
Rick’s comments attempt to provide an element of transparency at least to the Register’s process, but it’s unfortunate that he treats the President’s requirements for this interview as inevitable. Even though he challenged the decision, he said they “relented and took the call. How could we not?” I think the Des Moines Register’s influence is adequate enough that if they balked, it would have looked bad for the President and the White House eventually would relent because they would have to. How could the Register endorse the President without such a conversation?
But, given the idea that Obama is just so important and powerful a man that he should be listened to, the secondary piece of this was amazing to me. Rick stated later in his post that the “the White House’s decision won’t play a factor in our board’s final endorsement decision.” Perhaps that was a coded message to the Obama team that just the opposite was true. But it escapes credibility to believe that anyone in the Register’s position would not give serious consideration to this and other examples of the President’s opaqueness and attempts to control the messages going out so desperately. How the President of the United States tries to hide the most trivial information should have a substantial impact on the Editorial Board’s perception of this administration.
Looking back on this, before the White House released the transcripts, it is wildly crazy that there was any concern about the contents of the interview. The transcript was about as mundane as the first Presidential Debate. The sense is that the President has a cozy enough relationship with left-leaning media such as the Register that they can talk casually about how they will continue to change America in ways that the public doesn’t need to hear, but that the Register’s editors should hear in order to provide the “right” endorsement. Even though the Register apparently wants to avoid any such appearance, this sounds like a lot of back room dealing with members of “the team” to get the endorsement. Perhaps the White House figured out that the Register has more integrity than that. What concerns me is, what kind of off-the-record conversations are going on with other media organizations? We may never know.
By the way, the Register hasn’t actually stated that the transcript was accurate. I’m assuming they can tell us one way or the other, can’t they?Image © Aaron Amat – Fotolia.com