President Obama laid out a clear and compelling vision for his second term, in an off-the-record newspaper editorial interview that ended up on the record. So of course there’s a scandal…. (More)
I don’t do many off-the-record interviews as BPI’s roving reporter. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea on principle, but surprisingly few newsmakers want to sit down for an interview with a squirrel. On the other hand, I do get some what-they-thought-were-off-the-record observations, as surprisingly few newsmakers notice nearby squirrels tapping away on our Blewberries and iPaweds.
However, I wasn’t near President Obama or the Des Moines Register newsroom during their recent conference call. I’d heard Donald Trump was going to make a big announcement, so I’d wandered over to the mall to look at hair pieces. (Hey, don’t get offended, Donald. I might need a disguise. Really.) It turns out his big announcement was a big pile of not much….
In other news, I decided a walking hair piece disguise probably wouldn’t work well for me, so I’ll leave that to The Donald.
Anyway, back to Des Moines. The Register, like most major newspapers, will make an endorsement in the presidential race. And like most major newspapers, part of their decision is based on interviews with the candidates. Most such interviews are, if not exactly “off the record,” treated as background. Endorsements rarely quote from the conversations, as the editors want to sound objective and as if their decisions are based on public information. “Everything you’ve read says you should vote for X, but we talked with Y and we think…” just doesn’t carry the same weight with readers.
So there’s no great secrecy or strategy for why President Obama’s campaign asked for the Register interview to be off-the-record. He wasn’t trying to hide any inside strategies or dark secrets, as the interview transcript makes clear. Nor do I believe the double-bluff theories that say he made the statements off the record in the hope of evoking criticism that would attract even more attention when his campaign said “Okay, go ahead and release the transcript.”
Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best, and the simplest explanation is that President Obama wanted to keep the interview brief and on background, rather than it becoming A Des Moines Register Exclusive.
Except the good folks at the Register realized President Obama had done for them what he hadn’t yet done – or hadn’t done as concisely – elsewhere in his campaign: set out a vision for his second term. He talked about his first term record and why he’s proud of his many accomplishments. He talked about Republican obstructionism and how that limited what he could do. He talked about budget reform, and how he plans to use the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ to force Republicans to negotiate.
It was a solid, substantive interview and I’m not surprised that the Register editors wanted to publish it … nor am I surprised that the Obama campaign agreed. In fact, his only even marginally off-the-record-ish comments came on immigration reform:
The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
These “secret promises” are a Very Big Deal, at least so the Romney campaign insist. With no sense of irony, the Romney spokesperson then says President Obama made the same promises in 2008 and has repeated them publicly several times since. Some secret, huh? And then he adds this:
The whole episode underscores why millions of Hispanics are deeply disappointed with President Obama.
Hrmm. Which “millions of Hispanics” would those be? Perhaps the Hispanics who favor President Obama over Romney by a 70-22 margin in October polling, the Hispanics whose undercounting in 2010 misled pollsters in Nevada, and whom Nate Silver and others say have been undercounted by pollsters again this year?
I suppose we all think we’re the center of the universe, but the Romney campaign has a habit of presuming that everyone sees the world the same way Romney does. In Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney claimed to know what Iran’s mullahs think about President Obama. Now a Romney spokesperson claims American Hispanics are “deeply disappointed.” It would be very convenient for the Romney campaign if their everyone-agrees-with-us world existed. Meanwhile, back in Realworldia, people tend to think what they think and polls suggest most people don’t agree with Romney on most issues.
And those polls match up pretty well with what I hear as people wander past, talking to each other, not noticing nearby squirrels despite it being Squirrel Appreciation Month. Not that we’re eavesdropping, of course. That would be rude. So we call it “reporting.”
Good day and good nuts.