Des Moines Register Hits Obama: Iowa Newspaper Told Endorsement Pitch Was Off The Record

US President Barack Obama speaks on the phone to a volunteer during an unannounced visit to a campaign office October 14, 201
US President Barack Obama speaks on the phone to a volunteer during an unannounced visit to a campaign office October 14, 2012 in Williamsburg, Virginia. Obama took time out from debate preparation at a nearby resort to stop and greet staff and volunteers at the office. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

UPDATE: The Obama campaign later relented and released the transcript of the president's conversation with the Register.

Jen Psaki, the campaign's traveling press secretary, spoke about the reversal with the reporters Wednesday morning. She further explained, "This was a call that was meant to be a personal check in with a publisher and an editor."

ORIGINAL STORY: The editor-in-chief of The Des Moines Register published a pointed criticism of President Barack Obama Tuesday night for his campaign's refusal to go on the record when the president lobbied for the newspaper's presidential endorsement.

Obama spoke with members of the Register's editorial board by phone Tuesday morning, a conversation that editor Rick Green described in a blog post as "an insightful glimpse into the president’s vision for a second term." However, Green writes, "what we discussed was off the record. It was a condition, we were told, set by the White House."

Green describes the Register's negotiations with the Obama campaign as such:

[The conversation would be] 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.

Politico's Dylan Byers notes that "[w]hether the 'off-the-record' agreement extended to reporting on the call itself, which the editorial board has now done, was not clear."

Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Green writes, did agree to go on the record with the Register -- and even met with the editorial board in person during an Iowa campaign stop, which Obama declined to do. "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."

An audio recording of Romney's conversation with the editorial board was posted online on Oct. 9.

Green included on his blog post a portion of a letter he sent to the Obama campaign's Iowa branch, which reads:

Thanks for making today’s call happen. It was very beneficial, informative and wide-ranging. I appreciate the hurdles that needed to be cleared. ...

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.

Green did emphasize that the slight would play no role in the editorial board's ultimate endorsement decision. "That would be petty and ridiculous," he wrote. "We take far too seriously what’s at stake this election and what our endorsement should say."

This isn't the first time the Obama campaign has run afoul of the press this election cycle. In August, the president took heat when members of the White House press corps -- including ABC News' Jake Tapper and NBC News' Andrea Mitchell -- complained that he had avoided formal answers to reporters' questions for more than two months.

The Register, which endorsed Obama in 2008, plans to unveil its 2012 endorsement on its website Saturday evening.



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