A bit of bad journalism just happened.
The Des Moines Register agreed Tuesday to an off the record interview with President Obama and then publicly whined about it on its website this morning to pressure the White House to put it on the record.
Faced with the bad optics of “the openness White House” trying to squash the free flow of information, the White House quickly relented this morning and allowed the Register to run the interview.
The problem here is that when a reporter tells someone they are off the record, they say things they might not otherwise have said. The reporter then has a better interview than he or she would otherwise have had, and the subject may have revealed more than they wanted to.
To then take advantage of this by publicly pressuring the person to allow the interview to be aired is a violation of trust. It’s unethical. You are setting yourself up to benefit by pulling a bait and switch.
The White House had demanded that the chat be off the record. If the Register viewed this as a potentially news making event, it should have refused to do the interview.
From the indignant piece run by the newspaper to pressure the White House:
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 . . .
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.
Really? There isn’t enough public information about the vast differences between Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney that the Register can’t make up its mind without doing its own personal colonoscopy on each of the candidates?
The piece continued:
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.
This is absurd. How does the White House know if feeling jilted won’t affect their decision? No one can completely separate the personal from the professional. Romney had met with them in the flesh. His interview was on the record.
And indeed, Obama did say something stupid, appearing to suggest that he would work on immigration reform as a payback to Hispanics for their votes.
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.
The right to gain access to the truth about our leaders and hold them accountable is why I’m in this business.
But when journalists discard their integrity and burn sources, Freedom of the Press takes a hit.