Obama campaign releases transcript of interview after Iowa newspaper editor complains

Oct. 23, 2012: President Obama speaks during a campaign event at Triangle Park in Dayton, Ohio.

Oct. 23, 2012: President Obama speaks during a campaign event at Triangle Park in Dayton, Ohio.  (AP)

President Obama's campaign has released a transcript of a 30-minute conversation Obama had with the Des Moines Register's editorial board after the editor complained the president's team had "handcuffed" the newspaper by insisting it be kept off record. 

Obama spoke with editors of the influential Iowa newspaper Tuesday morning, as part of his effort to win the paper's endorsement -- a decision set to be announced this weekend. 

But editor Rick Green, in an unusual column published later that day, revealed that the White House had demanded the conversation be kept out of print. Green said Obama's aides did not give a reason for the "unusual condition" of the call. 

"It was a 'personal call' to the Register's publisher and editor, we were told," Green wrote. "The specifics of the conversation could not be shared because it was off the record." 

Following the complaint, campaign officials released a transcript to the newspaper, which it then published

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Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki offered a brief explanation for the move.  

"This was a call that was meant to be a personal check in with a publisher and an editor, one of whom he hasn't spoken with in four years -- one of whom he'd never spoken with before. They expressed a desire to put this on the record, make it public, we said that's fine," she said. 

Green had written that, after the off-record conditions were initially made, the newspaper "immediately lobbied his campaign staff in Des Moines for a formal, on-the-record call," but was told the decision "came from the White House." 

"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," Green said. 

Green noted that Mitt Romney met with the editorial board "literally" in a barn in Iowa on Oct. 9, and the audio from that conversation was posted online.  

The paper posted the Obama interview transcript Tuesday morning. The interview itself was fairly policy-focused. Obama discussed his plans for the economy, education and energy development while vigorously defending his term to date. 

He also made two pledges for a second term, saying he's confident Washington can strike a "grand bargain" deal on deficit reduction and immigration reform next year. 

And he took a swing at Republicans on the latter issue, saying: "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." 

At one point, Obama told the editors he has "absolutely" no regrets that he didn't more forcefully pursue economy-focused measures at the time he was pushing for the health care overhaul. 

"The suggestion somehow that if we hadn't pursued ObamaCare, somehow we would have gotten additional stimulus out of the Republicans, for example, that we could have primed the pump more, that's just not borne out by any of the evidence," Obama said, noting Republican resistance at the time. The president also defended the health care bill as a measure aimed at treating the economy.  

Green, in an earlier email he sent to an Obama campaign spokesman and published Tuesday, seemed to suggest there was nothing in the conversation Obama shouldn't want shared. 

"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," Green wrote. "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 said in Tuesday's column that the snub, though, would not impact the newspaper's decision on an endorsement. 

"That would be petty and ridiculous. We take far too seriously what's at stake this election and what our endorsement should say," he wrote.