Should Journalists Decline Interviews If Questions Are Banned?

Talking Points Memo reports that the Mitt Romney campaign told an Ohio TV station yesterday that it preferred not to answer questions about Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

 

"They were chatting and it came up and I believe [a Romney staffer's] wording was that they prefer not to talk about it," [WHIO-TV] assistant news director Tim Wolff told TPM. "But we didn't care because we were going to talk about Ohio stuff."

If I'm a journalist, and a campaign tells me it prefers not to talk about something, that's immediately what I want to ask about.

But Wolff told me that the preference was expressed by a low-level logistical person in the Romney camp, and so it didn't matter to the station, which wasn't interested in the topic anyway.

I asked Wolff if his station would have conducted the interview, with some questions banned outright.

"We've never agreed to any kind of stipulations and never would," he said. "So it wouldn't be an issue for us."
Dave Price, a reporter at WHO-TV in Iowa who also interviewed Romney yesterday, told Talking Points Memo that he also would not have agreed to the Romney interview, if he'd been told that Akin questions were banned.

I asked Wolff what he'd do if forced to reject an interview, due to unacceptable preconditions.

Would Wolff report that the interview invitation was declined?

"I'm not sure, just because I've never had it happen," he said. "There are many variables in how it can happen. We may or may not report, depending on how big a deal it was, that we did not do the interview because of these circumstances."

Normally, I'd think a reporter should tell us, if he or she doesn't accept an interview because of banned questions or the like.

Transparency is key, and that's why CBS4 did the right thing by going ahead with the Romney interview and reporting the ban on Akin/Abortion questions.

Rejecting the interview would have been an over-reaction, because, as CBS4 News director Tim Wieland tweeted, there's a lot of other questions that can be asked--and you can still report that certain questions were banned, as CBS4 did.

But, at some point, and I'm not sure where it is, an interview gets so restricted that a reporter has to say no, and report what happened.

Or if a topic was so important at a particular moment, a reporter might decline an interview, just because one topic was banned.

So I think it just depends, but CBS4 made the right call yesterday.

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