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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Abortion and Akin Were Off Limits During Romney Interview, Reporter Says


It's the sort of statement that leaves journalists slack-jawed: “The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin.”

That's what Mitt Romney's campaign demanded, said Shaun Boyd, a reporter for the CBS-owned television station in Denver, when she interviewed the Republican presidential candidate on Thursday. Ms. Boyd was one of four Denver reporters to be granted five minutes with the candidate via satellite, and the only reporter to tell viewers about any preset restrictions.

In response to Ms. Boyd's claim, the Romney campaign suggested that it does not demand that reporters swerve around certain topics during interviews. “This is not how we operate,” a campaign spokeswoman said. “The matter is being addressed.”

But she did not elaborate.

After her interview with Mr. Romney on Thursday, Ms. Boyd told Talking Points Memo that she “said to them, ‘Look, e verybody's talking about this. It's going to seem awkward if I don't ask about it. And they said, ‘Well, he's said all he's going to say about it. He doesn't have anything more to say. You won't be getting any new information, so we don't want to talk about that.'”

She said she ultimately agreed: “I wanted to get the interview with him because I have other issues I want to talk to him about.”

Campaigns routinely try to steer news media coverage by consenting to certain interviews (and interviewers) and rejecting other ones. Interviews are sometimes granted on a specific topic, like the economy or foreign affairs. But in those cases, reporters are still free to ask about whatever they want. Outright restrictions on an interview (“you may ask about X, but you may not ask about Y”) are rarely heard of. The candidate, after all, can simply choose not to answer a reporter's questions about a certain topic.

When Ms. Boyd's interview was broadcast on Thursday afternoon, the Obama campaign quickly sent the video and a statement to reporters with the subject line “Romney: No Questions on Akin or Abortion.”

(The headline on the CBS station's Web site on Thursday afternoon was similar: “Romney Speaks With CBS4, but Not About Akin.”)

This week, Mr. Romney did speak with another news media outlet, a television station in New Hampshire, about Mr. Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate whose views on abortion have been denounced by many politicians. Mr. Romney said then, “He should understand that his words with regards to rape are not words that I can defend, that we can defend, or that we can defend him.”

The Obama campaign said in its e-mail blast, “Mitt Romney's campaign might be able to muzzle reporters from asking tough questions, but women across America deserve to know the truth about Romney-Ryan's extreme agenda.”

The Obama campaign has come u nder scrutiny lately for guiding the direction of interviews with President Obama, though not the same degree of guidance as Ms. Boyd reported on Thursday.

This week, when Mr. Obama granted a round of satellite interviews with local television stations on the topic of sequestration, automatic budget cuts that are scheduled to take effect next year, one reporter was quoted as saying to him, “I know we were asked to talk about sequestration today,” before asking about another topic. The video clip was circulated on YouTube and was cited as evidence of Mr. Obama's effort to control the news media.

Campaigns, of course, have an increasing number of ways to bypass the news media entirely. A study released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that journalists are playing a smaller role in shaping campaign narratives than they once did.

“More of what the public hears about candidates also now comes from the camp aigns themselves and less from journalists acting as independent reporters or interpreters of who the candidates are,” the study concluded.