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Candidates don’t have to answer every reporter’s question

Posted by Mark Leccese  May 9, 2012 04:12 PM

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With obvious indignation, the New York Times ran an item on its political blog Wednesday afternoon headlined “Asked About Gay Marriage, Romney Doesn’t Answer.”

Romney, having just finished a campaign event in Colorado, was working the rope line — political jargon for the candidate shaking hands with members of the crowd — when reporters “pressed” him, according to the Times, for a statement on gay marriage.

“Not on the rope line,” Romney told the media. The Times reported this as Romney “refusing” to answer questions.

Keep scrolling down to the bottom of the blog post, though, and you discover Romney had answered a question about his (well known) position earlier in the morning during an interview with a local television station.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the post:

Asked by Fox News’s KDVR-TV about a bill that would have allowed civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado, which died late Tuesday night, Mr. Romney reiterated his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“Well, when these issues were raised in my state of Massachusetts,” he said, “I indicated my view, which is I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not.”

The Times isn’t peeved that Romney refused to answer a question about his position on gay marriage — it's that he refused to answer it at that time, at that place, to those reporters. For this, the blogger slaps him with a “refused” when “declined” would have been as accurate, along with a headline that suggests Romney wouldn’t answer a question on the day’s hot topic.

The Times reporter does deserve credit, though, for reporting that Romney had answered the question about gay marriage earlier in the day — which only makes it more irritating that the reporter should give Romney an electronic slap for not answering a similar question a few hours later.

Writing as someone who spent much of his adult life asking politicians questions, I understand a reporter’s irritation at a candidate who blows you off. You’ve got a story to write or a blog entry to post.

But nothing requires a candidate to answer every question pose by every reporter ever time the candidate appears in public. Let’s be reasonable.

The candidate does have a responsibility to the public to answer questions on every topic relevant to the campaign. But the candidate has no obligation to respond every time a reporter pipes up with a question. Each and every reporter is not the one and only proxy for the people.

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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