THE BLOG

Should Journalists Decline Interviews if Questions Are Banned?

08/28/2012 12:38 pm ET | Updated Oct 28, 2012

The Mitt Romney campaign apparently thought it was back in elementary school, on the playground, yesterday, refusing, arms crossed, to answer a single, itsy bitsy question from a Denver TV reporter, unless the reporter promised, with no crossies, not to ask about Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

Akin is the guy who apologized for saying that women are biologically wired to fight off the sperm of rapists, if the rape is "legitimate."

The Denver reporter, CBS4's Shaun Boyd, went ahead and interviewed Romney anyway, even with the preconditions on the interview.

But she informed viewers that questions about Akin were off the table, at the insistence of the Romney campaign.

Did Channel 4 do the right thing by interviewing Romney anyway? Or should it have said, sorry, we won't do an interview if sensitive questions are banned?

Rejecting the interview would have been an over-reaction, because, as CBS4 News director Tim Wieland tweeted, there are a lot of other questions that can be asked -- and you can still report that certain questions were no no's, as CBS4 did.

But not all journalists would agree.

Talking Points Memo reports that the Mitt Romney campaign told an Ohio TV station Thursday that it preferred not to answer questions about Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. It didn't ban the questions but just expressed a subte preference.

"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."

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."

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."

I'd like to think reporters would tell us -- just like they should tell us, if they go ahead with an interview, with, like CBS4 did.

CBS4 made the right decision about Romney, but at some point, an interview can get so restricted, with question(s) of critical importance off the table, that a reporter has to say no thanks, and report what happened.preconditions.

So in the end, there's not clear answer to the question of whether journalists should decline interviews if questions are banned.

It depends, but CBS4 made the right call this time.