“If they have seen the Republican debates, they see there are problems,” the president replied, using the air time to criticize those, like Romney, who oppose the Dream Act, the path to citizenship favored by many Democrats. It’s useful to give candidates opportunities to draw contrasts with their opponents, but a better question would have pressed Obama to explain what his administration is doing, rather than offering an easy chance for a dig at rival campaigns.
Arevalo’s next question, while on a topic of likely interest to plenty of KINC viewers, also put Obama in the role of political commentator, and its vagueness set the president up for a bland and unenlightening response:
AREVALO: Mexico is also choosing a president at this time. With Mexico being one of the three most important countries in trade with the United States, what do you expect to happen with this election?
OBAMA: No matter what party is in charge in Mexico or what party is in charge in the U.S., Americans and Mexicans know that we have a good relationship and I think it will be strong, no matter who wins the election.
It would be unrealistic to expect that these limited, stage-managed encounters with the president will produce hard-hitting journalism. Indeed, the way to maximize their journalistic value is probably to use the interviews, and the public attention they attract, as springboards for larger, more probing reports that take a closer look at the administration’s message of the moment.
But that process begins with asking the right questions. In addition to pressing its energy initiatives, the White House took full advantage of its opportunity to speak to potential voters on Univision’s airwaves on Monday. It’s too bad that Arevalo didn’t use her—yes, limited and highly stage-managed—time with the president to ask sharper questions on behalf of her audience.