Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Clinton Historically Wary of the Press

Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Clinton Historically Wary of the Press

Article excerpt

In March, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told CNBC that she has been "the most transparent public official in modern times, as far as I know." Some observers may disagree.

As Election Day nears, there are questions about how accessible a Clinton administration would be to the press and, ultimately, to the American public. Longtime political observers have chronicled Clinton's turbulent relationship with the media, portraying her as private and controlling of information, and questioning her commitment to real transparency.

Journalists covering the campaign have grown frustrated with Clinton's inaccessibility, specifically highlighting the more than 250 days since she held a formal press conference on Dec. 4, 2015 in Iowa. Further, according to Dan Merica of CNN, in 2016 Clinton had held only 11 press gaggles, or informal interactions with the media, through the end of July. She held another aboard her campaign plane in early September.

The Clinton campaign, however, points out that she has given hundreds of one-on-one interviews to reporters during the campaign. Clinton pollster Joel Benenson told ABC News during the Democratic National Convention, "She has answered hundreds, if not thousands, of questions from reporters in one-on-one interviews. . . . We'll have a press conference when we want to have a press conference. There's no problem with that. But the American people hear from her directly every day. They get to ask her questions every day. And she answers questions from journalists."

Media columnist Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote that although it is probably a smart strategic move for Clinton to avoid press conferences, Clinton owes it to the electorate to speak publicly and answer tough questions. "So, yes, the smart play might be to continue to stonewall. Or continue to offer the carefully selected interviews she's been doing," Sullivan wrote. "That's safe. But it's not right."

The Clinton campaign did not respond a request for comment on the story.

Media reporters note that press conferences provide an unscripted, high-pressure setting that allows journalists to ask tough questions.

"It's important to see how the candidate reacts in a setting like that," Politico media reporter Hadas Gold said. "It's really tough having dozens of people in front of you asking questions, all trying to nail you down on something. . . . It's a much different environment than a one-on-one interview where you have more control over the situation."

David Cuillier, director of the Journalism School at the University of Arizona and a former president of the Society of Professional Journalists, pointed out that press conferences can expose a candidate to political vulnerabilities.

"All it takes is one slip of the tongue, one off-hand comment, and all of a sudden you're down a couple of percentage points in the polls," Cuillier said, adding that nevertheless, press conferences are "an avenue for people to learn about their presidential candidates."

Clinton's apparent aversion to press conferences, critics note, highlights her private nature, her tendency to control information, and her political strategy. Many media reporters don't expect to see a shift in Clinton's press accessibility should she win the presidency.

"It does let us know how she is going to be if she is elected," Sullivan told the Reporters Committee. "I don't think that she is going to, all of a sudden, turn around and say a lot of things that are going to get her into trouble. …

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