Hillary Clinton Hasn’t Taken Press Questions in 21 Days, Because She Doesn’t Need To

Hillary Clinton hasn't taken questions from reporters in three weeks. Because she doesn't need the media as much as most other candidates.

Hillary Clinton Holds Campaign Roundtable In Las Vegas

It was one month ago today that Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for President, but ABC News is more concerned with the fact that it has been twenty-one days since she has spoken to reporters:

Today is the one month anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. It also marks 21 days since she has answered a question from the press.

During this “ramp up” phase of her candidacy, Clinton has kept her distance from the media, answering only a handful of questions from the reporters following her on the campaign trail.

As the days go by, Clinton’s opponents have begun to take notice and Clinton’s limited engagement with reporters is becoming an issue.

Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush took a shot at Clinton for not taking questions, saying in an interview with Fox News Monday he wants to run a campaign where he doesn’t “have a protective bubble.”

And last weekend, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina rolled out a fresh attack line.

“Like Hillary Clinton, I’m also running for president, but unlike her, I’m not afraid to answer questions about my record,” Fiorina noted at the South Carolina Freedom Summit. “She’s answered seven on-the-record questions since April 12th; I’ve answered over 200 on the record since Monday.”

Not surprisingly the press is also taking notice: The New York Times launched a new feature called “Questions for Hillary,” dedicated to posing hypothetical questions that it would ask Clinton (if the paper had the chance).

By ABC News’ count, Clinton has responded — in one way or another — to a grand total of eight questions from reporters since she launched her campaign last month. Most recently, on April 21 she answered a question from a reporter about her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement.

Clinton has not answered any questions from reporters since, though she has fielded her fair share from voters in events her campaign has organized.

Here’s how Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson explained the approach: “The focus of our ramp up period is to hear from voters about the issues they care about. She’s enjoyed engaging in hours of public question and answers sessions and, as the campaign progresses, looks forward to more engagement with voters and the press as well.”

Clinton has participated in multiple roundtable discussions and coffee chats with voters during campaign swings through Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. But, in some instances, those voters were chosen by her own campaign.

Chris Cillizza has also taken notice:

Welcome to day 29 of the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign!

In those 29 days - including April 12, the day she announced, and today - Clinton has taken a total of eight questions from the press.  That breaks out to roughly one question every 3.6 days. Of late, she’s taken even fewer questions than that. According to media reports, the last day Clinton answered a question was April 21 in New Hampshire; that means that she hasn’t taken a question from the media in 20 straight days.

(…)

As I have written before, Clinton needs the media at this point in the campaign far less than someone like Carly Fiorina does. Clinton is not only universally known but also has a huge primary lead and is ahead of all Republican contenders in general election matchups as well. Fiorina, on the other hand, is known by roughly no one, and to the extent anyone does know her, it’s for the way she left HP.

Still, this is the new Clinton campaign, right? The one where she and the people around her pledged to deal differently with the press? Little did we know that “different” in this case meant “next to not at all.”

In most political campaigns, there is something of a symbiotic relationship between candidates and the reporters who cover them. Reporters rely upon the campaign and the candidate for stories, sound bites, and other pieces of information that they can use to write their reports or as the basis for their next cable news hit, and candidates and campaigns rely on reporters for the kind of media coverage that they usually have to pay money for. At the same time, there’s something of a love-hate relationship going on because reporters realize that the campaigns would prefer that they dutifully copy down the press releases and official statements that the campaign puts out without stirring up trouble, and candidates often view the reporters as being mainly interested in the “gotcha” moment or campaign gaffe that will make for a viral story that proves embarrassing, usually mildly so, for the candidate. As a result, what you usually see is campaigns that try to control the press as best the can, and reporters who try to get around that control to get the “real story.”

Viewed in this context, it’s not entirely surprising that Clinton’s campaign is controlling the media’s access to the candidate in the early stages of the campaign. As it is, the past month has been a relatively low-key affair for Clinton. There have not been any big rallies, for example, and instead the candidate has participated in smaller forums with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. In several cases, the voters participating in those forums appear to have been pre-selected by the campaign. Obviously, part of the reason for doing this is to control the message as much as possible. Given the fact that, if Clinton did field questions from the press right now she’d be more likely to face questions about the Clinton Foundation and her email server than about policy, this isn’t necessarily an unwise decision on the campaign’s part.

The biggest issue, of course, is the one that Cillizza raises above. To put it bluntly, Hillary Clinton does not need the media the same way that other candidates do. As we’ve seen before, there are few Americans who don’t know who she is at this point, so the kind of free media coverage that other candidates willingly seek out isn’t something she really needs to worry about. In some respects, this is yet another way in which Clinton’s campaign this year is more like that of an incumbent running for re-election than a candidate running for an open seat. One obvious contrast to Clinton right now is former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, whose campaign strategy at the moment seems to involve little more than trolling Hillary Clinton in the media while dodging questions about her business record. Given her position in the polls, Fiorina needs all the free media she can get right now. Clinton doesn’t, and that’s why she can avoid subjecting herself to press scrums in ways that other candidates wouldn’t really be able to get away with.

The big question, of course, is how long the campaign intends on continuing with this strategy. Clinton can’t avoid the press forever, after all, and at some point her avoidance will itself become a story (that may be happening now, but it’s still to early to tell). In the long run, though, I’m not sure that it really matters for a candidate in Clinton’s position in the polls. In the end, this seems like another one of the endless “process stories” that come up during the course of any political campaign. The media thinks they are vitally important, even more so when the story involves the campaign’s relationship with the media, but it’s never been clear that voters actually care about things like this. This is especially true given the fact that most voters aren’t even paying attention to the race at this point. Clinton will take reporter’s questions again at some point, it could very well happen at some point during the course of this very day, but it’s likely going to be at a time and place of the campaign’s choosing. The media will complain about that, but given that the reporters that follow Clinton around are dependent on the campaign for the material they need to do their job, there’s not a whole lot they can do about it.

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FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    It really is far too early to start campaigning. Seems to me that Clinton shouldn’t do too much for about a year. There is very little upside to talking with the press at this point. She can spend a leisurely year trying out her messaging and refining her positions. Kind of enviable compared to the Republicans who are all clamoring for attention and being summoned to audition for billionaires.

  2. stonetools says:

    in these days of social media, there is next to no reason for a well-known candidate to expose themselves to questions from a potentially hostile press that might ask questions like “Why don’t your welcome your opponent to the campaign en espanol?”.
    Hillary Clinton can now just tweet her views directly to those interested in following her, so it makes the press somewahat unneccessary for a candidate. She doesn’t have to to trade access for exposure to the press like in the olden days. Still, it would be nice for HRC would pledge to a monthly press conference(and other candidates too, as well).

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Hillary is not avoiding the Press. She is ignoring them. There is a difference, not that the self absorbed Press would notice.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott: She can spend a leisurely year trying out her messaging and refining her positions, and raising tons and tons of money.

    FinishedTFY, no charge.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    She hasn’t taken questions…but she has given a couple major policy speeches.
    I mean…I wish we could hear more about her tipping habits at Chipotle…but policy is kid of important.

  6. Facebones says:

    Considering that the Washington media has been openly hostile to her for over 20 years, I can certainly understand why she isn’t going to talk to them.

    I’d say that the politicians in this country have an obligation to talk to the press, but considering the infantile nitwits that populate cable and network news I can see the reluctance.

  7. Scott says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: She’s going to need it.

  8. Tyrell says:

    This is a good thing – for our ears.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott: Amen to that.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell: Just because she’s talking doesn’t mean you have to listen. Worked for me with Romney.

  11. Pete S says:

    Perhaps while the press is making up fake scandals, they could further amuse themselves by running imaginary interviews?

  12. Just Me says:

    How long she can avoid the press pros ably depends more on whether any other primary challengers enter the race. Right now she doesn’t have to work too hard to separate herself from the GOP candidates on the issues but if a viable and interesting democratic candidate enters the race she’s going to need the media in order to separate her from other candidates from the left.she has name recognition but ignoring the media may not work if she has to work hard to win the various primaries.

  13. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Just Me: Ain’t going to happen

  14. JohnMcC says:

    With the field of potential opponents that she faces and the history she’s had with the press and the time (17 or 18 months!) before election day — why on earth should she subject herself to the kind of attention the 4th estate engages in? She’s following Napoleon’s maxim: ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake’.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just Me:

    There are no other viable Democratic candidates in this cycle, IMO. Now, I’m not thrilled about that state of affairs, for a variety of reasons that mostly devolve to not being thrilled with Clinton in general as a candidate, but her numbers are off of the charts. I can’t think of any potential Dem challengers who can mount anything more than “I want exposure for my pet issues” media campaigns. I doubt that even they take themselves seriously as candidates.

    (Note: then there’s Martin, who actually seems to think he’s a viable candidate, for reasons passing understanding – unless he’s jonesing for a cabinet position that he doesn’t have the juice to position himself to negotiate for, which slots him as a fool. I like the guy, but this is not his time. It may never be his time, but in this cycle he really should have known better and ran for Mikulski’s Senate seat.)

  16. superdestroyer says:

    The joy of the one party state. Ms. Clinton knows she has already won. Why tolerate people who ask pesky questions when one can surround oneself with people who are automatic, unquestioning supporters.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    1) The media has fallen down the rabbit hole into triviality, gossip and partisan hackwork.

    2) Politicians no longer requite the media to communicate with people.

    Had the media maintained some sort of standard, I’d be pushing for press conferences. If you could swap BBC interviewers for ours, I’d push for sit-down interviews. But I can’t blame a candidate for not wanting to waste an hour to produce a Fox News lie or a Buzzfeed listicle at the other end.

  18. John425 says:

    She doesn’t need the press coverage because she knows they are in the bag for her and will use them for a later date. Arrogance is her crown.

  19. JohnMcC says:

    @John425: Given the present state of the republican party and the so-called-conservative movement her arrogance is justified.

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Frankly, I don’t think that anyone who actively supports her Presidentail run is going to hold this against her. Especially that portion of her electorate who has seen how she’s been treated by the media since the early 90s.

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @John425:

    She doesn’t need the press coverage because she knows they are in the bag for her and will use them for a later date. Arrogance is her crown.

    Arrogance? Compared with Ted Cruz, Hillary’s arrogance seems downright quaint and understated.

  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    If Hillary started answering questions, that might lead to the perception that she’s actually answerable to anyone.

    “Mrs. Clinton, when did you change your stance on gay marriage, and what caused you to change your mind?”

    “Mrs. Clinton, you’ve come out as opposing many of the laws and policies your husband backed during his presidency. Did you oppose them at the time, or did you change your mind since? And as above, when did you change your mind and why?”

    “Mrs. Clinton, why didn’t you answer Congress when they asked if you or anyone else at the State Department was using private e-mail to conduct official business?”

    “Mrs. Clinton, you’ve denounced the so-called ‘wage gap’ between men and women. How did you address that with your staff when you were in the Senate? When you were at the State Department? How about at the Clinton Foundation?”

    “Mrs. Clinton, did you sign off on the Clinton Foundation’s tax returns where various foreign donations were credited to less controversial sources? And would you welcome a full audit of those returns that have been corrected, to see if any other misrepresentations were made?”

    “Mrs. Clinton, you said that you were ‘dead broke’ when you left the White House in 2001. Did you ever consider revisiting the cattle futures market, where in your first venture you parlayed $1,000 into $100,000?”

    “Mrs. Clinton, can you cite any countries with whom the United States had improved relations from when you took office as Secretary of State, and when you left?”

    There are plenty of questions to ask her, if one has the opportunity… and courage…

  23. Ron Chusid says:

    Of course Clinton does not need to speak to the media–but the country needs its leaders to do so. Clinton has a long record of hostility towards government transparency and this past month should be taken as a preview of how she will likely govern if elected.

    It will also be interesting to see how she handles the media should she ever agree to an interview with more than softball questions and with follow up allowed. She totally botched her book tour, which should have been easy. She couldn’t handle an interview with Terry Gross last year. Her press conference after the email scandal broke was a disaster, with fact checkers quickly finding multiple lies in her claims.

    The only other major politician I can think of who hid from the press as much as Hillary Clinton was Sarah Palin after it became clear she also could not handle the press.

  24. wr says:

    @Ron Chusid: Yeah, you run with that one if it makes you feel better.

  25. MarkedMan says:

    Bush, as sitting president, went for weeks and months without a press conference. I couldn’t fault him for that despite the fact I think Bush was the worst president in our national history. The questions from the foreign press were so much better than the ones from the homies that it was embarrassing. Bottom line, the US press ask stupid, infantile questions and deserve to be ignored.

  26. John425 says:

    @al-Ameda: You mean Ted Cruz’s “arrogance” in Halperin’s interview where he asked Cruz to say something in Spanish to prove his “authenticity”?

  27. John425 says:

    @JohnMcC: You have the Republicans confused with Democrats. As in the NOW calls Obama sexist and Senate Democrats fighting Obama’s fast-track trade bill?.