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.
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.