Clinton Addresses the Media After Long Void of Press Conferences
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton addressed the media traveling with her aboard her campaign jet on Sept. 5.
The airplane took off from White Plains, New York with Clinton, her staff, Secret Service agents, and journalists aboard. Up until now journalists assigned to cover Clinton had not been able to travel with her by plane, which is customary for presidential candidates. Donald Trump has also not allowed journalists to travel with him by plane on a regular basis.
— ABC News (@ABC) September 6, 2016
The presidential candidate’s answering of questions for over 20 minutes aboard the plane comes after she faced months of criticism for not having given a press conference since last December. The Clinton campaign has defended her track on media availability by pointing at the over 300 media appearances she has done so far this year.
Clinton’s lack of press conferences even gave rise to a discussion on the semantics of what constitutes a press conference. An appearance by Clinton at a conference in Washington D.C. last month where she took a few questions from select journalists was described by the campaign as a press conference, but disputed by others.
And while Clinton’s answering of questions aboard her campaign jet is similar to a press conference (although more traditionally referred to as a gaggle), she only spoke to a relatively small number of journalists assigned to cover her, which is different form a scheduled press conference where a larger number of journalists from a wider range of media get a chance to ask questions.
On the Defense
Over the past few months, faced with questions about the FBI’s investigation into her handling of classified material, as well as newly released emails that show her connections to Clinton Foundation donors while she served as secretary of state, Clinton has defended her track record when it comes to talking to the press.
During a phone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Aug. 24, Clinton emphasized that she was in fact talking to reporters, when he asked her when she will give a press conference.
“Well Anderson I’m talking to you,” said the former secretary of state. “And I’ve given way in excess of 300 interviews this year.”
“I know a lot of other reporters who’d love the chance to address you during a press conference,” Cooper said.
A Press Conference or Not?
The issue came to a head last month when Clinton’s campaign suggested that a few select journalists that were allowed to ask Clinton questions when she attended a joint gathering of the National Associated of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists constituted a press conference.
“I would not exactly call a couple Qs from pre-selected journalists a press conference,” said Lisa Lerer, national politics reporter for the Associated Press in a tweet at the time.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine said he believed the recent NABJ-NAHJ appearance was a press conference.
“I don’t see what the massive difference is between a press conference and talking to the press everywhere you go,” he said. “She talks to the press a lot. And I’ve been with her when she has talked to the press.”
According to a count by NBC News Donald Trump has given 17 press conference so far this year, excluding impromptu gaggles.
Confidants of the democratic candidate told Politico in August that the Clinton team aims to “run out the clock,” and “ride out” negative reaction to newly released emails that show Clinton Foundation officials trying to set up State Department meetings for donors while she served in office.
“It’s a plausible strategy to win,” said Justin Holmes, assistant professor of political science at University of Northern Iowa.
He says that unlike Trump, who talks his way through his troubles, Clinton is a more disciplined communicator and should be able to address issues and move on.
“By not addressing them, though, they seem to percolate. It would appear that she is banking on the electorate being pretty polarized and mostly having their minds made up already,” said Holmes.
“Clinton has been in the spotlight for 25 years now, and most people have made up their minds,” he added.
James Campbell, distinguished professor of political science at the SUNY University at Buffalo and author of the book “Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America,” due to be released this fall, said Clinton has to be more cautious, not make any gaffes like the “short-circuited” comment she made when talking about the FBI investigation into her emails, appear dignified, campaigning, and not controversial.
Campbell also said she should avoid making news.
“In general, if you’re doing pretty well, if you’re comfortably ahead, that is kind of an indication of ‘keep doing what you’re doing,’” said Holmes.