On Friday, Hillary Clinton did something she doesn't do all that much: she actually spoke to reporters.
Normally this fact alone wouldn't warrant news headlines, but Clinton is not a typical case. Her interaction with the press at a joint conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists on Friday was such a big deal that Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe took a moment to criticize her for not taking more questions in general.
Clinton ignored O'Keefe's comment, but he's right: the Democratic presidential nominee has a serious problem with how she and her campaign handle the media.
Clinton has not held a press conference since December of last year. (Her staff tried to insist that Friday's Q-and-A counted, but it was really a moderated panel, not a press conference.) She rarely grants interviews to critical press outlets. The most in-depth piece of journalism that she has participated in during this cycle painted her as a savior. In fact, Clinton has only taken questions from reporters that travel with her campaign nine times this entire year, according to ABC News' Liz Kreutz. At one point she went a whole 88 days without even speaking a word to the press that literally follow her around the country, hanging onto her every line.
Even in the instances where she has taken direct questions on pressing issues, her responses have often been lackluster and even downright untruthful.
Take the issue of her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. FBI Director James Comey delivered a scathing press conference about the investigation into Clinton’s use of a personal email server. Among other things, he called her “extremely careless” in the way that she handled “very sensitive, highly classified information.” He added that a grand total of 110 emails that she sent through the server were classified at the time they were received or sent—a fact that flatly contradicted every public statement that Clinton had made about the emails. Further, he said that “we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”
Yet in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace earlier this week, Clinton told an outright fabrication about what Comey had said about her emails. Here’s the transcript:
WALLACE: After a long investigation, FBI Director James Comey said none of those things that you told the American public were true.
CLINTON: Chris, that's not what I heard Director Comey say, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, in my view, clarify.
Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails.
Whether you support her or not, it is a matter of fact that this statement, and the one that followed it when Wallace pushed back, were untrue. It's no wonder The Atlantic asked of the response: "Why Can't Hillary Clinton Stop Lying?"
Some of her defenders, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have said that she so rarely does press because the media repeatedly asks about the same things, like Benghazi or her emails. That's not wrong, but when she so rarely opens herself up for questions, or makes false and erroneous statements when she does, isn't she helping perpetuate that situation?
It's also true that the media has been harsh on Clinton for decades. She wouldn't be human if that hadn't left her leery of dealing with reporters. But as someone running for the most powerful office in the world, that real or perceived antipathy shouldn't mean that reporters don't have the ability to ask pressing questions.
Clinton’s refusal to take questions from reporters has made the rare occasions when she does almost comical. For example, last year, MSNBC ran an on-screen graphic that read, "BREAKING NEWS: NBC NEWS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH HILLARY CLINTON."
Here is the entire transcript of the "exclusive interview" that reporter Kristen Welker conducted with the candidate in Iowa:
Welker: "You lost Iowa in 2008. How do you win this time? What's your strategy?"
Clinton: "I'm having a great time. Can't look forward any more than I am."
After those words, which had nothing to do with the question that was asked, Clinton hopped into a van and whooshed off. It was ridiculous, disrespectful even. And there are many other similar stories.
In June, Brian Fallon, Clinton's press secretary, went on CNN and tried to downplay the criticism. "The reality, bottom line, is that she's answering questions from the reporters that are covering her day to day,” he said.
The Washington Post called it a "totally bogus claim." In fact, the paper calculated that she had spent fewer than 50 minutes answering questions in all of 2016, “a length that [Donald] Trump has eclipsed at one single news conference."
After accepting the Democratic nomination for the presidency, Joel Benenson, one of Clinton's chief strategists and pollsters, went on ABC and defended her lack of press access.
"We'll have a press conference when we want to have a press conference," he said.
The line recalls a criticism that Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush lobbed at Clinton early on in the race. “You can’t script your way to the presidency,” he said. It sometimes feels like she is doing just that.
At this point Hillary Clinton’s job is simple. She’s kicking back and watching her opponent shred himself to pieces. All she has to do is not be Donald Trump, do anything dumb, or piss anybody off, and she can get elected president of the United States.
It's easy to understand why she's taking this path, but it's not good enough. Clinton wants to be president, and part of being president means letting the media do its job—and letting reporters ask her questions.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.