Hillary Clinton's Campaign Kinda, Sorta, Maybe Wants To Open Up More To The Press

The campaign is trying to change, but striking the right balance with the press is proving difficult.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters

NEW YORK ― Bloomberg News announced in a Thursday morning press release that “With All Due Respect,” its marquee politics show, would broadcast live that afternoon from inside the Hillary Clinton campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters, complete with a tour of the premises.

Normally, footage from inside a campaign office isn’t touted as “exclusive” (especially since Politico posted a “peek inside” the office hours before Bloomberg’s cameras were able to start rolling). But for the first three months of Clinton’s candidacy, journalists visiting the headquarters weren’t permitted to report details or tweet photos of the interior, rules that have only helped fuel the perception that the campaign is too controlling of the press. That view has been reinforced by the rarity of candidate interviews, disputes over access on the trail and the infamous corralling of reporters at a Fourth of July parade.

The abrupt about-face on access to the campaign office, announced on Wednesday in response to a critical New York Times Magazine profile, indicates that, at the very least, the team wants to show a greater veneer of accessibility. The decision to open up the headquarters certainly suggests that the campaign is making an effort, but access is still more superficial than substantive.

Clinton is unlikely to go the John McCain route, chatting up reporters for hours on the back of a bus. Unlike McCain, she doesn’t enjoy such settings and doesn’t need the media exposure the way he did.

Instead, s0 far, she and her team have adopted a traditional incumbent strategy. But this strategy is unlikely to succeed the way it did in the 2012 cycle for the disciplined Obama team, which could afford to frustrate the national media by giving access to local talk radio shows over The Washington Post and “Meet the Press.” President Barack Obama had no primary opponents in that race and, of course, was president and had no trouble commanding the nation’s attention.

But unlike the Obama campaign, Clinton’s aides aren’t known for their discipline. And she also has primary opponents to deal with, making it harder for her to simply brush off interviews with the major national media players. Moreover, the campaign has faced challenges out of the gate that most never contend with, such as a large press corps that includes reporters who have covered Clinton for years. Hundreds of journalists, including many from foreign outlets, turned up to watch arguably the most famous woman in the world sit down for low-key encounters with local business owners in Iowa.

The voracious demands of the press, coupled with the campaign’s desire for control, have put Clinton in a bind. The decision to open up the headquarters certainly suggests that the campaign is making an effort, but striking a better balance won’t be easy.

After the landmark nuclear deal with Iran was announced on Tuesday, Clinton spoke publicly on the subject for only a few minutes ― despite having paved the way for the agreement while serving as secretary of state. She ignored questions from reporters about the deal. The campaign later put out a written statement.

The next day, the New York Times Magazine published a profile of Clinton, the candidate, which portrayed the campaign as controlling and described packs of reporters shouting questions at each stop.

The story, written by Mark Leibovich, the magazine’s chief national correspondent, opened with Clinton’s enthusiastic reaction to his having passed a moose on the ride to the New Hampshire hotel they were meeting at. ‘Oh, really? Wow!’’ she responded.

Clinton also talked to Leibovich about having eaten moose stew and recalled her experience with the animals while working at an Alaska resort when she was 21. “The guides told us the most dangerous animals in the park ― more than the grizzlies, because the grizzlies will basically ignore you ― were the moose,” she said.

There are no more quotes from Clinton for another 4,000 words or so, during which Leibovich describes how he was asked to keep details about the inside of the campaign headquarters off the record, explaining that the campaign rejected the initial conditions under which he asked to speak to Clinton. Instead, he was offered an off-the-record conversation, which he deemed “highly irregular” given that Clinton is running for president and “not exactly new to these rodeos.”

Leibovich eventually agreed to the off-the-record meeting, he wrote, “to ask Clinton directly for an interview or at least to let me do part of our conversation on the record. She chose the latter.”

But the portion that was on record must not have been very long, given how few direct Clinton quotes wound up in the piece. There’s just one additional quote later in the profile, in which the candidate discusses the culture wars. While the interview was conducted some days before the campaign’s decision to increase media access , it highlights the ongoing issue that has frustrated reporters since Clinton launched her campaign.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Leibovich wouldn’t get into specifics about the ground rules of the interview, but said his interaction with the Clinton team “was a pretty standard push-and-pull between reporter and campaign.”

“I pushed for as much access and as much on the record as I could get,” he said, “and they granted me what they granted me (not much, ultimately, but not a shut-out either).”

Still, the dearth of quotes from Clinton about policy issues or recent controversies ― her exclusive use of private email while at the State Department or foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation ― raises the question of whether such matters never came up in the interview, or whether they did and the campaign later insisted they not get published.

It’s common for journalists to speak with sources off the record, only to ask whether those rules can be lifted for a certain detail or quote to be permitted on the record. However, the Times and some other outlets follow a policy known as “quote approval” in which an interview subject is permitted to speak on background or off the record and then vet which quotes can be allowed on the record after the fact.

A Clinton campaign official declined to comment on the ground rules of the interview with Leibovich.

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