Hillary Clinton fielded questions Friday from two journalists serving as moderators at a joint gathering of the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The Democratic nominee then took questions from three additional journalists at the event.
The Clinton campaign suggested the event was a press conference. Several reporters covering Clinton’s candidacy said otherwise.
Why anyone would debate what, officially, constitutes a press conference stems from a long-running rift between the Clinton press corps and the campaign over the candidate’s accessibility. Clinton had not held a press conference since Dec. 4, 2015, in Fort Dodge, Iowa ― or 244 days ago ― and reporters have frequently highlighted this drought on Twitter.
So when NABJ President Sarah Glover introduced Clinton on Friday as speaking before the “largest press conference with any presidential candidate before a room filled with journalists of color,” several Clinton reporters took issue with that designation.
The Clinton campaign’s press secretary, Brian Fallon, suggested in response to CNN’s Dan Merica that Clinton was, indeed, participating in a press conference.
When asked by The Huffington Post if the campaign considered the event to be a press conference, Fallon emailed, “The president of the organization called it that, and I am not sure what else you could call it.”
Following the event’s conclusion, NAHJ president Mekahlo Medina described it as a “press event” to HuffPost.
The debate seems to be over whether an event with five pre-selected journalists amounts to a press conference, or if a press conference requires a more freewheeling exchange between the candidate and members of the campaign press corps.
At Friday’s event, NBC’s Kristen Welker and Telemundo’s Lori Montenegro, representing NABJ and NAHJ, respectively, served as moderators and began by asking Clinton several questions. Next, three journalists in the audience ― The New York Times’ Yamiche Alcindor, The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe, and ESPN’s Kevin Merida ― asked additional questions.
Medina said Welker and Montenegro were selected ahead of time to represent each organization, given their familiarity with Clinton’s campaign. The other journalists were part of a 10-person preliminary panel discussion at the joint conference.
“What happened today is Hillary Clinton took questions from members of the media,” Medina said. “I don’t know if people want to call that a press conference or not, but that’s what happened.”
Medina, an NBC anchor in Los Angeles, added that he’s “been a journalist for a long time” and “anytime there’s somebody who takes questions from the press at a large event, that constituted a press conference.”
Still, some journalists weren’t convinced.
Though Clinton has not held a press conference all year, she has participated in around a dozen “gaggles,” which are less formal sessions in which traveling reporters are able to ask some questions.
Clinton has personally pushed back against criticism over her accessibility to the media by noting in June that she’d given 300 interviews in 2016. And as reporters questioned Clinton’s openness on Friday, traveling press secretary Nick Merrill tweeted that she’d taken 2,600 questions this year.
Reporters are inevitably going to want more opportunities for access. Before asking his question Friday, O’Keefe encouraged Clinton to “do this more often with reporters across the country, especially those news organizations that travel the country with you everywhere you go.”