It has been more than three weeks since Hillary Clinton has answered a question from reporters. There is always a tension between the press and the candidates they cover. Journalists want access, and want to ask questions. Campaigns want to control the message. Over time, that has especially been true with Hillary Clinton.
Since announcing her candidacy in a web video, there have been no press conferences and no sit-down interviews. It has been a month, and the candidate has answered just 13 reporter questions (at least that we’ve been able to find, building on the work of National Journal). And you can quibble about whether some of the answers were really answers.
Last week in Nevada, as Clinton posed for pictures, we in the press corps attempted to get her attention. All we saw was the back of her head as she walked out of the room, to applause from a small hand-selected group of participants and observers.
Clinton’s campaign describes this as the ramp-up phase, where she listens to voters. Questions about when there will be interviews, or when she will make herself available to questions from reporters are deflected with something along the lines of: all in good time.
Now, this isn’t to say the candidate hasn’t answered any questions. She’s answered plenty. But they’ve been generally friendly questions on comfortable topics from people invited to participate in round-table discussions with her.
Her campaign spokesperson, Nick Merrill responds in an email:
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.
Until then, here are the 13 reporter questions Clinton has answered:
1. Strategy in Iowa
NBC’s Kristen Welker caught up with Clinton outside of her very first campaign stop at an Iowa coffee shop:
“You lost Iowa in 2008. How do you win this time? What’s your strategy?” Welker asked.
Clinton’s reply, as she walked toward an open van door: “I’m having a great time. Can’t look forward any more than I am.”
2. Liking Iowa
AP got in a question as Clinton walked into the Iowa State Capitol building to meet with lawmakers: “How are you liking Iowa?”
“I’m having a great time,” Clinton answered.
3. Why are you running?
ABC’s Cecilia Vega got a question in during Clinton’s visit to a community college in Iowa. “What would you say to Americans who want to know why you are running?,” she asked.
“I’m running to be the champion to Americans and their families, so that we can not just worry about treading water, but you can get ahead and you can stay ahead,” she answered.
4-6. More liking Iowa, and opportunity structure
Clinton answered three other questions from reporters at the community college in Iowa.
One was “Is it good to be back out here again?”
Her response was: “Welcome. It is, it’s fabulous. We’re having the best time.”
She was also asked what she learned during her visit, to which she responded, in part: “So much good information, so much great exchange about what works, what can work not just here in Iowa, but I think across the country.”
She was also asked a question not caught in recordings of the event, and in response spoke about the start of the campaign and her visit to Iowa. “We’re off and running, and I had a great drive across the country. One of the highlights was seeing spring, finally, once I got to Iowa, which I thought was a good sign. I saw daffodils and tulips and flowering trees. It was so beautiful. Just glad to be here,” she said.
7-8. Campaign finance plan
A pair of Washington Post reporters spotted her outside of an unannounced event and asked about campaign finance reform. The answers weren’t substantive.
According to the Post, she said “We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan.”
9. Importance of Iowa
Brent Roske, the host of the Iowa television show Roske on Politics worked his sources to figure out where the candidate would be.
“I found myself basically the sixth car in the motorcade pulling into Mount Vernon, Iowa,” he said.
He was in the right place at the right time and was able to ask a question.
“Secretary Clinton what do you think the importance of the Iowa caucus will be in the upcoming election?,” Roske asked.
Clinton answered: “I think it’s important because it’s the first contest and I look forward to getting prepared for it next February.”
Roske admits it was a softball question. But it’s a question he asks all of the candidates he interviews, to get the conversation going. And Roske has interviewed a ton of candidates. His Clinton interview in the middle of the street as she headed into a closed door event has to go down as one of his shortest.
“Was hoping to get a minute or two with her and just got a very short exchange,” he said. “I was hoping it would spark a bit more of a conversation. I didn’t know at the time that she wasn’t necessarily taking press questions on this tour.”
10. Position on trade deal
In New Hampshire, Clinton answered four reporter questions. One was about trade. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Clinton about the trade deal, and whether that will hurt American competitiveness.
Clinton didn’t answer immediately or directly. Instead she talked about an Intellitech machine assembled in Manchester. And then about 30 seconds later, she talked more broadly about trade deals. “Well any trade deal has to produce jobs, and raise wages, and increase prosperity and protect our security. And we have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and the skills to be competitive,” Clinton said.
11. Response to Clinton Cash book
ABC’s Vega asked Clinton for her response to the Clinton Cash book, specifically:
“Did foreign embassies receive any special treatment for making any kind of donations to foundation or your husband?”
“Well, we’re back into the political season and therefore we will be subjected to all kinds of distraction and attacks. And I’m ready for that. I know that that comes, unfortunately, with the territory,” Clinton answered. She went on to say she didn’t know what the Republicans would talk about “if I weren’t in the race.”
12-13. Criticism of a staged campaign
And then a reporter from WMUR asked her to respond to criticism that the campaign is too staged.
“This is exactly what I want to do. I want to hear from people in New Hampshire about what’s on their minds,” she said.
And the follow-up:
“Are you planning to answer reporter questions about some of the things that are coming up regarding the play for pay allegations in the latest book, emails back in 2012?” the reporter asked.
“Those issues are in my view distractions from what this campaign should be about. What I’m going to make this campaign about,” Clinton responded.
But does avoiding questions or not answering them directly hurt her with voters?
“The premise of your question presupposes that the way that Hillary Clinton needs to reach voters is through the national media, and that’s simply not the case anymore,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser on John McCain’s Straight Talk Express campaign back in 2000.
He argues a campaign as sophisticated Clinton’s can bypass the media filter and target voters directly.
“The notion that real voters worried about real issues cares one whit about how often a presidential candidate talks to their traveling press corps or answers questions from them is just ludicrous. It’s not the case,” he said.
You can argue other candidates have to answer reporter questions. They need the free media. Clinton doesn’t. And with minimal primary competition, she’d be happy to have much less media attention.
GOP candidate Carly Fiorina’s campaign is keeping a running tally of all the questions she’s answered. Since the last time Hillary Clinton answered a reporter question, Fiorina has answered 328.