By Matthew Balan ~
Friday’s Morning Edition on NPR spotlighted Hillary Clinton’s “very few and far between” press conferences during her presidential campaign so far. David Folkenflik pointed out how it’s been “more than two months” since Mrs. Clinton was confronted about her lack of pressers, and how she “suggested there are other, better ways to hear from a candidate.” Folkenflik contended, “Clinton may have a point.” He also speculated that “why that’s the case may have something to do with [her] debacle” during a March 2015 press conference where she stumbled over her e-mail scandal.
Host David Greene led into the correspondent’s report by outlining that press conferences “can be, really, a moment of accountability, when the public witnesses powerful politicians confronting sometimes inconvenient questions.” He continued with the “very few and far between” phrase about the number of pressers the former first lady has held since announcing her candidacy.
Folkenflik first zeroed in on CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s question to Mrs. Clinton back in May 2016 about her lack of press conferences. She replied, “Oh, I’m sure we will.” The NPR journalist disclosed that “more than two months later, they still haven’t.” He played a second clip from Tapper’s interview, where the Democrat “suggested there are other, better ways to hear from a candidate.” She boasted that she had “done nearly 300 interviews.” Folkenflik replied, “Clinton may have a point. Yet, when I asked her press office for an itemization of those 300 interviews and was promised a detailed reply, none arrived.”
After briefing noting how Trump has held “a fair number of full-on press conferences” and has attacked his opponent for skipping them, the correspondent gave his possible explanation for Mrs. Clinton’s lack of pressers: “Why that’s the case may have something to do with this debacle back in March of last year — intending to address concerns about Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server for State Department matters…. It did not end well.”
Folkenflik later highlighted “those who know Clinton point back to her time as Bill Clinton’s first lady and political partner. Hillary Clinton felt badly treated by the press during various scandals and various setbacks.” He underlined that “the discomfort lingers” during the present day. The journalist continued that “in the meantime, Trump has been sabotaging himself” with his recent controversies. He ended the segment by citing Democratic consultant Lis Smith, who gave her own theory about Mrs. Clinton’s lack of press conferences: “It’s a golden rule of politics, Smith says: don’t get in the way when your opponent is busy doing your dirty work for you.”
The full transcript of David Folkenflik’s report on the August 5, 2016 edition of NPR’s Morning Edition:
DAVID GREENE: Think about a press conference. It can be, really, a moment of accountability, when the public witnesses powerful politicians confronting sometimes inconvenient questions. As NPR’s David Folkenflik reports, on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton, such moments have been very few and far between.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Back in May, CNN’s Jake Tapper took on the issue when Clinton called into his show.
JAKE TAPPER (from May 2016 interview of CNN’s The Lead): It has been pointed out to me that it’s been something like five or six months since you’ve held an actual press conference. Is that something you’re going to remedy soon?
HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Oh, I’m sure we will.
FOLKENFLIK: More than two months later, they still haven’t. Clinton suggested there are other, better ways to hear from a candidate.
CLINTON: Look, I — I was shocked myself that I’ve done nearly 300 interviews. And they’re not even sure they captured all the ones that I’ve done. But I believe that we do and we should answer questions. Of course, I’m going to, in many, many different kinds of settings.
FOLKENFLIK: Clinton may have a point. Yet, when I asked her press office for an itemization of those 300 interviews and was promised a detailed reply, none arrived.
Trump may attack the media daily, but he’s almost always in it; and he puts on a fair number of full-on press conferences.
DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: Late last month in Miami, Trump taunted Clinton.
TRUMP (from July 2016 press conference): So it’s been 235 days since crooked Hillary Clinton has had a press conference.
FOLKENFLIK: Why that’s the case may have something to do with this debacle back in March of last year — intending to address concerns about Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server for State Department matters.
CLINTON (from March 2015 press conference): I thought using one device would be simpler; and obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way. Now, I’m happy to take a few questions.
FOLKENFLIK: It did not end well.
CLINTON: Right. I—
DAVID SHUSTER, AL JAZEERA AMERICA: What about Ambassador Scott Gration being forced to resign?
CLINTON: David, I think you should go online and read the entire I.G. report. That is not an accurate representation of what happened.
FOLKENFLIK: Democratic consultant Lis Smith worked for Barack Obama in 2012 and Martin O’Malley this year. She says many candidates are too worried about making the wrong kind of news.
LIS SMITH, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: The longer you go without doing a press conference, the longer you give reporters the opportunity to come up with absolutely killer questions; and the longer you give reporters — you know, the ability to — to build up this simmering rage that you haven’t held these press conferences.
FOLKENFLIK: Those who know Clinton point back to her time as Bill Clinton’s first lady and political partner. Hillary Clinton felt badly treated by the press during various scandals and various setbacks. In this 1994 press conference, Clinton directly addressed her relationship with the media.
CLINTON (from 1994 press conference): So I really was under the misimpression that if I answered them in Rochester, or I answered them in St. Louis or somewhere else, that should be enough. And I just didn’t understand enough about being accessible to all of you, or being accessible in Washington.
FOLKENFLIK: Twenty-two years later, the discomfort lingers.
In the meantime, Trump has been sabotaging himself — attacking a dead army officer’s parents; making easily-disprovable claims; castigating other prominent Republicans. Lis Smith says reporters care about press conferences; most voters don’t.
SMITH: That’s a calculated risk they’re willing to take. And as we’re watching Donald Trump implode daily with his — you know, impolitic statements and gaffes, they’re sitting back and — and laughing.
FOLKENFLIK: It’s a golden rule of politics, Smith says: don’t get in the way when your opponent is busy doing your dirty work for you. David Folkenflik, NPR News.
Matthew Balan has been a news analyst at Media Research Center since February 2007, and he contributes posts at the NewsBusters site.