Hillary Clinton hasn't held a press conference since early December, an extended vacation from reporters that has created annoyance and even resentment in the media. Sure, she's granted interviews—she did one by phone with CNN's Anderson Cooper just Wednesday night—but she hasn't made herself available in the accessible, unpredictable forum that a press conference affords, allowing representatives of multiple outlets to ask questions at once.
Cooper challenged Clinton's seclusion Wednesday, asking if she would finally hold such an event.
"Well, Anderson, I'm talking to you right now. And I've given, I think, way in excess of 300 interviews this year," she responded. Cooper observed, obviously, that a one-on-one interview is different from a "presser", as they're termed.
"Well, you know, I mean, I've got a lot that I have been sharing with the press, talking to the press as I'm doing with you right now," she continued. "So, you know, stay tuned, there'll be a lot of different opportunities for me to talk to the press as well as continuing to talk to the American public."
Reporters have stated their reasons for why a press conference is revelatory and distinct from other media interactions, including CNN's people after their network's Clinton interview.
"The people who travel in a pack, that follow the candidate around … they have such a very special perspective of the candidate," CNN's Dana Bash said Thursday morning. "They hear that stump speech over and over and over again. They see how the candidate is feeling. They see the people around them. It's different. And the fact that she doesn't have—the people who travel and follow her all over the country don't have the opportunity to press her is crazy. I mean, it just is. It's just wrong."
Brian Stelter, the channel's senior media correspondent, conceded that skeptics might wonder what all the fuss is about.
"[B]ecause when we are at our best, we are advocates for the viewers at home. We are asking the questions that viewers want asked," he said.
"We have a lot of questions for her. We know that viewers have a lot of questions for her, too."
Other members of political media raised the same point. Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post called Clinton's behavior "ridiculous" and a "dangerous precedent" in headlines published just a week apart. Here's how he framed a press conference's distinguishing characteristics:
Jokes aside, it's beyond ridiculous that one of the two people who will be elected president in 80 or so days continues to refuse to engage with the press in this way. But she does sit-down interviews! And she did a "press conference" with a moderator, um, moderating the questions! Not good enough. Not when you are running to be president of the United States. One of the most important things when someone is offering themselves up to represent all of us is that we get the best sense we can about how that person thinks on his or her feet, how they deal with unwanted or adversarial questions. Those two traits are big parts of doing the job of president in the modern world.
Cilizza underscored his point by reminding readers of how Clinton handled a March 2015 press conference about her email controversy, an appearance that the media described as "hectic" and "mayhem". It created numerous stories about her use of a private server while at the State Department that had significance well into 2016. An example: "She … said she didn't use the server to send any classified information."
We learned 16 months later during a press conference at FBI headquarters that her claim was wrong on 113 counts.
Stelter said Wednesday evening that Clinton's conduct made him wonder "how accessible she would be in the White House as president." For anyone worried about "dangerous precedents", just consider the last eight years of covering the White House—an administration that New York Times reporter James Risen called "the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation."