Hillary Press Strategy — Of Not Talking — Is Spreading To Other Lawmakers

(Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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Hillary Clinton’s reputation for blowing off the press has set the trend for members of Congress with higher aspirations.

The Republican National Committee recently pointed out how “easy” the life of a “Clinton communicator” must be and listed 38 “no comments” from a Clinton spokesperson responding to 38 different stories between May 21 and Feb. 15.

While Clinton’s advocates argue that her critics in the media have been attacking her since her husband ran for governor of Arkansas and later the White House in the early 90s, the press still wonders, “What is Hillary Clinton Afraid of?

“Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change,” a Clinton campaign veteran told Politico last year when asked why she put little effort into reaching out to reporters over the years.

In 2000, as the newly-elected senator from New York, Clinton made it clear to Capitol Hill reporters she would not make her comments easily available to them as most longtime senators usually do. The move was unusual for any junior senator looking to make a mark in the upper chamber and prove his or her value to constituents.

Eventually, reporters accepted the fact that then-Sen. Clinton would not do face-to-face interviews on the fly like many of her colleagues.

Fellow members and candidates have picked up Clinton’s press strategy over the years.

A longtime Capitol Hill reporter told The Daily Caller that he started noticing more junior members of the Senate copying Clinton’s press response when reporters would approach them.

Reporters on the Hill know that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken never talks to them off the cuff when he is walking the halls of Congress. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren does not take reporters’ questions in the Capitol either.

Like Franken and Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker refuses to talk to reporters without them going through a communications staffer. The top Republican leaders in both chambers, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, only make themselves available to reporters at weekly press conferences.

Some reporters say that Louisiana Sen. David Vitter does not make himself available, while others says that New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand simply runs and hides from the press after she votes. One reporter on the Hill once noted that he considers the group of members who never talk to reporters during Capitol legislative activities, “the chicken-sh*t caucus.”

In the 2008 Democratic primary, both Obama and Clinton were reliably inaccessible to the press. The Washington Post now wonders how different Clinton will be as a 2016 candidate as opposed to how she behaved in 2008, noting her “relations with the traveling press corps in 2008 were often difficult.”

After 2010, when GOP trackers caught many Democrats on tape defending their votes for Obamacare in constituent town halls, Democratic politicians began to employ similar press strategies to the 2008 Clinton and Obama campaigns.

As the Democratic nominee for the last Virginia gubernatorial race, Terry McAuliffe, a former fundraiser and close friend of the Clintons, operated a highly-insular press operation — a small group of cherry-picked reporters were allowed to receive press releases indicating where McAuliffe would be.

Those reporters were not allowed to reveal to any other outlet where McAuliffe would be ahead of schedule or they would lose the privilege of being part of this specific press circle. The campaign would notify local Virginia news outlets only when he was scheduled to appear in their areas, and often the notifications would arrive just hours in advance.

National outlets were often kept in the dark when he would make appearances in smaller towns around the Old Dominion. The tactic worked out for McAuliffe in the end — he easily won the 2013 election.

Other Democratic candidates, though, did not find success by being inaccessible to reporters. Alex Sink, Democratic candidate for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, ran a similar press operation in a special election against Republican David Jolly last March. Jolly beat Sink by 2 percentage points.

Michelle Nunn, 2014 Democratic nominee for Georgia’s Senate seat, tried to evade the press, but failed to defeat Republican David Perdue.

“The political press is not inclined to cover a candidate repeating their message,” Nunn’s leaked media relation strategy read. “In fact, many reporters see their job as getting the candidate to ‘reveal’ what their ‘true’ inclinations and orientation may lay or to cause a gaffe. Any deviation from that message will be newsworthy to them. They also understand that effective candidates and campaigns stick to their message, and will see a deviation in message as an erred campaign or candidate.”

Suspicious treatment of reporters at the Democrats’ January retreat in Philadelphia showed that the party appears to want a stronger grip and control on the media than ever before. For example, at a press conference with California Rep. Xavier Becerra, Politico reported, journalists complained to the vice chair of the Democratic Conference that they were being “followed.”

“We were not aware they were following you. We had to have the security in the hotel that we were in because it was expected by Capitol Police that we would be secure. This hotel, where the press was located, we did not have those types of requirements. If you want to give me some names, I’m willing to talk to them. That was not at the direction of the caucus,” Becerra said.

A similar incident happened at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in September, when staff followed reporters all the way up to bathroom stalls.

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