Clinton Dives in Media Waters

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a Ground Zero news briefing alongside Ceasar Brorja Jr., son of a retired NYPD officer.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a Ground Zero news briefing alongside Ceasar Brorja Jr., son of a retired NYPD officer. (By Mary Altaffer -- Associated Press)
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

With a call to "let the conversation begin," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) fielded a handful of pre-selected questions from voters on her presidential campaign's Web site last night, speaking into a video camera as she held forth on movies ("Out of Africa" makes her top three), her football-fanatic brothers and her "nice middle-class upbringing in a suburb of Chicago."

The effort to "humanize" Clinton, as her advisers have put it, was in full swing just two days into her presidential campaign.

In a carefully controlled setting where inquiries about affordable tuition and health care counted among the tougher topics, she reminisced, in response to a question about Hurricane Katrina, about walking the streets of New Orleans on visits when she and her husband lived in Arkansas. She acknowledged that her position papers on energy policy were too "wonkish" for a Web chat and said she turns to her daughter, Chelsea, for "advice and support in every way."

The online chat came amid what, for Clinton, is a media blitz at the outset of her campaign for president. She appeared on all three major television networks last night, is scheduled to appear on the morning shows today, and will hold two more online discussions on her Web site tonight and tomorrow. This weekend she will head to Iowa, which she has not visited for several years.

In her first public forays, Clinton made little substantive news. In an ABC News interview, she would not pledge not to raise taxes. But she also equivocated on whether the costs of the war in Iraq would require a tax increase. "We're going to have to make some tough decisions," she told interviewer Charles Gibson. "We also don't want to be straitjacketed."

On CBS, she told anchor Katie Couric that voters who doubt her ability to win should reserve judgment. "I would say: Give me a chance," she said. "As a friend of mine said the other day, I'm the most famous woman that nobody knows."

Dressed in the same pastel jacket for all her appearances, Clinton sat on a sofa against a soft backdrop of bookshelves and a yellow curtain for her Web chat. She was joined by her campaign's blogger, Crystal Patterson, who read viewer questions aloud. Almost all of the inquiries were from women, and nearly one-third were from New York. One question was about the role Chelsea Clinton will play in the campaign (unclear, her mom said).

She hedged on her favorite movie, saying that, as a child, she had loved "The Wizard of Oz," only to discover "Casablanca" in college and law school, watching it so often that she memorized the lines. (Her passion for the Meryl Streep-Robert Redford classic "Out of Africa" came later, she said.) But she was clear about her own conviction that she can become president.

Responding to a questioner identified only as Barbara in Massachusetts, who asked what she should tell people who do not think the country is ready for a woman to be president, Clinton said: "I hope you'll tell them we won't know until we try."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company