The relationship between Hillary Clinton and the reporters covering her campaign is spiraling downward. While the journalists have some legitimate gripes, they face a dilemma: How can they get their concerns addressed by a campaign that plainly dislikes them, and doesn’t think it needs to have good relations with the press in order to succeed?
As Michael Calderone reports, they’re trying to get their complaints heard:
Journalists covering Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign met for nearly two hours in Washington on Monday to discuss concerns about what they believe is inadequate access to cover the Democratic front-runner, according to people who attended.
The grievances discussed at the private gathering, which was held at the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington offices, go beyond Clinton’s unwillingness so far to substantively engage with the press, a topic that has already been discussed publicly on cable news and social media. Attendees of the meeting, who were not authorized by their news organizations to speak on the record, charge the Clinton campaign with keeping an excessively tight grip on information, even when it comes to logistical details that don’t seem particularly sensitive or revelatory.
A lot of what the journalists describe seems like the product of reflexive secrecy and antipathy on the Clinton campaign’s part when it comes to dealing with the press. Is it necessary for Clinton staffers to refuse to be quoted by name when they’re issuing talking points or describing mundane details of the campaign? Of course not. Would it kill them to give reporters more notice about public events so they can plan their coverage, and more access when those events occur? Of course not. This sort of thing doesn’t help the campaign in any way, and all it does is make journalists’ work more difficult.
To a degree, Clinton has a right to campaign however she wants. If she wants to do eight public events a day, she can do that, and if she wants to do one event every two weeks, she can do that too. But she does have an obligation to treat the press like what it is at the most fundamental level: the public’s representative. If you’re not an Iowan, you’re going to need the media to understand what Clinton wants to do as president, so the campaign has to enable the media to meet that need (after all, you aren’t going to learn much from Clinton’s twitter feed). Clinton doesn’t have to treat reporters like royalty, but she has to afford them the basic level of respect necessary for them to do their jobs.
But if they’re going to convince her to do that, many of them are going about it the wrong way. I’ve suggested before that part of the reason journalists as a group seem to have such an intense dislike for Bill and Hillary Clinton is that their ability to emerge relatively unscathed from the innumerable mini-scandals and faux-scandals with which the press becomes temporarily consumed is an implicit rebuke to the press’ power. You can see that in the argument some in the media are now making about this troubled relationship: that Clinton should work to improve it because her numbers in this or that poll are slipping.
For instance, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes: “So far, it’s hard to see how the ignore-the-press strategy is working. In fact, there are many obvious signs suggesting that Clinton’s aloofness has hurt her image since kicking off her campaign.” And take a look at this, from this morning’s NBC News “First Read” tip sheet:
Clinton backers make a point we gave a nod to yesterday, which is that the bad press and perceived controversies are resonating a LOT more in the Acela Corridor than with the base in primary states right now. (See the Des Moines Register/ Bloomberg poll showing Clinton holding strong with Iowa Democrats.) But these issues ARE making a dent in her national support. A new CNN/ORC poll out this morning shows that a majority — 57 percent — now say that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, up from 49 percent in March. And she’s now upside-down on favorability (46% favorable/50% unfavorable) — a reversal from earlier this year.
Yes, she’s primarily hurting with independents and still holding strong with Dems, but does anyone think that she can afford to have erosion like this all year? She has to act like she’s willing to work for this. And dealing with the press corps that has little problem getting access to the 16 Republicans running is one of the necessary evils of running for president. Ultimately, Clinton is playing to type and what she needs right now are moments that do exactly the opposite.
All that may or may not be true, but it reads like a memo from Clinton’s media consultants, not an analysis from supposedly objective journalists. Is it really the job of reporters from prominent news organizations to be telling candidates they ought to deal with the press differently because of what the polls are saying?
The problem with mistreating reporters isn’t that it might hurt her with this or that voting bloc, or that it “plays into a narrative” she wants to avoid. It’s that reporters are there on the public’s behalf, and when you intentionally make it hard for them to do their jobs, you’re shortchanging the public you want to represent.
Hillary Clinton spent four years as America’s top diplomat, and I assume that during that time she learned that sometimes you have to make nice with people you don’t particularly like. It would cost her nothing to make reporters’ lives a little easier, whether she thinks they’re treating her fairly or not. She shouldn’t do it because it will bring her some strategic benefit — maybe it will, or maybe it won’t. She should do it because it’s her obligation as someone who’s asking Americans for their votes.