Remember Fort Dodge, Iowa?
No? Well, that’s understandable. It’s been a long time — seven months — since an event in Fort Dodge that turned out to be historic: Hillary Clinton’s last news conference.
The candidate, famously opaque, answered a grand total of seven questions there on Dec. 4, 2015. Since then, although she’s given individual interviews, she hasn’t made herself available for general media questioning.
That must change, and what better moment than immediately, given the news that FBI Director James B. Comey has recommended that no charges be brought against the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Comey, in delivering that news, also said the former secretary of state and her staff were “extremely careless” in handling classified information. Much of what he said, along with earlier revelations, contradicts what Clinton has maintained at various times: that there was no classified information in her private-server emails, that what she did was allowable, that she turned over all her work emails and that no security breaches resulted from her handling of the emails.
Clinton owes it to the electorate not only to speak publicly about all of this but also to answer tough questions.
That she hasn’t done so may be smart from a tactical or strategic point of view. If her campaign has even considered what good could come of it, the answer — none — has clearly emerged. After all, her news conference in March 2015, when she parried questions about her email server, was pretty close to a disaster. She came off as anything but transparent as she parsed every word and made hard-to-swallow excuses about her preference for using only one mobile device.
So, yes, the smart play might be to continue to stonewall. Or to continue to offer the carefully selected interviews she’s been doing.
That’s safe. But it’s not right.
For all of Donald Trump’s faults in dealing with the media — and they are legion — he has often made himself available. It’s true that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is more likely to give bombastic speeches that are exercises in narcissism (with a dollop of lies on top) than to forthrightly answer questions. But at least there is the chance of pinning him down.
Not so with Clinton. And this is not just about the lack of news conferences. As Rem Rieder of USA Today wrote last month, reporters traveling with her also have had precious few opportunities to get their questions answered.
She gets her message out in ways that are completely controlled. But American citizens deserve better, especially with the damning statements Comey made Tuesday, even as he let her off the hook.
If Clinton expects to lead the free world, a reasonable measure of accountability has to be part of the bargain. And let’s face it, her secretive behavior now offers a bleak look at what media access will be like if she’s elected.
This can’t go on.
It’s not just time for a full-length, no-holds-barred news conference. It’s way past time.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan.