The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton actually takes questions from reporters, after 87 days

On Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton fielded questions from her traveling press corps at Mapps cafe in Minneapolis. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Perhaps she was inspired by the end of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’s streak of silence on Monday. Maybe she was just in a particularly charitable mood. Whatever the impetus, Hillary Clinton took questions from her traveling press corps on Super Tuesday for the first time in almost three months.

The reporters following the Democratic presidential front-runner along the campaign trail better not get used to it. If the past is any indication, it could be a while before Clinton speaks with them again.

Last spring, she went four weeks between media availabilities. This time, the freeze lasted 87 days.

It’s not that Clinton doesn’t talk to journalists at all during these shutouts; it’s that the former secretary of state is highly selective — she hasn’t granted an interview to Fox News Channel in 21 months — preferring one-on-one exchanges in controlled environments over unpredictable media scrums.

On Monday, NBC News reporter Monica Alba, who is embedded with the Clinton campaign, chronicled the measures that the candidate and her aides take to keep reporters at bay on the trail.

Reporters bombard Clinton on the rope line in the hopes of having a question acknowledged. That rarely happens amidst the incessant selfies and Secret Service officers keeping cameras at a distance. Organizers also tend to blast music after Clinton's remarks so — in the rare event that she does answer a question — it's hard to hear her response. …

Reporters that cover Clinton travel on a separate plane, another major difference from the remaining candidates for president. …

The issue of press access specifically came to the forefront last summer, when staffers used a rope to corral reporters following Clinton as she marched in a Fourth of July parade in New Hampshire.

Clinton didn’t always favor stonewalling the press like this. During her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign, when Bill Clinton faced scrutiny of a letter he had written about his reluctance to join the war in Vietnam 23 years earlier, it was Hillary Clinton who favored being open with the media. Paul Begala, a senior adviser on that campaign, recalled her advice in an interview with the New York Times last month.

Our plane lands, and at the terminal is ABC News. They have a letter from a young Bill Clinton to Colonel Holmes. It said, “Thank you for saving me from the draft.” My knees buckled. But it was so well written, so emotional. Hillary immediately said: “This letter is you, Bill. It’s all you. I wish everyone could read it.”

Bill Clinton ultimately called a press conference to answer questions about the letter, agreed to a “Nightline” interview to discuss it further and even bought advertising space to have it printed in newspapers. Hillary Clinton’s philosophy at the time seemed to be that it was better to just air everything out and then move on as quickly as possible.

Something has changed since then. Emails from her tenure as secretary of state, released in batches by the State Department under a court order, reveal a person who is deeply suspicious of the media. Clinton seems to no longer trust that journalists will cover a controversy fairly and then go forward to something else.

Her misgivings might be justified — in some cases, at least — but it’s hard to know because she seldom gives the press a chance these days. As she casts a perpetually wary eye on the media, journalists do the same to her, wondering what she might be trying to hide by not talking, or talking only on her own terms.

It’s a cycle of mistrust. And one little presser on Super Tuesday isn’t likely to break it.

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