This post has been updated with additional comment from Fallon and Clinton's media availability on Monday.
It's been six months since Hillary Clinton held a news conference, and reporters are beginning to complain. The likely Democratic presidential nominee told CNN's Jake Tapper last week that she is "sure" she will conduct one soon.
But the Clinton campaign's contention is that disgruntled journalists are arguing semantics here. Technically, yes, it has been a long time since the candidate's last formal news conference, but she routinely answers questions in other settings, press secretary Brian Fallon argued Sunday on CNN. A news conference, he said, "oftentimes is just defined by whether you have a banner behind you or a podium in front of you."
Fallon added this: "Oftentimes ... we will do an 'avail' — what would be known as an avail to the people in your business — where she informally comes out after an event has concluded, after she's taken some photos and some selfies, and she will literally stand there for 15, 20 minutes and answer questions from her traveling press corps, including the embeds from the various networks."
Except this is not true. If Clinton were actually in the habit of fielding questions from reporters for an extended period of time — a period of time that resembles the duration of a news conference — then griping about the informal nature of the sessions would indeed be harder to justify. Talking to reporters in a scrum isn't particularly conducive to live television — and the comparison here is to Trump's regularly scheduled news conferences, which cable channels often air live — but at least Clinton would be submitting herself to a similar level of questioning.
The trouble is that reporters who follow the former secretary of state all over the country said, essentially in unison, that Fallon exaggerated the frequency and duration of Clinton's availabilities. ABC News's Liz Kreutz even cataloged every session held by Clinton this year.
It wasn't too hard. By her count, there have been only nine — none lasting as long as Fallon claimed. In fact, the total duration of all nine was less than 50 minutes, a length that Trump has eclipsed at one single news conference.
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) June 5, 2016
"She will literally stand there for 15, 20 min & answer ?s from her traveling press." Nope. Last gaggle was 2 min. https://t.co/AZfz9JvQsP
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) June 5, 2016
Clinton held an “avail” with reporters in Stone Ridge, VA on 5/9. That avail lasted 2 and a half minutes, total. https://t.co/wqWMvYkEui
— Hannah Chanpong (@hannahfc) June 5, 2016
— Ruby Cramer (@rubycramer) June 5, 2016
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump took note of the media's complaint and decided to pile on.
Crooked Hillary Clinton has not held a news conference in more than 7 months. Her record is so bad she is unable to answer tough questions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2016
ABC asked the Clinton campaign to substantiate its claims about press access, to little effect:
Fallon declined to address the apparent discrepancy between his characterization and the schedule when asked about it by ABC News.
Clinton has done a number of one-on-one TV interviews with local reporters and national outlets, including ABC News as recently as Sunday morning, during this time — a point Clinton herself made in a recent interview when asked if she plans to do a press conference soon.
"I had my team check. I have done nearly 300 interviews just in 2016. And I believe that it's important to continue to, you know, speak to the press as I'm doing right now," she said on CNN last week.
The Clinton campaign, however, will not release its list of 300 interviews, despite multiple requests for it from ABC News.
In an email on Monday, Fallon joked that he "will be investing in a new stopwatch."
"But the point remains that, between the gaggles and the scores of one-on-one interviews she's done, press conferences are not the only way to answer questions from reporters," he added.
Later on Monday, Clinton took questions from reporters during a visit to a community center in Compton, Calif. Kreutz clocked the session at about 8 minutes — still well shy of the 15-20 that Fallon said was customary.
Clinton took 8 questions from her traveling press for about 8 minutes during visit to Compton community center.
— Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) June 6, 2016
Clinton's decision to make herself available amid groans about her lack of availability is part of a pattern. She began her campaign last spring by mostly avoiding the media. Here at The Fix, we noted that Clinton answered only eight questions in the first 29 days of the race. Then Politico reported that the number was just 13 questions in the first 37 days. On Day 38, she answered seven at once.
This was breaking news.
We live in a world where Hillary Clinton answering q's from press warrants a BREAKING NEWS chyron. pic.twitter.com/qOUoTg6iXp
— Alyssa Farah (@Alyssafarah) May 19, 2015
Clinton's first Q&A of 2016, on March 1, followed complaints that she hadn't fielded questions from the traveling press corps in three months.
It appears the Clinton campaign and the media are caught in a strange cycle. The campaign complains that the media lavishes too much attention on Trump. In the same CNN interview, in fact, Fallon protested the decision by all three major cable news channels last week to preview a Trump news conference, rather than carry live a Clinton speech to a labor union. Fox News Channel's Howard Kurtz also criticized the decision on his "Media Buzz" program Sunday.
Yet Clinton seems reluctant to do her part to correct the imbalance and make her own news. The press wants more access, and she continues to hold back, keeping campaign trail avails short, going long stretches between news conferences and granting many interviews to small, local outlets — which might or might not ask the kind of real tough, in-depth questions national outlets will be more versed in.
It's clear that neither side is pleased with the other.