Hillary Clinton delivered a speech savaging Donald Trump's business acumen and economic plans in Ohio on Tuesday. It was just the sort of address we've come to expect from Clinton during her two presidential bids: deeply researched, well argued and strongly delivered. It also had one other thing that has become a much more disturbing pattern for Clinton the candidate: a total lack of real interaction with the media who cover her.
In fact, today marks 200 days since Clinton has held a formal press conference of any sort. 200!
The last time Clinton held a news conference, not a single vote had been cast in the Democratic primary contest. The idea of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee was still greeted with (mostly) eye rolls and laughs. And the State Department inspector general's office hadn't issued a scathing report on Clinton's decision to exclusively use a private email server to conduct her electronic correspondence while serving as the nation's top diplomat.
That's remarkable. And remarkably bad.
The Clinton campaign always points to the fact that she regularly does sitdowns with the media — usually on Sunday talk shows. Which is fine. But it's not the same thing as facing more than one reporter in a press conference setting. It's like a reverse "Princess Bride":
The goal of this strategy is simple: limit Clinton's exposure in a format in which she is not terribly comfortable. Need proof? Look how Clinton "handled" the media during her first press conference after the story of her private email server's existence broke. It was not so good.
It makes sense as a campaign strategy. But that doesn't make it right. Clinton is one of two people running to be the most powerful person in the world. Part — I would argue a big part — of that job is an ability to think on your feet, to deal with questions that you didn't expect and, more importantly, questions you don't really want to answer. By bunkering herself away from the media, Clinton doesn't stretch that muscle — and robs voters of a chance to see how she might think and act in a pinch in the White House.
Clinton's willingness and ability to keep the media at arm's length is part of a disturbing trend pursued by Democrats and Republicans alike in recent years. The rise of Flickr, YouTube channels, Twitter, Facebook and a thousand other technological innovations has made it incredibly easy for candidates to end-run the media — pushing their message undiluted to their supporters.
What all of that end-running doesn't and can't do is this: convince anyone not already for you of anything. The media are the lone referee — or the only people who can possibly play referee. You may not like the referees. But you do need to deal with them.