— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 28, 2016
When is Hillary Clinton going to hold that long-awaited news conference — the first of 2016? Whenever she feels like it.
This has always been true, of course. The media can't force her into one. But the Democratic presidential nominee's campaign hasn't been quite so blunt about it.
"We'll have a press conference when we want to have a press conference," Clinton pollster Joel Benenson said on ABC News on Thursday evening.
Okay then. This is the Clinton campaign flaunting its control, reminding the media who calls the shots.
It is Clinton's prerogative to project a gruff, I'm-the-boss attitude, if she chooses, but it undermines her credibility when she says stuff like this:
Trump has banished members of the press who have criticized him.
Is there any doubt he would do the same as president?
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 13, 2016
Clinton is right about Donald Trump, of course. Just last night, The Washington Post's Jose DelReal was repeatedly denied access to a rally featuring Trump's running mate, Mike Pence. But Clinton can't argue effectively against Trump's poor treatment of journalists if her campaign is going to be unreasonably restrictive, too — and haughty on top of everything.
The incoming and outgoing presidents of the White House Correspondents Association wrote an op-ed in USA Today this month, expressing concerns that both Trump and Clinton threaten freedom of the press.
To be sure, Trump is in a class by himself. He mocked a New York Times reporter's physical disability at a campaign event last fall, joked about killing journalists in December and has vowed to "open up" libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. Clinton hasn't done anything of this kind.
But she wields firm control over who gets to ask her questions — and the formats in which she is willing to answer them. Here is Benenson's remark in context, as he tried to justify the fact that his candidate has not held a news conference since last year:
She has answered hundreds, if not thousands, of questions from reporters in one-on-one interviews. ... She has done hundreds of interviews; she's doing them every week. You're setting up a standard that Donald Trump sets up of "she hasn't had a press conference." We'll have a press conference when we want to have a press conference. There's no problem with that. But the American people hear from her directly every day. They get to ask her questions every day. And she answers questions from journalists. She's been doing interviews for months on some of the toughest issues that have come up with her.
What Benenson said was mostly true, though he is wrong about the media applying Trump's standard. The Republican presidential nominee is not driving the news conference issue; journalists have been doing that on their own for months. And no one expects Clinton to hold news conferences as frequently as Trump does. That's not what this is about.
But Benenson is right about the many interviews Clinton has granted and the questions she fields from voters on the campaign trail. The problem with his defense is that not all Q&As are created equal. Sure, Clinton is willing to take questions from the journalists and news outlets she selects and from the people at her events who generally support her, but she won't submit to the unpredictable nature of a news conference, where she would face inquiries on who knows what, from who knows whom.
That's not to say Clinton is only willing to sit down with interviewers who will go easy on her. She just agreed to an interview with Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace, after rejecting his requests for 15 months.
But this was a strategic concession. As Clinton begins her sprint to Election Day, she is making a play for the Republicans in the Fox News audience who can't stand their own nominee. She is using the Fox News platform to appeal to a particular slice of the electorate.
So, yes, she will take Wallace's tough questions — but only now, when the time is most advantageous to her.
On some level, this is media relations 101. But most presidential candidates are willing to occasionally cede control of their messaging efforts and hold news conferences.
So far this year, Clinton is not. And she won't say when that might change. She'll have a news conference when she wants to have a news conference.