Clinton Keeps Distance from the Media While building a lead in the polls on her Democratic presidential rivals, Sen. Hillary Clinton has kept the media at arms' length. She's held fewer question-and-answer sessions than any of her competitors.
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Clinton Keeps Distance from the Media

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Clinton Keeps Distance from the Media

Clinton Keeps Distance from the Media

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Follow presidential hopefuls around New Hampshire and you'll see that open question-and-answer sessions with reporters are pretty common. Republican and Democratic candidates alike put them on their schedule or hold them on the fly on an almost daily basis.

But that's not true for everyone, particularly the leading Democratic candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton. She's not shown much of an appetite for wading into the press scrum.

And now, as New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports, non-negotiated access to Hillary Clinton is virtually nonexistent.

JOSH ROGERS: Attend a Hillary Clinton campaign event as a reporter and it won't be long before you get this sort of reminder from a press staffer.

Ms. LISA CHARTIER (Press Handler): Just so everyone knows, we're really glad you could make it. We just ask that there's no Q and A. She just kind of wants to be able to just walk around and mingle with everyone and make a good guest appearance for the house party. So if you won't mind staying in here for the duration.

ROGERS: In here was a four-by-eight-foot roped-off area far from the candidate and tucked behind the kitchen counter. Once she had everyone's attention, press handler Lisa Chartier went on to say that access would be better at Clinton's next stop.

Ms. CHARTIER: There is an event in Salem tonight. At that event, there will be question and answer forum.

ROGERS: Question and answer from reporters?

Ms. CHARTIER: Yes. It's a full, open question and answer.

ROGERS: That Q and A never came to pass. If it had, it would have been a rarity. Such events aren't listed on Clinton's campaign schedule. And I found evidence of just one traditional, ask-whatever-you-like press availability. That was in March. Six months later, Clinton held an open conference call for local reporters on her health care plan. Beyond that, it's hard to say for sure. Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, offered this take on Hillary Clinton's media schedule late last month on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Meet the Press")

Mr. DAN BALZ (Reporter, Washington Post): Senator Clinton has had one real press availability out on the campaign trail since she announced.

Mr. DEAN SPILIOTES (Political Scientist and Analyst): There is a concern among any front-running campaign that the media is out there primarily to figure out a way to take the candidate down or play gotcha.

ROGERS: Dean Spiliotes is a New Hampshire political scientist and analyst. He says keeping the press at bay comes with obvious advantages - the candidate sets the agenda, and the campaign doesn't have to spend time recovering from potential missteps. But Spiliotes also notes that exerting too much control can come at a cost, particularly if it feeds existing public perception.

Mr. SPILIOTES: If you didn't like President Bush as a candidate and you thought maybe he was too controlled and too secretive, you can have the same kind of concerns about Hillary Clinton. If you think the environment is too calculated, you worry about what that might mean for her once she's in office.

ROGERS: The Clinton camp dismisses such talk. Clinton's New Hampshire campaign co-chairman Bill Shaheen says the goal is simply to let Hillary Clinton deal directly with as many voters as possible. He says it's working.

Mr. BILL SHAHEEN (Co-chairman, Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire Campaign): She's not what the media represents her to be. There's a certain media myth that the Republicans have hammered away at her for the last 15 years and that is now evaporating.

ROGERS: But it remains that the topic of Hillary's media access seems a charged one for her staff. When asked to provide the number of times Clinton has taken reporters' questions here publicly and without preconditions, the campaign flatly refused. Clinton's New Hampshire Press secretary Kathleen Strand did, however, say this much that evening in Salem.

Ms. KATHLEEN STRAND (Press Secretary, Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire Campaign): Every time that Senator Clinton comes to the stage, she talks to the local press and makes sure that she's sharing her message with them every time that she comes here.

ROGERS: And as for just open questions?

Ms. STRAND: Well, reporters who have questions certainly file a request through the office.

ROGERS: So far as I've been able to put together, there has been one press conference where it's just been ask what you want for a couple of minutes.

Ms. STRAND: We've done multiple events and Senator Clinton has spoken with local press and we'll continue to do that - to schedule press time for her. And we're making sure that New Hampshire press are talking to her about the questions that they have but also the issues that she wants to talk to American families about.

ROGERS: But so - okay, thanks.

And with that, Hillary Clinton's lead New Hampshire spokesperson walked off.

For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.

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