Hillary Clinton ranks among the best-prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. Not only is she a Yale-educated lawyer, a former U.S. senator and a former secretary of state, she actually served in the White House for eight years. On top of that, she’s a wonk who relishes the mechanics and details of government policies and foreign relations.
The Clinton campaign objects to talk of a media blackout. It says the Democratic nominee has given some 350 interviews while on the campaign trail, but a National Public Radio analysis of those found that only 101 involved national news networks and more than 100 were with local radio stations.
Of course, Clinton’s reluctance to hold an open-ended, back and forth with well-informed reporters isn’t about her being shy. It’s about her being shrewd. The more Donald Trump talks, the better “President Hillary Clinton” sounds. It makes sense to stay quiet and stay out of the way as Trump contradicts himself or insults another group.
But this strategy for becoming president may undermine Hillary Clinton’s ability to be a successful one. That the media feel shut out doesn’t matter by itself, but it does matter when the public feels a politician is ducking a traditional American test of one’s mettle.
President John F. Kennedy virtually invented the televised press conference. He held 64, an average of one every 16 days. He used them not simply to inform, but to show his ability to engage, take hard questions and show his knowledge and, not insignificantly, his wit and good humor.
The tonic of openness is especially important for Clinton. She is by nature wary of the media, which she feels tend to misconstrue her words and the words of her husband. But that defensive stance has only fed speculation and fostered the image of Hillary Clinton as one who can’t stand scrutiny (though, in truth, she has been far more scrutinized than most politicians).
Playing it safe may win Hillary Clinton the nation’s highest office, but it will deprive her of the nation’s highest confidence. If she wins without that, she’ll begin without what’s essential to be effective. She should take a chance and take questions. That’s the best way to answer the uneasiness about her guarded relationship with the media and, by extension, with the American people.