Marc Caputo

Hillary Clinton's Miami trip shows she’s empress of image-management

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs her new book, 'Hard Choices,' at Books and Books in Coral Gables on Thursday, October 2, 2014.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs her new book, 'Hard Choices,' at Books and Books in Coral Gables on Thursday, October 2, 2014. Miami Herald Staff

Hillary Clinton’s latest Miami visit served as a fresh illustration of how, whether or not she ever becomes president, she is America’s reigning empress of image-management.

In a replay of her trips here in September 2013 and February of this year, Clinton traveled Thursday to Miami Beach and Coral Gables in a de rigueur cocoon of U.S. Secret Service, cops and yes-men — all dedicated to the proposition that reporters aren’t created equal to contributors and sycophants.

Sure, the Secret Service has had a string of embarrassing security lapses as of late. But when it comes to keeping a free press from freely reporting, the men with guns don’t miss much as they protect a prized asset: a politician’s poll-tested, stage-managed media image.

No press questions, please.

As a result, security booted me and three other reporters Friday night out of the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where Clinton helped Democrat Charlie Crist raise $1 million. The press wasn’t that close to the private fundraiser room across the lobby. Nor were reporters trying to get into the closed-door event.

“We didn’t kick you out,” a Secret Service agent told me defensively after I blamed the agency on Twitter.

“You had him kick me out,” I told the agent, pointing to a Coral Gables police sergeant.

Agent: “No. The hotel staff kicked you out. And the White House kicked you out.”

Me: “The White House?”

Agent: “No, um, her staff.”

Ahh, “her.” She who shall not be named.

Later, a hotel worker told me that one man who claimed he was hotel security was really a Secret Service agent. Hotel staff said the “event organizers” wanted us gone.

But the event organizer was Crist’s campaign. And a Crist staffer strenuously denied that the campaign was behind it and, to his credit, argued with police and the Secret Service about it.

Indeed, Crist wanted the press there. A picture with Clinton is worth a thousand absentee-ballot requests, mailers or donations. Last fall, after Crist announced his candidacy for governor, he personally invited me to a fundraiser in the very hotel room that wound up having the Clinton event Friday. And he proceeded to use me as a prop that day.

“We’re open with the press,” Crist said.

Unless Clinton says otherwise, that is.

After all fingers pointed to Clinton’s folks, a Clinton staffer denied the operation had given the kick-them-out order. So, perhaps, no one said it. Instead, just as drones naturally anticipate the needs of the hive’s queen, everyone with a gun acted without the requirement of an external command. It’s in their DNA to make sure information is tightly controlled.

The Biltmore wasn’t the only no-reporter zone. Earlier in the day, Clinton hawked her tome Hard Choices at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Photographers were allowed — provided they didn’t report. If you wanted to speak briefly to the former secretary of state/U.S. senator/first lady, you had to buy the hardcover.

No press questions, please.

In a speech at the beginning of the day to a women’s real-estate group, reporters were kept well away. Clinton spoke alone at the lectern and then took pre-screened questions as she sat on stage.

Clinton had the same arrangement when she spoke to a travel-agents group last year and at the University of Miami in February. She was never pressed about whether she’ll run for president. That line of questioning isn’t in the approved script, although it’s more welcome than inquiries about U.S. foreign policy struggles in the Middle East.

In all on Friday, Coral Gables spent the equivalent of about $3,300 providing police services for Clinton at the two events, the city estimated. It wasn’t reimbursed by Clinton or the Crist campaign.

The city’s acting police chief, Ed Hudak, said the “global city” has a long history of protecting visiting dignitaries as part of the department’s regular duties. “It’s part of the dynamics of policing this city,” Hudak said.

Clinton charges as much as $300,000 for a paid speech. But sometimes she gives a break, as she did for a scheduled Oct. 13 speech at a foundation for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which unearthed documents showing she’s to receive $225,000.

Clinton also allegedly insisted on staying at the “presidential suite” of a luxury hotel of her staff's choice and required the equivalent “or larger” of a $39 million, 16-passenger Gulfstream G450 jet.

It’s unclear what sort of demands Clinton made of the Crist campaign, the Realtors, Books & Books or any of the other groups she has addressed.

Throughout, though, the pattern of perfectly positioning the not-yet-a-candidate candidate has remained disciplined and constant. Sometimes, to an extreme degree.

At Clinton’s event last year, a docent actually swiped a man’s smartphone when he used it to take a picture of her on stage. The image was erased, and the device was then handed back to him as he protested.

A docent explained: “That’s American politics.”

It certainly is in the world of Clinton’s image-management.