After each of Hillary Clinton’s campaign events, a large group of reporters gathers on one side of the room and shouts questions at her. She rarely responds, opting instead to ignore them, not even glancing in their direction.
Clinton has largely closed herself off from media questions in the first month of her campaign. Her refusal to take questions stands in stark contrast to virtually all other candidates in both parties, who routinely wade into a pack of reporters after events, often fielding more questions in one event than Clinton has so far in her entire campaign. They also are facing reporters in one-on-one interviews and appearing on TV news programs.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on his first day on the campaign trail in New Hampshire answered 10 questions from reporters trailing him, on subjects including running against his political mentor to the theory of evolution.
Business executive Carly Fiorina, also a Republican, went from her announcement of her campaign to a conference call with reporters, taking questions for 40 minutes.
And on the day he officially announced his candidacy this week, Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who is running as a Democrat, took more questions from the media than Clinton had in the previous three weeks.
In total, Clinton has taken eight questions from the media since she entered the race April 12.
“She’s not doing it because she really doesn’t have to,” said Brad Coker, managing director at Mason-Dixon Polling & Research in Jacksonville. He called it a “smart strategy” so early in the race when independents aren’t paying attention, most Democrats support her and Republicans are busy with their own nomination fight.
“She has all the time in the world. … There’s no urgency for Hillary to get engaged,” he said.
Clinton has long had a tenuous relationship with the media, including the first time she ran for president in 2008, so her tactic isn’t exactly surprising. But not long ago she hinted that things might be different this time. She even held a pair of events before her announcement so reporters could get to know her staff.
“You know my relationship with the press has been at times, shall we say, complicated,” Clinton said in late March when she headlined a journalism awards ceremony. “I am all about new beginnings. A new grandchild, another new hairstyle, a new email account … why not a new relationship with the press?”
Leonard Steinhorn, a political communications professor at American University in Washington, said the media needs to take some responsibility for candidates refusing to engage because reporters often ask so-called “gotcha” questions instead of substantive policy questions.
“There may be a reason Hillary Clinton has run from the media over the years,” he said. “There’s a lot of blame to go around.”
Clinton’s campaign declined to comment for this story.
Supporters stress that she has answered many questions from potential voters in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said Clinton has made the decision to engage with the public first and that reporters should be patient. “It’s her campaign,” he said. “This is how she wants to roll it out.”
But those events are usually closed to the public, and the six or so participants are handpicked by either the campaign or the hosts, including businesses and schools.
Doug Heye, a veteran Republican communications strategist, said Clinton’s campaign has clearly made the decision to avoid questions until the inquiries subside about her family foundation’s decision to accept foreign donations and her practice of using private email as secretary of state.
“It’s obviously a very strategic decision that they have made,” Heye said. “There are obviously a lot of questions that the Clinton campaign doesn’t want her speaking about.”
In March, a few weeks before she announced she was running for president, Clinton held a hastily organized news conference — her first formal one in more than two years — to answer questions about her email after weeks of near silence. She has not talked about the issue since.
The eight questions Clinton has answered since declaring her candidacy were about a critical book written about her family’s foundation, fundraising, the type of campaign events she is engaged in and trade.
Heye said it’s important for candidates to try to strike some kind of balance with the media or else run the risk of setting the tone for the rest of the campaign.
Just this week, Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, kicked off her presidential campaign with an appearance Monday on “Good Morning America.” She fielded four questions from George Stephanopoulos, who quizzed her on past compliments she had paid to Clinton and asked her to explain how she had convince voters to support someone who has never held elected office. A few hours later, Fiorina dispensed with opening remarks on a conference call and took questions from 16 reporters for 40 minutes on topics ranging from foreign policy to the U.S. tax code and immigration.
Clinton’s potential Democratic rivals — former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb — have given numerous interviews.
In April alone, O’Malley, who is expected to announce his candidacy later this month, gave at least 27 one-on-one interviews and participated in a half-dozen casual question-and-answer sessions with reporters.
The difference between Clinton and her potential rivals, of course, is that she has been a fixture in American politics for decades and doesn’t need the media attention like they do. But even top-tier Republican candidates and potential candidates are engaging the media.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker usually meets with reporters after campaign events. In New Hampshire last month, he went out in the hall after speaking at a dinner and took questions from the media for about 10 minutes. Topping the list of questions: same-sex marriage. Walker said he was opposed but that he had attended a same-sex wedding. “For someone I love,” he said, “we’ve been at a reception.”
Jeb Bush, who personally emailed reporters when he was Florida governor, staged impromptu gaggles with reporters during recent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a champion debater in college, likes to take questions from the media and the crowd after speeches, appearances and pancake breakfasts.
And even Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who dislikes the hallway interviews at the Capitol that other lawmakers use to make news, is often engaged with the media when out on the campaign trail. Even after he was criticized for his prickliness in a series of interviews during his announcement week, he went on morning talk shows to take more questions the next Sunday.
Lesley Clark, Sean Cockerham, David Lightman and Maria Recio in Washington and Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald contributed to this story.