How Hillary Clinton made journalists’ lives difficult

March 10, 2015

It’s unclear whether the controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account as Secretary of State will carry direct political consequences. The vast majority of voters already have a clear opinion of Clinton, and just 17 percent of American followed the story “closely” last week, according to the Pew Research Center. But the email imbroglio holds real potential of tainting how the press covers the presumptive Democratic frontrunner for the rest of her campaign.

Clinton is well known for loathing the political press. That contempt has become all too apparent — or all too familiar, for those who remember her husband’s presidency — in wake of the email revelations. Her tight-lipped team has stonewalled countless questions from reporters, and her only personal response to the story came in a late-night tweet last week. Journalists, smelling a potential home-brewed Clinton scandal, clamored for more. And on Tuesday, Clinton finally paid lip service to the furor.

But not without a catch, of course. Though Politico reported on Monday that Clinton would give a press conference the following afternoon, her office did not officially confirm those plans until 11:30 am Tuesday, just hours before the event was scheduled to begin. The location: the United Nations, well-known for an arduous process to obtain press credentials.

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The move caught political reporters unaware, and they flooded the UN’s media office on Tuesday morning in a rush to gain access. The Washington Post described the scene:

“The line for credentials wrapped the block outside the cramped U.N. office where all badges are issued. A lone staffer, beleaguered but polite, was handling all press requests. Badges in hand, reporters then waited in a long line to pass through security.”

To be fair to Clinton and her team, the move could very well have been an oversight, a preference that she speak in front of the UN’s grand backdrop, or due to the fact that she was already in the building for a speech. But given her tense history with sometimes ravenous political reporters, it’s more than possible that Hillaryland used this opportunity to poke the press in the eye.

Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesperson, told Politico’s Dylan Byers on Tuesday that his team had toiled “into the wee hours of the morning… to give members of the press a heads up as we confirmed the details, and this morning are continuing to work with USUN [the United States mission to the United Nations] to help us get journalists access.”

Clinton ran behind schedule in starting her remarks, leaving dozens of reporters hemmed in a cramped space, doing what we’re best at: tweeting in indignation. Her eventual remarks weren’t especially enlightening, as she maintained that she used a personal email out of convenience. Clinton’s ultimate message: Trust me.

“I went above and beyond what I was requested to do” in archiving emails related to her office, she said.

That remains an open question. If Clinton hoped her presser would be lost in the news cycle, creating barriers to access for journalists covering her own transparency issues seems like an odd start. Of course, this is a long game — the 2016 election is still 20 months away — one that Clinton has played before. And her tactical maneuvers with the press the past week are sure to be repeated.

David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.