Hillary Clinton has not held a press conference since December 5, 2015–265 days ago. For many in the media and on the opposite side of the aisle, Clinton’s reluctance to stand in front of the press en masse has been an example of her hiding from the media. Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer explain on the latest Keepin’ It 1600 podcast why they don’t think that’s the case, and why taking one-on-one interviews with journalists — rather than holding press conferences — may just be Clinton’s best strategy.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Press Conferences Are a Bad Medium to Communicate a Message
Dan Pfeiffer: Presidential elections are the highest-stakes things that happen. It fucking matters a lot whether Hillary Clinton wins, right? So doing a strategy, even if it angers Politico reporters or others, to maximize your chances of winning — I think you should do that. I think you should, and particularly [with] the nature of this race where it is largely about [Donald] Trump, not her, and [where] making it more about her is problematic. I think you have to do a little of both. It’s not like “just say nothing.” That’s not an actual, viable strategy because now you can’t do an interview anywhere without getting hammered on it. So I think going on Anderson Cooper and answering the email questions and other questions in a calm and coherent way and then having everyone cover those was the right strategy, but what you can’t do is buy into the press’s desire to make [the race] be about you because they’re bored of making it about Trump.
Press conferences are horrendous ways to communicate messages. Terrible. Many of the questioners are as interested in their question as they are in your answer. But they do serve some purpose … If you want to run for president, you have to engage with the press. If you want to be president, you have to engage with the press. Now, press conferences are one way to do that and you should periodically do them. I do not believe they are exponentially better than doing interviews with real, well-respected independent journalists. This is not saying do a bunch of interviews with late-night comedy hosts or YouTube stars. Those also have purpose and are important, but if you are doing Meet the Press or talking to Jake Tapper or all of that on a regular basis, that is also of great value.
Plan Strategic Interviews
D.P.: So here’s the tension that the Clinton people are facing: I don’t think they like the fact that people attack them for not doing a press conference. That’s probably irksome to them and annoying that when Robby [Mook], the campaign manager, goes on Morning Joe, Nicole Wallace goes after him for not giving enough press conferences. But, you also do not want to let the press set your strategy. And so, the decision in the [Obama] White House always was [about] trying to get a press conference in before the press freaked out about it. So you try to let the air out by taking a few questions because all this pressure builds up.
You know it’s gonna suck when you do it. The longer you wait, the more like lunatics many of the [media] people in the room [will] act.
I’m pretty sure, in 2012, we did not do press conferences for the last six months of the campaign. We did a fuckton of interviews (fuckton is a scientific term) with every outlet. So, personally, I would go all the way to the end and not do a press conference. I would do a shitload of interviews and I would do interviews with [tough reporters].
Jon Favreau: Who will ask, like Anderson Cooper did last night, “When are you going to do a press conference?” And Hillary Clinton smartly said, “Well, I’m talking to you now, Anderson.”
That showed the absurdity of this, right? Anderson Cooper, no one’s gonna confuse him for a fluffy journalist. The guy’s a great journalist, he asks tough questions, she’s sat in front of him. I’m sure Anderson Cooper didn’t agree to a whole bunch of ground rules like, “You can’t talk about Benghazi or the emails or the [Clinton] Foundation.” He was gonna ask her whatever he wanted. That said, I’m more in the “let the air out, just do one, have them stop complaining about it.” What questions could she get? You’re right that, clearly, when she does it, it’s not going to drive their message well. But are they so scared that she’s gonna say something that screws up her campaign for like a week? I don’t know.
Interviews Are Actually Harder Than Press Conferences
D.P.: A press conference is much easier than a tough interview. And this is a thing that a lot of reporters don’t fully get. It is much harder to sit across from Anderson or Jake or Chuck [Todd] or Savannah [Guthrie] or anyone — they ask follow-up questions. They’re sitting four feet from you, right in your face, right?
Interviews are harder. So I think she should do lots of those, but the one thing is, and you hear a lot about this in the discussion on the press conferences, “Well, people set ground rules in interviews all the time.” Do you know what ground rules you get in interviews with legitimate journalists? “This is how many minutes it’s going to be.”
There’s no off-topic thing that comes up. No legitimate television or print journalists would say, “I will talk to you, but I will not ask these questions.” They would never do that. And so, the ground rules [are] only where it’s going to be and how long it’s going to take. And if it’s too short, most networks would say no because it’s not worth their time and investment to move all the cameras there and file everyone there if it’s going to be for a four-minute interview. Like a local stand-up for a few minutes? Sure. But, CNN? No. These are going to be wide-ranging interviews and the questions are going to be decided entirely by the network, so your feet are not being held more to the fire because you’re standing in front of 15 journalists than [when] you’re sitting across from one.