Opinion

Hillary doesn't need the press the way the press needs Hillary

Clinton has little reason to open up

Until the Republicans decide on their nominee, Hillary Clinton's most dogged critics will be the detachment of top reporters covering her campaign. They include the indefatigable Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Anne Gearan of The Washington Post, and an army of rapid scribes at Buzzfeed. Soon, they'll be joined by campaign reporters for the big five TV news networks, and details from every publication that can get away with the expense of following a candidate around.

The tenor of Clinton's interaction with this relatively small group of people will determine how the outer atmospheres of the media ecosystem cover the story. So it stands to reason that Clinton, who has never had comfortable relations with the media, will have to somehow open herself up.

I don't think that's the right way to look at her strategy, though.

As someone who has already crossed the presidential qualification threshold for most Americans, been through two decades of battle testing, and survived some of the most embarrassing public humiliations one can endure, Clinton has one fairly simple goal for the next year and a quarter: keep tight control of her public brand. Suffice it to say, other than the (admittedly important and healthy) principle of transparency, Clinton has no reason to run a campaign that directly affords reporters any significant access to her campaign and her brain.

The political press has already bared fangs. They're goading her to be more inclusive of their interests. This is a hard sell.

Clinton, as Glenn Thrush noted, has a "pessimistic resignation" about the presence and function of the campaign press corps. She does not at all believe that political reporters, per se, are essential. She will not give them the satisfaction of dehumanizing her, as she herself put it, once again. Becoming John McCain in 2000 would not serve the interests of Clinton at all. Clinton doesn't need the press to build her up or communicate with voters — she'll do that on her own, with ads, videos, and SuperPACs, and has done that, by being a national figure for so long — but as a way to influence the stories concocted by the larger influencers, the commentators, analysts, pundits, and humorists, who often, in turn, seed the writers at the late night show with jokes, and then give Saturday Night Live ideas for sketches. Scott Walker needs the press for oxygen; Clinton, for an anti-oxidant boost every once in a while.

Here's what I predict:

The Clinton campaign will use the press instrumentally. This will frustrate them. First, she'll close up. There will be protests and articles about Clinton's penchant for secrecy and her alleged lack of authenticity. So, under the guise of improving press relations, there will come a point where Clinton seems to give more press conferences, or she lets the cameras come closer, but this will be for show; it will be for the reporters' own benefit, so they can write stories about how Clinton became more accessible.

Good news for us, though: The reporters covering Clinton are going to find ways to draw her out anyway, because they're really good, they'll give her no quarter, and they'll provide a good source of accountability tension until Walker (or whomever) emerges from the maelstrom.

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