Donald Trump just called one reporter “a real beauty” and another a “sleaze.” Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, hasn’t held a proper news conference for 180 days.
Which is worse?
The news media are supposed to hold politicians accountable by asking questions average Americans can’t. Trump and Clinton are making their jobs harder in very different ways — one by giving too much, and the other too little.
Not that the reporters are getting, or expect, much sympathy.
“This is my fourth presidential election cycle. We’re built to have thick skin and withstand anything thrown at us,” CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta (the reporter Trump called “a real beauty”) told TheWrap. “Our jobs are to hold candidates accountable and we’re going to continue to do just that.”
One reason presidential candidates get away with it is that many Americans think reporters are bad at their jobs.
“Six percent of the American public has confidence in the media right now. So attacking the media is like attacking Congress… there really is no downside,” Mediaite columnist Joe Concha told TheWrap.
Left-leaning Media Matters President Bradley Beychok says Trump’s approach is the more troubling one. He says Trump has earned well over a billion-dollars worth of free publicity with his circus-like behavior.
“Trump’s media coverage also entails the candidate’s charades — reckless taunting of reporters, refusing to tell the truth, and endless live media coverage of his hate-filled rallies,” he told TheWrap. “That to me is far more dangerous than anything else in this media environment.”
Libertarian Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Peter Napolitano says Clinton’s approach is worse, because she’s probably hiding something.
“One of the reasons why she probably won’t do a general press conference is for fear that she might say something that would incriminate her in the two criminal investigations the FBI is conducting,” he said on Wednesday’s “Outnumbered” on Fox News.
Every candidate plays a game of alternating between allowing and restricting access — John McCain, for example, has always been famously talkative with the press. If the media has one clear bias though, it is this: Reporters give more coverage to candidates who give them things to report.
“There are two different styles. In one case you have Trump, who has used the media from Day 1 and gotten away with it. In my judgment the media has done a fairly poor job in covering Trump,” said journalism historian Marvin Kalb, who worked under the famed Edward R. Murrow at CBS. “Clinton does it in a more traditional manner.”
Trump has reaped endless free publicity by calling into political news shows. And his rallies even turn into impromptu press conferences. But he’s no friend of the news media: Besides name-calling reporters, he has also vowed to weaken laws protecting reporters from libel suits.
Clinton has erred on the side of restricting reporters’ access. She once literally corralled them to keep them from getting too close to her during a July 4 parade.
Clinton called into CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on Tuesday and was asked about going “5 or 6 months” since holding a press conference. Tapper questioned if it was something she would “remedy” in the near future.
“Oh, I’m sure I will. You know, look, I was shocked myself that I’ve done nearly 300 interviews,” Clinton said. “But I believe that we do and we should answer questions. Of course I’m going to in many, many different kinds of settings.”
“I am getting great credit for my press conference today. Crooked Hillary should be admonished for not having a press conference in 179 days,” Trump wrote.
Her most recent press conference was back on December 4, 2015. She took questions from the reporters embedded with her campaign once since then, in Minnesota in March, but it was not considered a formal press conference, according to the Washington Times. A Clinton spokesperson told TheWrap that Clinton also “gaggled with press on May 7,” but didn’t provide further information.
Kalb, who is a senior advisor at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis reporting and former moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” says Clinton’s strategy seems to be working just fine.
“Clinton is in the midst of a presidential campaign and is perfectly aware that people are covering her on a daily basis,” Kalb said. “I have seen her repeatedly on interview programs, so it’s not like she is hiding out.”
Then again, Trump’s approach is working too: It won him the Republican nomination. Expect 2020 candidates to try to get as much free press as he has, with or without the insults.