Hillary Clinton took time out of her Wednesday stump speech to praise a sector of the population that’s usually in the cross hairs of her presidential rival, Donald Trump: the media.
The likely Democratic nominee said near the end of her speech that Trump had “attacked” the press in recent days, continuing what she called his tendency to divide the country through insults.
“Now if you’re in public life, you’re not always going to like what the press says about you. I have some experience with that,” she told the crowd of a few hundred in a gymnasium in Newark, N.J. “But part of the genius of our democracy, our system, is that we have a free press and they do report … what is happening, what they are seeing and hearing.”
The crowd cheered as the reporters assigned to cover Clinton’s campaign, gated behind barriers enforced by the Secret Service, kept their heads down and typed on laptops.
At Trump rallies, in contrast, reporters are frequently booed — often at the presumptive GOP nominee’s prompting — as they work behind their barriers. Security is intense at Trump’s much larger rallies, where raucous demonstrations and even violence can break out.
Though Trump’s candidacy has undoubtedly benefited from extensive media coverage, he expresses intense disdain almost daily for his press corps, referring to them as “slime,” “scum,” “disgusting,” and “bad people.”
At a Tuesday press conference, Trump called an ABC News reporter a “sleaze” and said the press “should be ashamed” for writing stories examining whether he fulfilled his promise to donate $6 million to veterans’ groups. “You make me look very bad,” he ranted.
The AP and Washington Post had revealed that Trump donated much of the funds, including a $1 million check from the billionaire candidate himself, only after media scrutiny. They also reported that the total fell short of the $6 million he had promised.
But even as Trump declares reporters to be “the most dishonest people I have ever met,” his press corps gets something that Clinton reporters don’t: access. Trump gives near-weekly press conferences, regularly takes questions from his traveling press corps and participates almost daily in television, radio and print interviews.
Indeed, after Trump’s testy Tuesday exchanges with reporters, which elicited criticism even from members of his own party, he took a press-access victory lap. “I am getting great credit for my press conference today,” he tweeted. “Crooked Hillary should be admonished for not having a press conference in 179 days.”
Clinton hasn’t held a press conference since December. Reporters covering her have to make do with shouting questions at her when she makes stops at smaller venues and cannot avoid the media.
After defending the press on Wednesday, Clinton and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker made a brief appearance at a small Cuban restaurant called Omar’s Cafe. A reporter asked her how she was feeling about her chances in the Garden State. “We are going to work hard. I want to be a Jersey girl,” she said, before moving out of hearing distance from the reporters.
That was all the reporters on hand got from the candidate that day.
Even as Trump rails against the press and muses about changing the law to make it easier to sue news organizations for libel, he rarely shuts the media entirely out. His campaign does, however, occasionally block reporters who have written unflattering stories from entering his campaign events. On Thursday, his campaign ejected a Politico reporter from a San Jose, Calif., rally and denied him credentials to cover a future rally. But news organizations that Trump professes to deplore continue to get access to the candidate.
In recent weeks, Trump has regularly used his stump speeches to attack the “failing” New York Times after the paper ran a front page story examining his treatment of women. The Times also dug into his management style in a campaign that has been mired in staff drama as he looks toward a general election matchup with Clinton.
Yet almost no other news outlet gets better access to the candidate than the Times. On Thursday, as Clinton delivered a foreign policy speech in San Diego, Trump offered up instant reaction, giving an interview to the Times as the former secretary of state was still on stage speaking. (“Mr. Trump called her performance ‘terrible’ and ‘pathetic,’” wrote Amy Chozick, the Times’ Clinton beat reporter.)
Clinton, in contrast, hasn’t given an interview to the New York Times — which is, as it is for Trump, her hometown paper — for months.
Trump insults the media openly, but the consensus is that Clinton has privately loathed the press for decades. In 1992, she begged on “60 Minutes” for a “zone of privacy.” That was not to be. In 2008, her campaign complained bitterly about what they saw as media bias in favor of her main primary rival, Barack Obama. As secretary of state, Clinton was cozier with the press, but the honeymoon ended when she began her run for president again. She has retained a cautious distance from the media this time around, even as her likely GOP opponent wields the press expertly.
On CNN earlier this week, Clinton said she has done 300 interviews so far in 2016 and will have a press conference soon.
“But I believe that we do and we should answer questions. Of course, I’m going to, and in many, many different kinds of settings,” she said.