Transparency: Team Hillary mulling over strategies to limit media coverage to "pools"

If the intent of the “going small” campaign wasn’t already obvious enough, MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald connects the last remaining dots. Team Hillary wants to run an “intimate” campaign in order to counter the impression that the former First Lady and Secretary of State feels overly entitled to voters’ support and higher office, which means doing what other candidates regularly do as part of retail campaigning — smaller events, one-on-one interactions, especially in Iowa where voters expect that approach. Seitz-Wald reports that the campaign has already begun to strategize how that can keep the media from asking too many questions of Hillary Clinton, and that they may impose reporting “pools” — as the White House routinely uses for events.

Yes, that won’t look arrogant or entitled at all:

Still, no one disputes that reporters will end up frustrated at times. Some events may be closed to the press, others may have limited access, and many may have access to only a select “pool” of reporters who represent each type of outlet on behalf of their colleagues.

To offset perceptions that’s cutting off the press, Clinton may regularly take questions from reporters after events where some were denied access. Or she could prioritize local media and give a few minutes to the local TV affiliate or newspaper, like Obama did during the primary.

The format of the events could further inflame relations between the press Clinton, which she acknowledged are “complicated,” but pooling coverage may be the only way to satisfy all sides.  After all, Clinton wants reporters to cover her small events as much as they want to cover them. If a touching connection is made with an Iowa voter and there’s no reporter around to Tweet it, does it make a sound?

Yes, but Clinton wants reporters to cover the events the way she wants, and not ask questions that might otherwise put her on the spot. So which reporters will go along with those plans? The pool selection at the White House gets handled by the correspondents themselves. Something tells me that this will not be the case when it comes to Hillary Clinton’s press pools. This approach leaves the campaign with a lot of leverage over the reporters assigned to cover her campaign. Ask a tough question once, and don’t hold your breath waiting for another slot in the pool. Nice beat ya got there, kid. Shame if anything happened to it.

But what’s to keep reporters from just showing up anyway to these events? The Secret Service might be a complication. Unlike other candidates at this stage, Hillary has full Secret Service protection as a consequence of her status as former First Lady. The campaign will also manage access in other ways, too. It may not be impossible to cover events outside of the pool, but it will be a lot more difficult, and good luck getting the candidate to interact with you if you crash the party.

That’s not to say that the campaign plans to keep the relationship completely adversarial. They’ve already begun to schmooze the reporters who will cover Hillary. What’s the fastest way to a reporter’s heart, anyway? Pasta puttanesca:

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff John Podesta held a private dinner with campaign reporters at his Washington home, where he served his signature pasta puttanesca, as well as a pasta with a walnut sauce, POLITICO has learned. On Friday night, Clinton strategist Joel Benenson will hold a similar dinner with reporters, correspondents and even some television anchors at his apartment in New York.

The dinners are part of a larger Clinton-team effort to build a rapport with the men and women who will spend the next 18 months covering Clinton’s bid for the White House. That effort is seen as a necessity for a candidate who, in the early months of 2015, has had no safe harbor in the media. To date, The New York Times alone has published more than 40 articles related to Clinton’s use of a private email account while secretary of state, and many other news outlets, including POLITICO, have come forward with revelations of their own. Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets criticize her daily and left-wing outlets are unabashed in their desire for a more liberal alternative.

Should beat journalists take part in these efforts, at least without disclosure? Hard to say. They’ll be on the campaign trail with the same people for weeks or months at a time, and they’ll likely break bread out there with them at times. The relationship is bilateral to some degree; these reporters are also looking to create personal relationships, connections that can land them scoops and inside information ahead of the competition. With the campaign trying to limit coverage to “pools,” they may need to do this more than ever, which is another manifestation of the leverage that the campaign will have under the pooler concept, and why it’s exactly the opposite of the full transparency that a campaign should provide.

Update: Olivier Knox, a reporter for Yahoo News, responds to this idea with something less than enthusiasm:

These are pretty good questions, and another reason to be skeptical of any claim that the press is getting access to Hillary in a campaign covered by pools. Olivier notes that the size of the presidential pool and its composition is a constant struggle with the White House.