Yesterday, Team Hillary flack Brian Fallon tried to put the best spin on an ugly statistic. CNN’s Brian Stelter challenged Fallon over Hillary Clinton’s lack of availability to the news media, including the reporters assigned to cover her campaign, and the fact that it’s been six months since Hillary held an open press conference. Fallon responded that her “avails” make up for the lack of open questions, but two media outlets beg to differ. Since the beginning of the year, all of the time spent in those avails still doesn’t equal one Donald Trump press conference, the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers points out.
Here’s the pas de deux from Reliable Sources:
Technically, yes, it has been a long time since the candidate’s last formal news conference, but she routinely answers questions in other settings, press secretary Brian Fallon argued Sunday on CNN. A news conference, he said, “oftentimes is just defined by whether you have a banner behind you or a podium in front of you.”
Fallon added this: “Oftentimes … we will do an ‘avail’ — what would be known as an avail to the people in your business — where she informally comes out after an event has concluded, after she’s taken some photos and some selfies, and she will literally stand there for 15, 20 minutes and answer questions from her traveling press corps, including the embeds from the various networks.”
Except this is all literally not true. If Clinton were truly in the habit of fielding questions from reporters for an extended period of time — a period of time that resembles the duration of a news conference — then griping about the informal nature of the sessions would indeed be harder to justify. Talking to reporters in a scrum isn’t particularly conducive to live television — and the comparison here is to Trump’s regularly scheduled news conferences, which cable channels often air live — but at least Clinton would be submitting herself to a similar level of questioning.
ABC’s Liz Kreutz fact-checks this spin and finds that it falls short … in more ways than one:
But according to an ABC News tally, Clinton has held just nine press avails with her traveling press corps since January, all of which have lasted 10 minutes or less. …
Here is the list of every time Clinton has stopped to take questions from her traveling press this year, according to ABC News’ records:
3/1/16 – Minneapolis Length: Roughly 5 minutes
3/10/16 – Tampa, Florida Length: Roughly 5 minutes
3/15/16 – Raleigh, North Carolina Length: Roughly 4 minutes
3/29/16 – La Crosse, Wisconsin Length: Roughly 5 minutes
4/7/16 – The Bronx, New York Length: Roughly 7 minutes
4/8/16 – Buffalo, New York Length: Roughly 5 minutes
4/11/16 – Jackson Heights, New York Length: Roughly 10 minutes
4/18/16 – Flushing, New York Length: Roughly 3 minutes
5/9/16 – Stone Ridge, Virginia Length: Roughly 2.5 minutes
Fallon declined to address the apparent discrepancy between his characterization and the schedule when asked about it by ABC News.
I’ll bet. Even the sum total of these avails is an apples/oranges comparison. The dynamic of a press conference (or even a lengthier “avail”) is that each question builds on those that precede it. Ten 5-minute hits do not equal a 50-minute single event for that reason; the latter avoids duplication and allows for follow-up and more probing questions based on the answers given. That’s exactly what Hillary Clinton wants to avoid.
Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to filibuster the short avails with lengthy, unresponsive answers, a technique that Barack Obama has mastered in both the quick-avail and press-conference formats. Hillary Clinton hasn’t mastered much of anything when it comes to press conferences, so she and her team has stuck with either the quick avails or local-news interviews where her celebrity quality can eclipse the news sense of local anchors (another technique that Obama mastered).
All Hillary wants to do is to get her face in front of lots of low-information voters while generating as little baggage as possible. That’s what most front-running candidates want to do, but others are usually more adept at making that strategy subtle.