Hillary Clinton opened her speech to a room full of political reporters by acknowledging an awkward, if obvious, fact: she's not known for being media-friendly. But Monday night, she also pledged to make a change.
"I am well aware that some of you may be a little surprised to see me here tonight," she said. "My relationship with the press has been at times, shall we say, complicated."
The former secretary of State spoke at the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting ceremony, and her address was part olive branch—and part not-so-subtle suggestions about the need for "serious" and "substantive" journalism going forward.
"I am all about new beginnings: a new grandchild, another new hairstyle, a new email account," she quipped, "Why not a new relationship with the press? So here goes. No more secrecy. No more zone of privacy." (She then joked that ceremony attendees could find non-disclosure agreements under their chairs.)
Following the nearly 20-minute speech, she did not take questions.
Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, who won this year's award, made Clinton an offer: "I am happy to yield my time back to you if you want to take some questions," he said, making Clinton laugh.
The speech was the last on Clinton's schedule, and the next time she appears publicly, it will likely be to kick off her 2016 presidential campaign.
She acknowledged her at-times tumultuous relationship with the press, making light of both it and the controversy over her private email server that again made her the subject of negative headlines in recent weeks.
Clinton also talked at length about former New York Times reporter Robin Toner, for whom the Toner Prize is named. The two got to know each other during the 1992 presidential campaign and during Clinton's health care push in 1993 and 1994. She praised Toner's brand of journalism, which she said was substantive, serious, and based on asking tough questions—and in the process, she offered what sounded like advice to the 2016 press corps who will chronicle her every move on the campaign trail.
In Toner, she said, "I saw a reporter who really liked to delve into the substance of issues "¦ the details were complicated and she immersed herself in them, but she understood that the details really mattered."
Clinton added that Toner didn't hold back from criticizing her when necessary, but that she always did so with context and perspective. "I appreciated that even if sometimes it was my stumbles and setbacks she was sharing with the world, it was always in a context I could recognize and make sense of," she said.
Without quality journalism, the former senator added, Washington politics can at times enter "an evidence-free zone," citing partisan discussion about the Affordable Care Act—which had its fifth anniversary Monday—as a prime example. "Over these five years we've heard plenty of scare tactics, wild claims about socialism and death panels," she said, "but not enough about how to keep expanding access, lowering costs and improving quality."
Clinton acknowledged that public figures will be put under the microscope, and that she usually understands that, regardless of whether public officials like the coverage, they understand reporters are just doing their job.
"Those of us on the other side are not always going to be happy about whatever it is you do," she said. "But we do understand, in our more rational moments, that is your job. And we and our democracy depend on you."
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