Why Won't Hillary Clinton Talk to Reporters?

The unwillingness of the former secretary of state to take questions from the press contrasts sharply with Jeb Bush’s marked affinity for public disclosure.

David Goldman / AP

Howard Kurtz reported on Sunday night that the Hillary Clinton campaign has decided to open itself to more press interviews. Kurtz quoted the campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri: “By not doing national interviews until now, Palmieri concedes, ‘we’re sacrificing the coverage. We’re paying a price for it.’”

Meanwhile Jeb Bush chatted July 2 with the conservative website, the Daily Caller. The Daily Caller interview broke an unusually protracted no-interview period for Bush. It had been more than two weeks since he appeared on the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon. Bush spoke that same day, June 17, to Sean Hannity’s radio show and ABC News. Five days earlier, he’d spoken to Germany’s Der Spiegel—altogether, five interviews in the month of June. That brought his total, since the beginning of February, to 39, according to the Bush campaign.*

Over that same period, Hillary Clinton has given six interviews, including a paid appearance before the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Jeb Bush accepted invitations from journalists likely to pose tough questions, including Fox’s Megyn Kelly, talk radio’s Hugh Hewitt, and CBS’s Bob Schieffer.

Hillary Clinton’s single potentially searching encounter, with The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Dan Balz, ran in its entirety as follows:

In a brief interview with The Washington Post, Clinton said she had developed a plan to overhaul the way money is spent in political campaigns. Earlier in the day she said she wanted to fix the country's "dysfunctional" campaign finance system, even backing a constitutional amendment if necessary.

Asked about her campaign finance agenda, Clinton said, "We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan."

Clinton added, "I'm going to be rolling out a lot of my policies...Stay tuned."

When The Post asked about the role of Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton super PAC currently trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help her campaign, Clinton shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know."

Then the candidate walked into Fuel Espresso, a coffee shop that advertises it sells "mom's baked goods from scratch," for a private meeting with supporters.

Not exactly forthcoming, to put it mildly.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush face a similar public-acceptance problem. Both are legacy candidates, candidates who owe their eminence in considerable part to last names and fundraising networks shared with other family members. Americans are not wholly uncomfortable with dynasties. There have been 56 presidential elections since the founding of the republic. Twelve of them have been won by an Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt, or Bush. Had history taken a slightly different bounce, Americans might have added the names Lincoln, Taft, and Kennedy to that list. Yet there’s still something about a double-dynast election that might stick in the small-“r” republican craw.

Clinton and Bush have each developed distinctive responses to this potential problem.

Hillary Clinton acts and talks as if she has nobody in her party left to persuade. Campaign message: “It’s already over.” As Bill Clinton told an NBC reporter in May 2015: “Any kind of disclosure is a target.”

Jeb Bush seems determined to communicate: “I’m accessible, I’m approachable, I feel entitled to nothing.”

In the summer of 2014, when she released her memoir of her time as secretary of state, Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton gave a clutch of interviews. Like the book itself, those revealed only her skill at speaking without saying anything.

Jeb Bush’s many, many pre-candidacy interviews—some of them very long—revealed a great deal. He talked about his family inheritance, his marriage, his faith, and his often-controversial principles with risky candor. The book he released in 2013, Immigration Wars, inserted him into the Republican’s most contentious internal debate.

Agree with it or not, Jeb Bush’s immigration book was detailed, specific, and provocative. Hillary Clinton’s post-cabinet memoir, by contrast, was described by even its friendliest reviewers as “faintly robotic”; “campaign mumbo-jumbo”; “clunky, cursory”; and “boring and dreary.”

Tax returns? Before anybody seriously asked for them, Bush released 33 years’ worth, the largest release of a major candidate’s personal financial information in history.

The Clinton family finances are not so open. Hillary Clinton last released tax returns during the 2008 contest. The Clinton Foundation has presented special problems, beginning with the fundamental question of how much of the foundation’s revenue is spent on various forms of travel, staff, and other support for the Clinton family. The journalist who looked most deeply into the family finances was treated as a political opponent, to be defeated and defamed by any means necessary.

There’s obviously a difference of presidential campaign strategy here, but maybe also something more. Jeb Bush practiced extreme transparency even as governor of Florida, later releasing 280,000 personal emails, including some he himself described as “a little embarrassing.” Back in 2009, long before she could have known that her next bid for the Democratic nomination would be effectively uncontested, Hillary Clinton took her demand for privacy to the extreme of using a personally owned email server for her communications as secretary of state.

No, what we’re seeing from these two leading candidates are deep personality traits that developed long before the 2016 campaign began—and will continue into their presidencies, should either win the presidency. No one becomes more accessible, more forthcoming, more candid, more unentitled in office than as a candidate. A candidate who is already the inaccessible, unforthcoming, uncandid, and highly entitled will only become that much more so if elected. The voters have been warned—and will continue to be warned. But will they care?

* The article originally stated that Bush had given 25 media interviews this year. We regret the error.