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In an segment that aired July 7, Hillary Clinton sat down for her first nationally televised interview since announcing her second bid for president in April.
Toward the end of the roughly 19-minute conversation, CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar asked Clinton about her "arm’s length" relationship with the media so far. Pointing to the decision to hold off on national interviews until this point, Keilar asked, "What's changed? Why now?"
Clinton began by telling Keilar that "nothing’s really changed." All along, Clinton said, she wanted to focus the first phase of her campaign on conversations with average Americans, particularly because it had been several years since she was actively engaged in domestic policy issues.
"I'm not running my campaign for the press. I'm running it for voters," Clinton said. "I totally respect the press and what the press has to do. But I wanted and was determined to have the time that I needed to actually meet and listen to people."
Later, Clinton said she would continue to do "more press" and added, "I did local press all along, the last three months because, again, it was interesting to see what questions the local press would be asking me."
Given the scrutiny surrounding Clinton’s national media strategy, we decided to take a closer look at this statement: Had she consistently opened herself up to local reporters throughout the first three months of her campaign?
Politifact New Hampshire first asked her team for documentation of all media availabilities since she announced her campaign on April 12. Clinton’s New Hampshire staff provided a list that included all media availabilities in New Hampshire so far this year as well as additional interviews conducted with local news outlets in South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada.
We also took a look at pool reports compiled by journalists who have been following Clinton since she announced her candidacy, as well as reports from national journalists who kept track of how many press questions Clinton answered at the beginning of her campaign.
As we looked into this claim, we relied on the historic practice of "doing local press" in the New Hampshire primary, which includes some or all of the following: on-camera interviews, one-on-one questions with reporters and editorial board meetings with local or state news organizations.
During her inaugural campaign visit to Iowa on April 14 and 15, Clinton did not offer any official media availabilities but did respond to stray questions from reporters who were shadowing her outside of a community college and other stops. Questions included one asking her what she’d say to Americans who want to know why she’s running, some others on campaign finance and the significance of the Iowa caucus, as well as, "How are you liking Iowa?"
The following week in New Hampshire, Clinton responded to several questions from reporters — including two from a reporter for WMUR, a New Hampshire TV station — after a roundtable at Whitney Brothers in Keene, N.H., on April 20.
And the press corps took notice.
"Despite being bombarded with press questions at every chance, Clinton has only personally answered a handful of inquiries since formally launching her campaign April 12," National Journal’s Zach C. Cohen noted in a story published April 27. "Instead, she has spoken directly to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, taking their questions in small-scale events."
In total, as documented by Tamara Keith at NPR, Clinton responded to 13 questions from reporters between April 14 (her first campaign visit in Iowa) and May 13 (one month and a day after she announced her campaign in a video posted online).
Then, on May 19 in Iowa, following an event in Cedar Rapids, Clinton took another seven questions from journalists, according to follow-up reporting from NPR. (That included one question about whether Clinton would be taking journalists’ questions.)
Clinton didn’t appear to distinguish between local and national media during that first month, responding to questions shouted from journalists representing ABC and the Associated Press, as well as from WMUR and an Iowa political television show.
Almost exactly two months into her campaign, Clinton’s team started offering more access to local and state news outlets.
On June 14, Clinton began sitting down for interviews with local news outlets in Iowa. She followed up with additional local media interviews in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in the days ahead. One of those interviews was with the Concord Monitor, a Politifact affiliate. In that case, Clinton answered six questions in an interview that lasted a little less than 10 minutes after speaking at a June 15 rally in Concord.
Since then, Clinton has conducted additional interviews with local reporters during July visits to New Hampshire and Iowa. In New Hampshire, for example, she gave interviews to WKXL Concord News Radio, the Conway Daily Sun, the Coos County Democrat/Berlin Reporter and the Berlin Daily Sun on July 3 and 4.
As pointed out by National Journal’s Emily Schultheis in a story about Clinton’s media strategy in May, "national headlines were never the point" for her campaign team.
"Instead, they're betting—and given the subject of the national conversation, almost certainly hoping—that what matters right now is happening much closer to the ground: the connections she makes with early-primary state voters, the persona she builds in key areas, and the buzz she generates with local activists," Schultheis noted at the time.
In her sit-down interview with CNN, Clinton reflected on that strategy.
She pointed to the "ramp-up" phase of the campaign, which centered on discussions in small-group settings over large-scale rallies or other events — and said they caused her to more seriously prioritize issues like substance abuse and mental health in her campaign.
In her first sit-down interview with a national television reporter, Hillary Clinton said, "I did local press all along, the last three months."
A review of Clinton’s interactions with the media during the first three months of her campaign shows that she offered numerous interviews with local news outlets during the third month of that time frame. Prior to that, however, her interactions with with local news outlets were just about as scarce as they were with national outlets.
It’s an exaggeration for her to say that she had been engaging with reporters at the local level for three months. On balance, we rate her claim Mostly False.
List of Clinton media availabilities from Harrell Kirstein, communications director for the campaign in New Hampshire
Pool reports from Hillary Clinton campaign press corps
Concord Monitor, "Hillary Clinton on the issues: Six questions on the campaign trail," June 15, 2015
National Journal: "For Clinton, It's About the Concord Monitor, Not The New York Times"
CNN Interview, July 7
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