Both Trump and Clinton Curb Press Access - Plane Rides and Presidential Transparency
Hillary Clinton boarding her campaign plane after a rally in Reno, Nev. - No press allowed.,Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times
When Hillary Clinton headed for Reno, Nev., to make a big speech attacking Donald J. Trump on Thursday, her campaign used two planes. One was for the candidate and her entourage. The other was for the reporters, photographers and videographers assigned to follow her every move - which, of course, is impossible when she's not physically on the same aircraft.
This is Mrs. Clinton's standard air travel arrangement, and it represents a departure from how presidential candidates (including Mrs. Clinton in 2008) have dealt with their dedicated press corps since at least the early 1960s, by which point journalists were regularly traveling with them on their planes.
Even Barry Goldwater, the hard-right, press-fighting Republican nominee of 1964, flew with the reporters who covered him. He wound up enjoying it so much he rewarded them with "Eastern Liberal Press" lapel pins.
Mrs. Clinton's campaign has told reporters it will bring them onto her plane after Labor Day, though there has been such talk before. Even if Team Clinton makes good, the ride-sharing arrangement will be in place for such a short period that this should still go down as the election year that the girls and boys on the bus were finally kicked off the bus.
You may wonder why Mrs. Clinton, or any politician, is obliged to bring our wretched national press along with them on their airplanes. Mr. Trump does not bring them on his plane, either.
For starters, there's history. Imagine if reporters had not been on Air Force One when Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in after John F. Kennedy's assassination, or on 9/11, when it became a flying, wayward bunker for President George W. Bush. There are moments when you want witnesses to history whose loyalties aren't tied to the protagonist. So far, Mrs. Clinton's run as the first woman to become the Democratic Party's nominee has been observed at arm's length.
This is about something much bigger than eyewitness accounts and plane rides. It's about how much we want to know about each candidate's plans for the White House, and how open and accessible we want them to be as president. And ultimately, it's about whether we truly believe in the premise that transparency is vital for democracy.
Right now, every signal from Mrs. Clinton is that should she win, her administration would continue the tradition of being still more secretive than the one before it; the Obama White House has achieved just that with its abysmal record on fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests and its record of prosecuting whistle-blowers who have shared national security information with the press.
Mrs. Clinton's decision to use a personal email server while she was secretary of state started with an attempt to maintain a level of privacy that, she now acknowledges, backfired. It led to what the Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey called the "extremely careless" handling of classified information. But it also took thousands of work-related emails out of the official record, exacerbating the State Department's halting - if not grudging - approach to public information requests.
Mrs. Clinton has expressed regret. But if there's been any new show of openness, it has not noticeably extended to the news media.
An important to-be-fair paragraph: In addition to keeping reporters off his five-star resort of an airplane, Mr. Trump maintains a blacklist of reporters who are banished from the media plane that follows him; has refused to match Mrs. Clinton in sharing his tax returns; and has proposed loosening libel laws to make it easier for public figures to sue journalists, which is about as troubling as it gets.
Yet he has been far more personally accessible than Mrs. Clinton. This worked to his advantage during the primaries and now is working against him in the general election.
That does give Mrs. Clinton more than a little strategic incentive to stay away from the media and to let Mr. Trump's candidacy drown in all the Twitter messages, retweets and news reports about his trouble du jour. But that would be in keeping with our highest public officials' all-too-common approach of placing their political imperatives ahead of the public's right to know.
Brian Fallon, Mrs. Clinton's press secretary, told me that Mrs. Clinton "has answered no shortage of questions" in some 350 interviews, "on nearly every possible topic." After new emails came to light last week showing executives with the Clinton Foundation tried to help donors gain access to her and other State Department officials, Mrs. Clinton did grant phone interviews to CNN and MSNBC.
But that came days after the latest email news broke. On the actual day of the development, it was the late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel with whom she spoke, joking about how boring her emails were. That started another round of reports noting that she has not given a traditional, national news briefing in almost nine months and questioning whether her interviews had been an adequate substitute.
In a review of her 350 interviews, National Public Radio determined that 65 were with nonjournalists like Mayor Philip Levine of Miami Beach, Fla., a fellow Democrat, and an FM radio host in Detroit who ran through her astrological chart; 101 involved national news networks; 80 were with local television stations; and more than 100 were with local radio.
Interviews with reporters who cover her day in and day out - that is, those who know her and the issues surrounding her campaign the best - were rare.
In one of those interviews, with Glenn Thrush of Politico, Mrs. Clinton said that national political reporters were under "a kind of pressure to produce a political story," the implication being that she would prefer more substantive conversations.
Yet, so far Mrs. Clinton has not given a major interview about her foreign policy views with any longtime national foreign policy writers, such as Mr. Trump did with my colleague David E. Sanger. Mr. Trump made news by sharing with Mr. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, a Times political reporter, his views on the role of NATO and his openness to a nuclear-armed Japan and South Korea.
We've seen Mrs. Clinton in action as secretary of state. But as Mr. Sanger noted when we spoke last week, "The world has changed a lot since she was secretary of state four years ago" - especially with regard to Syria and newly aggressive behavior from Russia, China and North Korea - and "we'd like to know what she would do."
Mr. Fallon said Mrs. Clinton "will continue giving interviews to a variety of outlets." The news media, he said, will always want more, though. "That's their job, and we understand and respect that."
A true accommodation would be to do more. Much more.
No one is asking her to provide Mr. Trump's level of exposure. But at this point I would take Mitt Romney's.
He was no paragon of accessibility. But at least he occasionally answered reporters' questions on rope lines, offered a smattering of news briefings and flew with his press corps.
This is not to let Mr. Trump off the hook for his blacklist or his own failure to fly with his press corps. A pox on both their jetliners.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the traveling press corps was so big that campaigns required an extra, trailing plane, the one without the candidate was called the "zoo plane." That, the joke went, was where the campaigns locked away the techies, cameramen and reporters marked as troublemakers. So far this year, all we have are zoo planes (Sole exception: Mike Pence, Mr. Trump's running mate, who flies with his press).
Maybe that's where you think they belong.
But a candidate who doesn't want journalists around is a would-be president who presumably doesn't want to be transparent with his or her many millions of viewers and readers - with you. You don't have to go too far back in history to find the rotten fruit that secrecy has seeded. Accept the media banishment now and miss them when they're gone.