One really important thing for presidential candidates to do is answer questions from the press. It’s also important, of course, to announce policies and talk to voters but the press is uniquely positioned to ask questions on topics the candidate would otherwise avoid.
This is part of an essential role of the press to “vet” the candidates prior to election day.
It has become an issue for Hillary Clinton because while she has submitted to questions from individual journalists, until very recently, she had not held a “press conference” since late July 2015.
(Clinton did take questions from a large group of reporters in August after speaking at joint convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and National Association of Black Journalists, but many claimed it did not count because the session was moderated and she did not take a large number of questions.)
Press conferences are important to journalists because they are more free-wheeling than one-on-one interviews and allow for opportunities for multiple journalists to follow up on a single topic.
On Monday, Hillary Clinton started traveling with the press corps covering her campaign on a single plane. She took a number of questions from the 40 or so reporters traveling with her for about 25 minutes. (You can read the details of what she was asked here.)
On Tuesday, she took more questions from the media on her plane again for a similar period of time.
Fox News seemed convinced that all of this question-and-answering constituted a “news conference.”
Several prominent journalists from CNN, Politico and the New York Times agreed.
"Was it a press conference?" Well, Clinton fielded a dozen Q's & it went on for a while, per @danmericaCNN. I've been to similar "pressers"
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 6, 2016
Hillary Clinton hasn't held a press conference in 1 days
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) September 6, 2016
Clinton took q's for 25 mins on emails, Foundation, Russia, her health, Obama, etc. If that's not a press conference, I don't know what is.
— Amy Chozick (@amychozick) September 7, 2016
Even the Daily Caller, a right-wing outlet that is harshly critical of Clinton, described it as a press conference.
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) September 5, 2016
The Republican Party, not surprisingly, does not consider Clinton answering questions from the press on her plane to be a press conference.
Neither does the Trump campaign.
More notably, some members of the press — reporters from Bloomberg and MSNBC — appear to agree.
Trump campaign noting that a press gaggle is not a press conference… 277 days since she's had one.
— Kevin Cirilli (@kevcirilli) September 7, 2016
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) September 5, 2016
No matter what kind of press conference Clinton were to hold, she would be able to “leave at any moment.” Clinton should be able to participate in a press conference without, for example, being tied to a chair.
While the distinction between a one-on-one interview and a press conference is real, other traditional trappings of a press conference — a podium, for example, seem irrelevant to the core issue of vetting presidential candidates.
If she were to hold these question-and-answer sessions in New York or Washington, D.C., more reporters would be able to attend. But a savvy candidate in the general election spends most of their time in swing states. Do question-and-answer sessions only count if they are held in major East Coast media hubs?
Donald Trump has also taken some steps recently to open up his campaign to reporters. He finally has eliminated his media “blacklist” which excluded reporters from the Washington Post, Politico, Huffington Post and others from press conferences or any other event.