Time for the Clinton campaign to change course on media relations

Hillary Clinton's team has been keeping journalists at a distance even before last weekend's rope-line images surfaced. They should try the opposite approach - and soon.

Hillary Clinton has a big problem, and it’s not – at least not yet – named Bernie Sanders.

The Clinton campaign’s relationship with the press is starting to show major wear and tear nearly six months to the day of the New Hampshire primary. That’s enough time for her campaign to make the changes needed, but they shouldn’t procrastinate.   

There’s a simple reason why Clinton’s camp should make peace with the press: it simply doesn’t have to be this way.

The biggest flashpoint took place last Saturday as the former secretary of state appeared at a Fourth of July parade in Gorham, New Hampshire. Easy money, right? The candidate walks, waves, and shakes a few hands. Instead, the story was about how Clinton’s staffers kept members of the media behind a rope line at a safe distance from the candidate.

Her team’s side of the story is that they needed to keep order so Clinton could campaign and meet with voters. Fair point, but there must be more camera-friendly ways to do so. The rope-line strategy played on TV and in photographs as petty and mean; I doubt you’ll see anything like it through November 2016.

Will many voters cast their ballots based on the use of a rope line to corral the press? Of course not. But it doesn’t help, either. Now it’s a symbol of the growing distrust between Clinton and the journalists covering her.

The Hill is calling it a "rope-a-dope" strategy – pun clearly intended – with the national media. As of mid-May, Clinton had only taken nine questions from the press, an extraordinarily low number. And while the former senator and first lady sat down for her first national media interview of the campaign with CNN’s Brianna Keiler this week, the fact that it was her initial session of the 2016 run took attention away from what she actually said.

Her Republican rivals have been more active. Jeb Bush has done numerous interviews, though not without a gaffe here and there, while Marco Rubio is selling his own candidacy as a youthful alternative to his more seasoned rivals. And Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump.

Clinton’s backers, and even the candidate herself, will point out that she’s a different type of candidate, facing more than 20 years of attacks from opponents on the other side of the aisle. This is undoubtedly true. And with the greatest name recognition also comes a glaring media spotlight.

But there’s another, more advantageous side to this coin. More than two decades on the national political stage include many unique experiences, including working as a healthcare-reform advocate in her husband’s administration, a senator whose home state endured 9/11 during her term, and a globetrotting secretary of state. Those jobs come with a long list of accomplishments and meaningful personal interactions that make a solid case as to why she should be president.

The problem is she’s not talking about them.

Frank Washkuch is news editor at PRWeek.

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