Trump email correct about Clinton not facing the press corps

Donald Trump and his allies have seized upon a statistic that they believe reflects poorly on Hillary Clinton.

On Aug. 30, 2016, the Trump campaign blasted out an email titled, “HIDING HILLARY: DAY 269,” going on to explain that “it has been 269 days since (Hillary) Clinton has held a press conference.” The email pressed Clinton to take reporters’ questions about the Clinton Foundation.

Is the Trump campaign correct that, as of Aug. 30, “it has been 269 days since Clinton has held a press conference”?

Many independent media outlets have supported Trump’s point. The Washington Post even created a real-time widget showing how long it has been since Clinton last held a press conference.

Post political writer Chris Cillizza has written, “The last time Clinton held a press conference was Dec. 5, 2015.

And we should note that the Trump campaign has some bona fides for calling Clinton out in this regard: A tally by NBC News counted 17 Trump press conferences in 2016.

The Clinton campaign has argued that Clinton has regularly made herself available to the press in ways that are equivalent to press conferences. But with one debatable exception, Trump can make a strong case that Clinton hasn’t given a press conference.

Clinton’s Dec. 5, 2015 event — which is the consensus date of her last press conference among reporters and media outlets covering the Clinton campaign — was held in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (And yes, we counted to make sure Trump’s email blast came 269 days later.)

Clinton answered eight questions. They were heavily focused on substantive topics, including gun control, terrorism, mental health policy, visa waiver rules, and civil liberties.

Given the serious tone of the exchanges and the mix of unfiltered questions by members of the traveling press corps, we think the Fort Dodge event qualifies as a genuine press conference, albeit a fairly brief one.

At least one reporter, CNN’s Dan Merica, referred to the exchange as a “press conference.”

While stopping short of labeling them press conferences, the Clinton campaign did offer PolitiFact transcripts of four subsequent events for possible comparison to the Fort Dodge exchange.

On April 4, Clinton visited the Jackson Diner in the immigrant-heavy Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.

This time, the number of questions Clinton took was slightly smaller — six — and several were about substantive topics of local interest.

The next event highlighted by the Clinton campaign took place on June 6 in Compton, Calif., a predominantly African-American jurisdiction near Los Angeles. It came one day before the California presidential primary, the last major contest of the Democratic nominating season.

Clinton took eight questions, with very little about policy matters.

Reporters got to ask a small number of questions of the running mates, mainly focusing on Trump’s controversial comments about the parents of a fallen soldier, Capt. Humayun Khan, and whether the four fall debates would go off as planned.

Finally, on Aug. 5, Clinton gave a speech to a joint convention of African-American and Hispanic journalists and followed up with a question-and-answer session.

However, the fact that the moderators chose the questioners from a limited pool of convention participants (and were convention participants themselves) cast doubt for many in the press corps on whether this fit the full definition of a press conference. Politico’s Jennifer Epstein, the Associated Press’ Lisa Lerer, CNN’s Merica, and the Post’s Chris Cillizza and Abby Phillip were among those making that argument on Twitter.

Beyond pointing to these four examples, Clinton campaign officials have noted that Clinton has made herself available for many interviews.

When NPR looked at the campaign’s documentation on Aug. 25, they confirmed that Clinton had indeed done 350 interviews this year. The analysis also counted nine town-hall sessions from Jan. 1 to July 31, though these question-and-answer sessions were geared more towards members of the public than the media.

Cillizza, writing in the Post, found the large number of interviews insufficient.

“Sitdown, one-on-one interviews aren’t the same thing as a free-wheeling press conference,” he wrote. “Jimmy Kimmel isn’t the same thing as a press conference with reporters from the Washington Post, New York Times and the TV networks. Kimmel is a comedian, not a reporter.”

Our ruling

Trump’s email said, “It has been 269 days since Clinton has held a press conference.”

Only one event in the past 269 days — Clinton’s appearance before the minority journalists’ convention — could reasonably be considered a press conference, and there are good arguments for why it isn’t. The questioners were limited to a small pool of convention participants, leaving most of the Clinton campaign press corps — the dozens of journalists who know the campaign the best and who had complained the most about lack of access — without an equal shot at asking a question.

Trump’s statement is accurate but needs clarification.

We rate it Mostly True.

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