WHITE PLAINS, United States: A podium, a microphone, journalists, questions—on the tarmac at the White Plains airport, Hillary Clinton revived an ancient tradition that she appeared to have forgotten: the press conference.
Standing in front of a plane emblazoned with the logo of her campaign—an immense “H” with a red arrow through it—she denounced Republican rival Donald Trump’s “scary” ideas, sketched out her vision for the fight against terrorism, and accepted one last question as she turned toward the stairs.
There was nothing very extraordinary about Thursday’s scene, especially in the final stretch of a US presidential campaign.
Except that the Democratic candidate’s last press conference was on December 5, 2015, an eternity in politics.
Her stubborn refusal to submit to questioning by the press became fodder for critics who said she lacked transparency and that her approach to politics was too cold and calculating.
Online trackers kept scrupulous count of the number of days that had passed without a Clinton press conference.
The Trump camp and the Republican party happily stepped into the breach, denouncing her penchant for secrecy and needling her about her controversial use of a private server to send emails as secretary of state.
Then early this week, there was a change in the air: Not once but twice the former first lady came back to the rear of the campaign plane to take questions from the forty or so journalists traveling with her.
Diplomacy, the economy but also the polemics and gray areas surrounding her candidacy: standing in the cramped cabin of her campaign plane, Clinton answered questions at length.
If she makes it to the White House, will her daughter Chelsea keep her ties with the Clinton Foundation? “We’ll reach that if I’m elected,” she said.
Are the Russians helping Trump to win the elections? She cites a saying in Arkansas, where her husband Bill was governor before becoming president, “If you find a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by accident.”
Referring to a cyber theft of Democratic National Committee documents that was blamed on Russian hackers, she said, “I think it’s quite intriguing that this activity has happened around the time Trump became the nominee.”
The campaign plane, which bears the slogan “Stronger Together,” had barely landed before a semantic debate broke out in the nation’s capital: were these high altitude exchanges really a press conference?
The journalists themselves were divided.
The Politico news site declared that the candidate had indeed held her first press conference in 275 days. The Washington Post, more cautious, said it “resembled a news conference.” Others sidestepped the thorny question.
Whatever the case, the long spell without a Clinton press conference definitely came to an end on Thursday.
With just 60 days to go before the elections, Clinton is unlikely to go for long again without talking to the press. But the trackers online are counting the days until her next one. AFP