Clinton Recovers, Press Reconsiders Plans for Breakup

The operational side is run by Howard Wolfson and his deputies, Phil Singer, Blake Zeff and Jay Carson. Like him, they’re all alumni of Chuck Schumer’s press office. They have not always been pleased by the media’s treatment of their candidate. (“I don’t think that Howard Wolfson or Jay Carson or Phil Singer hate any of us,” said one reporter, tapping on a laptop before an event. “But they really do hate the aggregate.”)

But at the same time, Mr. Wolfson, who can do brusque with the best of them, has not been inaccessible. And some of his colleagues in the campaign, as well as some of the reporters who have covered the campaign longest, blame Mr. Penn (as well as the candidate) for the current policy and say that Mr. Wolfson, as much as anyone, has been pressing internally for a more press-friendly posture by the campaign.

“There is no stronger advocate for more reporter access to the candidate than Howard because he knows how terrific she is and wants reporters to see that as well,” said one Clinton adviser in response to the official.

The adviser said that in campaign meetings and conference calls, Mr. Wolfson incessantly advocated for more access—that she fly with reporters to Iowa or New Hampshire, that she do more off-the-record drinks and press availabilities. Those appeals did not get through, said the adviser.

The resulting media strategy was one that left some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters dismayed.

The day after the disastrous Iowa caucuses, Mr. Penn and Mr. Wolfson participated in a conference call with prominent supporters.

“I felt for Howard,” said a source close to the campaign who was on the call. “Everyone and his brother was jumping on him, saying, ‘We needed to see her more, we needed her warmer side, she should have been talking to the press.’”

The source, a longtime Clinton supporter, expected changes to be made in the campaign after New Hampshire.

“There are certainly a number of people whose voices weren’t heard and who now want to be.” (Maggie Williams, a longtime confidante of Hillary Clinton, is coming on as campaign manager, according to reports that came out the night of the primary.)

Another prominent supporter close to the campaign thought the new strategy of publicly chastising the press had a whiff of desperation about it.

“You don’t blame the press unless you are not doing well on the ground,” said the supporter. “If they had not lost Iowa or weren’t behind in New Hampshire, there would be no bitching about the press.”

This supporter, too, predicted a shake-up in the Clinton campaign.

A former high-level adviser to Mrs. Clinton pointed out that the complicated relationship between Mrs. Clinton and the press went back at least 16 years and was “not a new dichotomy.”

ss=”text”>“The Clintons have had more respect from the press than they recognize, and the press admires the Clintons more than they like to admit.”

That’s the funny, tragic thing: Most of the reporters on the beat are actually disposed to like Mrs. Clinton.

“She’s brighter than anyone in the press pool,” said one.

“She’s funny as shit,” said another.

Days before the Iowa caucuses, the campaign sent out friends and constituents who had personal testimonials and used them to good effect. “Overall, you’d like to have that sense of her as a fully rounded person who is actually a human being,” said a veteran reporter.

The reporter described how one New York resident visited to thank Mrs. Clinton for being instrumental in providing his son with a bone-marrow transplant when they were having problems with insurance companies. “You should have seen us: It was so moving. We all had tears in our eyes,” said the reporter, whose eyes actually began to well up. “They should have been doing this all along.”

 

DIRECT INTERACTIONS WITH Mrs. Clinton haven’t been easy to come by. According to one daily newspaper reporter who has covered Mrs. Clinton for a year, the press corps “would go weeks without speaking to her.” Another said that when she did speak in the past—when she was the front-runner—she would speak for only a few minutes.

On Jan. 2, a day before the Iowa caucuses, Mrs. Clinton actually came onto the campaign bus with bagels and coffee in hand. She kept a cautious distance from reporters and barely stood away from the windshield in her brief encounter. No one shouted any questions and one writer compared the awkwardness to bumping into an ex-girlfriend.

By the time Mrs. Clinton arrived in New Hampshire after the caucuses, she seemed to open up. The campaign’s likable press aide, Jamie Smith, made an announcement on the press bus that Mrs. Clinton would hold “an avail” in a coffee shop in Manchester. Word spread instantly around the coach’s cushioned seats.