Does Hillary Clinton have a media transparency problem?

The Democratic nominee took selected questions at a conference of journalists Friday after not holding a press conference for months, but some say she wasn't exactly candid.

(AP Photo/Paul Holston)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the 2016 National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) joint convention, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016, in Washington.

Hillary Clinton appeared set to break a nearly seven-month-long stretch without holding a press conference on Friday.

But the event, where Mrs. Clinton spoke and took a few pre-selected questions at the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ conference in Washington, seemed to raise as many questions as it answered for some attendees.

As Clinton praised the journalists’ work, saying “now more than ever we need you to keep holding leaders and candidates accountable,” a controversy about her own transparency took center stage.

Addressing questions about immigration reform and her use of a private email server alike, her responses seemed to raise a question for a candidate who many voters have said they view as untrustworthy : Is it really possible to be “truthful” without being entirely candid?

Some journalists note these transparency issues are far from new for Clinton. “I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold,” wrote former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson in a Guardian column in March.

When Clinton refused to disclose information about the Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater, for example, Ms. Abramson writes, “she fueled speculation that she was hiding grave wrongdoing.”

Still, Abramson writes that “Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy,” citing ratings by the fact-checking site Politifact.  Despite questions about Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street donors, she adds, “there are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.”

On Friday, in remarks that name checked crusading journalists Ida B. Wells and Ruben Salazar, Clinton also focused on issues facing African American and Latino communities.

She has often faced questions about her statements in support of a 1994 crime bill passed by her husband Bill Clinton. In February, Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams confronted Clinton about a comment she made at the time calling some young people “superpredators” and saying “we need to bring them to heel.”

At the journalists' conference, Clinton responded to a question about whether the Democratic Party and her campaign took Latino voters “for granted,” by pointing to her previous record. “Well, I take them seriously, because I’ve had the great privilege of working for many years with Latino leaders, activists, business men and women,” she said, Time reports.

She also responded similarly to a question from Washington Post reporter Ed O’Keefe about how she would address voters who find her untrustworthy, drawing a mixed reaction from attendees.

I thought she had a prepared speech that I've heard several times," Brendon Benavides, executive producer for Good Morning San Antonio at KSAT News and a candidate for NAHJ president told CNBC.

But he added, “There were questions asked that could only be asked at a conference like this," noting the majority of black and Latino journalists in attendance.

In her often-careful remarks, some observers have drawn a contrast with Republican rival Donald Trump, who has become known in recent months for his harsh criticisms of the media and denial of press credentials to news outlets whose coverage he dislikes

For all of Donald Trump’s faults in dealing with the media — and they are legion — he has often made himself available,” wrote Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan last month. “It’s true that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is more likely to give bombastic speeches that are exercises in narcissism (with a dollop of lies on top) than to forthrightly answer questions. But at least there is the chance of pinning him down.”

Trump has also critiqued Clinton, saying Tuesday it had been 241 days since she held a press conference.

Some journalists noted that Friday's event wasn't really an open press conference:

The Obama administration has also been assailed by reporters of falling well short of a promise to be the “most transparent administration in history.”

In a speech in March, President Obama praised “a press that asks tough questions” and decried the lack of investigative journalism that he said was commonplace in earlier eras.

But critics have often pointed out that the administration has set a record for denying lawsuits related to public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and overseen controversial prosecutions of journalists under the Espionage Act, TechDirt reports.

“Day-to-day intimidation of sources is also extremely chilling,” Sally Buzbee, the Associated Press’ Washington bureau chief, said at a meeting of journalists and editors in September 2014.

Some say Clinton’s situation may be different.

Colin Diersing, the former president of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, told Abramson in March that there could a gender-based double standard in claims that Clinton is untrustworthy. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said.

But Kimberly Atkins, a Boston Herald columnist, argues that Clinton’s responses on Friday about statements she made about the FBI investigation into her emails did little to stem the debate.

“She’s going to have to do a lot better than that if she’s ever going to convince voters she’s trustworthy,” Ms. Atkins writes.

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