In 1994, Hillary Clinton held her famous “pink press conference” to respond to the growing crescendo of criticism about her $100,000 windfall in the commodities futures market.
It was a public relations coup. Hillary charmed and disarmed the press with her calm and relaxed explanations, her openness and her engaging and soft demeanor. How different from her recent disastrous press conference on her private email accounts!
What a difference a decade makes.
PINK vs. BLACK
In 1994, the press conference was held in the beautiful and historic State Dining Room of the White House. A youthful and relaxed Hillary Clinton sat comfortably in a chair in front of a fireplace and under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It was a pretty tableau in pink. Dressed in a crisp pink sweater set, a table next to her held a bunch of matching pink tulip that extending the pink theme. The visual was deliberately — and successfully — warm and fuzzy. The message was, too. It screamed: Hillary is SOFT.
The optics for Hillary’s recent press conference was quite the opposite. Instead of a pink theme, there was a black one. Nothing soft about it. Standing in the lobby of the U.N. right next to the enormous dark tapestry of Picasso’s iconic Guernica, the disturbing anti-war symbol showing the chaos and pain of war, was more than just a distraction. Screaming bodies are not good stage props, even when they come from one of the most important works of art in the 20th Century. It was an exaggerated metaphor for the chaos that follows Clinton and her drama. Nothing peaceful about her.
Instead of soft pink, her jacket was black — stark and unadorned. Her usual bright pinks, yellows, and turquoises were left in her Chappaqua closet, replaced with a severely tailored black tweed jacket. There was none of her pretty scarves or expensive necklaces and pins. Instead, she looked more like a prim school principal about to give a stern lecture. Her face was drawn and tired-looking and her usual professional make-up was very much missing. Her smiles seemed disingenuous.
The message was clear: Hillary is NOT SOFT. In fact, she’s brittle.
AVAILABLE vs. REMOTE
The contrast between Hillary’s demeanor at the two press conferences couldn’t have been greater. At the 1994 press conference, Hillary took questions for 90 minutes. She was never ruffled and she spoke calmly and politely without any hint of irritation.
She was conciliatory and apologetic, conceding that sometimes her need for privacy “led me to perhaps be less understanding than I needed to of the press and the public’s interest — as well as right — to know things about my husband and me.”
The setting — and her manner — engaged the press. She was friendly and responsive and looked young, fresh, and eager to tell her story. She stared right into their eyes and smiled often. She wasn’t defensive and didn’t come across as hiding anything. (Even though she was!)
In contrast, the 2105 Hillary presented herself as a very busy and put-upon ex-Secretary of State. True to form, she kept everyone waiting for almost an hour, and seemed annoyed that she had to tend to this very unpleasant task – talking to the press. She may as well have held her nose.
Her attitude was curt and business-like. No pretense that she was willingly there and no attempt whatsoever at turning on the charm. Not for these people who are trying to derail her candidacy.
She began with the important things: a few minutes on her project for girl’s equality and a reminder of her long history of advocacy for gender equality, recycling many of her most famous lines. That was followed by a harsh dress down of the 47 Republicans who signed a letter to Iran, accusing them of wanting to help Iran. This from Mrs. Bipartisanship. Finally, she got down to the unpleasant task at hand. She answered questions for less than twenty minutes.
She deliberately alienated the press before the event even started. By choosing the U.N. venue, she forced many of the press to wait on line for several hours to get security clearance and id’s. One suspects that was deliberate and was the one thing that gave her pleasure that day.
Instead of trying to engage the press in any way, she read from a prepared script, rarely looking up. Her smile was mirthless and she gave a lawyerly, but not at all convincing announcement of how she always followed the rules and we were going to have to trust her. (That didn’t work)
Her demeanor was curt and business-like. No pretense that she was willing there and no attempt whatsoever at turning on the charm. Not for these people who are trying to derail my candidacy.
Unlike her 1994 performance, she gave no ground. She never apologized for taking the people’s records; in fact, she didn’t seem to believe that she had taken them. According to her, everything was safe and secure in her hands and home. She never apologized for the cost of several million dollars that the State Department estimates it will cost to review the emails she failed to archive.
She obviously had no interest in engaging the press. Instead, her hostility to them and her annoyance at having to explain herself was right out there on public display. Did they not understand who she was? Did they not understand that she had important business to attend to and they were wasting her time?
She either didn’t prepare for the press conference or didn’t care. Because it was a bad performance with a bad message.
During March and April of1994. I spoke to Hillary Clinton several times about the rising crescendo of criticism about her amazing $100,000 windfall in the futures market and the parallel Whitewater imbroglio that were defining her as a greedy lawyer who profited from her husband’s official position.
I urged her to come clean. She needed to present herself to the voters in a calm and credible way and explain her side of the stories. Her first reaction was vintage Hillary — insisting on her innocence, defensive, paranoid about the press, and focused on issues that only lawyers care about. But over the course of several weeks, she confided that she was going to have a press conference “when I am ready.” She explained that she had been practicing with her lawyers and Mandy Grunwald, her media adviser who knew how to show a very soft Hillary.
Then suddenly, one day, the White house announced that she would be holding a press conference that afternoon. She was ready. For a while, at least, she diffused the criticism.
The 2015 Hillary Clinton was not polished, effect, or convincing. She just made things worse.