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Lifting the Veil: Why 2 reporters got access to Hillary

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Aug. 12, 2013: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the American Bar Association Annual Meeting. (AP)

Hillary Clinton had a whole lotta problems in 2008, and one of them was the press.

Or more precisely, the way she walled herself off from the press (an approach I asked her about in New Hampshire that year, which she politely deflected). She was extraordinarily cautious when she dealt with journalists, and behind the scenes, her people complained bitterly about how her negative coverage contrasted with the media’s pro-Obama bias.

The combination of these factors was that a woman quite capable of charming reporters instead failed to melt her ice queen image.

Perhaps next time, assuming she runs in 2016, things will be different. In this campaign-in-waiting mode, Hillary and her team have to make decisions about how much to put her out there, and who is granted that most precious political commodity: access.

We’re now getting an early indication of how her team plans to play the game, with word that two Capitol Hill reporters have interviewed Clinton and her top aides for a forthcoming book on her tenure as secretary of state. On the surface, there should be nothing remarkable about that. As the Huffington Post reports, Politico’s Jonathan Allen and The Hill’s Amie Parnes are completing a serious look at Clinton’s Foggy Bottom record.

What’s revealing here is a comment by Clinton’s longtime spokesman Philippe Reines, saying he’s tired of all the chatter about 2016 from the usual class of pundits.

“Their Rolodexes are frozen in 2008,” he said. “So anyone who takes the time to learn about her tenure at State, it’s both important and impressive. Because a lot of people can’t be bothered.”

I’m all for rewarding journalists who focus on substance, but this is not likely to be a hostile book. Allen briefly quit his job at Politico to work as a Democratic congressional aide before returning to his old job.

And if Clinton gradually opens up to more journalists as she edges toward an actual campaign, that’s a good thing for her and for the media. She recently broke an eight-month silence by speaking to New York magazine.

Yet keep in mind that Bill Clinton recently took a swipe at certain newspapers (meaning the New York Times) that have a fulltime reporter assigned to Hillary even though there’s no campaign. The Times ran a critical piece on mismanagement at the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, as well as her effort to reach out to African-American leaders who might have been turned off by her husband’s comments in the 2008 primary.

“She believes and I believe that the four-year campaign mania is a big mistake,” the ex-president said. He’s got a point, but these stories are going to be written one way or another.

As for Hillary’s tenure in President Obama’s Cabinet, Susan Glasser, editor of Politico Magazine, has an intriguing look. The current Beltway chatter is that whatever Clinton’s accomplishments, John Kerry is taking more risks and tackling bigger problems as her successor.

“Certainly, even many of her most ardent defenders recognize Hillary Clinton had no signal accomplishment at the State Department to her name, no indelible peace sealed with her handshake, no war averted, no nuclear crisis defused.”

The argument, writes Glasser, a former editor of Foreign Policy magazine, “is over whether and to what extent that was a consequence of Clinton herself, the limits placed on her by a suspicious and eager-to-make-its-mark first-term White House, or simply it being a very different moment in world politics.”

In other words, Obama may have been more cautious as an incumbent facing reelection; Iran, for instance, was not ready to purse a nuclear deal; or Clinton may not have wanted to take any chances that would complicate her 2016 chances.

Hillary’s record at State (including Benghazi) will, and should, draw immense scrutiny between now and the next election: some of it fair, some of it partisan, all of it relevant. The question is how much she and her team will do to shape that media narrative. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.