Now that the campaign coverage is over, some of the reporters on the Hillary Clinton beat are willing to admit it: There were times they wished they covered Donald Trump instead.
But not Tuesday night. No, on Tuesday night these reporters truly are writing the first draft of history.
“This will be an election that my kids and grandkids are going to ask me about,” said one member of the Clinton press corps. “We bitch a lot about the tone of this election, but who doesn’t want to live through — and document — a big moment in history?”
Another well-known reporter, acknowledging that Trump received more attention all year long, said, “I feel like the Clinton beat is seen as more boring, but is ultimately more historic — whether she wins or loses.”
CNNMoney sought to survey members of the Clinton press corps, and granted the men and women anonymity so that they would speak candidly about the experience. The survey did not include CNN reporters.
Nine reporters shared their views, including about the gender dynamics of the race. The first female nominee of a major party was covered by a largely female press corps.
“A piece of this story was gender, and women are just better at picking up on that and writing it,” one of the reporters said. “Her press corps would often ask questions about sexism — like whether ‘stamina’ questions were sexist — which I think would not have been as frequent from men. But I also think gender was not as big of an issue as everyone thought it would be.”
The reporter added, “I definitely don’t think Clinton cares that we’re mostly female at all.”
Another female reporter said, “I don’t know whether it mattered or not” that Clinton’s quest for the presidency was covered mostly by women.
“Maybe we had better antennae for themes around gender related to her candidacy. Maybe,” she said.
There were moments when these reporters felt like they were, indeed, documenting history.
One of them recalled seeing Clinton’s and Michelle Obama’s jets on a tarmac together in North Carolina. “It suddenly struck me how much power and influence women had in this cycle,” she said. “Women are finally the main act, not the warm up.”
Then again, “A lot of it was just a slog,” another reporter said.
As for the inevitable comparisons to Trump coverage, “His campaign was certainly the more flashy story, that drew the most clicks,” one of the reporters said.
“Even though it looked incredibly unpleasant on multiple levels,” Trump’s campaign “was the story of this election, and it was tough to miss out on it/constantly cover the Clinton campaign’s sober and measured responses to him,” another reporter said via email.
Others on the Clinton beat strongly disagreed, however. “Controversial opinion: Hillary is more of a challenge,” one of them said.
How so? “I learned about drought-resistant seeds in Sub-Saharan Africa; Laotian land mines; solar panels in Iowa; that a child’s brain is 80% developed by the age of three; where Trump ties are made; and other very obscure, often policy-oriented things that Hillary Clinton likes to talk about in her stump speeches.”
Reporters who covered Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 bid for president said they were struck by how much she learned from that experience.
“They ran a tight ship this time, no leaks really, no airing of inner divisions,” one of the veteran reporters said.
Several other reporters also marveled at the relative lack of leaks, given Clintonworld’s reputation for competing fiefdoms and interpersonal drama.
“The campaign was for most part leak free, which was frustrating!” one of them said.
“It was relatively hard to get past the gatekeepers in the campaign,” according to another reporter. “It was a shockingly leak-proof operation until Wikileaks, which was a hack.”
Access to the candidate was, simply put, not great. It was a constant frustration.
“Clinton’s team was always polite, but clearly they don’t care for press and they tolerate it as ‘part of the game.’ As such, they give the press exactly as much as they think will keep it happy,” one of the reporters said.
“I think they constantly missed opportunities to be normal,” another said.