For the small band of reporters who regularly cover Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign, the dirty little secret is this: They rarely -- if ever -- get to speak to the candidate herself.
Clinton, D-N.Y., is running perhaps the most media-controlled -- and media-obsessed -- campaign in presidential history. Her aides carefully screen access to the candidate, generally avoid news conferences on the campaign trail and have been known to throw around the Clintons' considerable weight to block negative stories and influence coverage of the candidate they're protecting and promoting.
Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to President Bush during his 2000 campaign and first years in the White House, said the Clinton campaign has taken a hallmark of the Bush White House -- carefully controlled media access -- to another level.
"Hillary is no Bill when it comes to discipline -- she has some," Fleischer said. "But it's more than just discipline." During his 2000 run, "George Bush did press [availabilities] just about every day, and he was always disciplined.
"Hillary is also disciplined," Fleischer continued, "but she keeps her distance from the press probably because she doesn't like them." "She sees all downside in access. As a front-runner with a 20-point margin, the press can hurt her more than help her."
The latest episode to emerge, reported Monday by Politico, offers a window into how the campaign uses perhaps its biggest asset -- former President Bill Clinton -- to protect Sen. Clinton's reputation.
According to Politico, Clinton aides convinced GQ's editors to spike an unflattering piece about the campaign's inner workings by threatening the magazine's access to the former president, who is the subject of a planned cover story.
GQ representatives have confirmed that they killed a planned story on the Clinton campaign, though they refuse to comment on their reasons. Clinton campaign officials declined to comment on the incident, and communications director Howard Wolfson said the campaign would not discuss its overall relationship with the press.
Clinton aides say privately that while they certainly grant less access than some other campaigns -- particularly those of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Democratic North Carolina Sen. John Edwards -- reporters also grumble about not getting regular contact with Clinton's main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
They point out that Clinton schedules interviews with local reporters during most of her trips, as is typical of candidates during a presidential campaign.
All campaigns seek to mold media coverage. The Clinton campaign's tightly controlled access, her aides argue, is simply a function of modern campaigning, where every public utterance is subject to a Youtube.com posting, and candidates have new ways of reaching voters directly.
Gone are the freewheeling days of 1992, they say, when Bill Clinton spent endless hours chatting up reporters in the back of his campaign bus. This year's Clinton campaign is much more likely to generate positive press coverage -- and ultimately reach voters -- with a Web video of its own, such as the one that featured Bill and Hillary in a spoof of the final episode of "The Sopranos."