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Asked About Black Friends, Clinton Says She's 'Blessed To Have A Crew'

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) joint convention in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
Saul Loeb
AFP/Getty Images
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) joint convention in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Addressing a joint convention of black and Hispanic journalists Friday, Hillary Clinton found herself wading through a Q&A session — a format that has become a rarity for her.

She mostly gave prepared remarks at the event, but when it was time for journalists in the audience to ask questions, her discomfort with press conferences emerged — with one question in particular.

Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of ESPN's The Undefeated, asked Clinton: "What is the most meaningful conversation you've had with an African-American friend?"

Clinton at first exclaimed, amid a burst of chatter, "Oh my gosh."

Then she responded: "Can I tell you that I am blessed to have a crew of great friends, and I've had two chiefs-of-staff who were my African-American women friends, Maggie Williams and Cheryl Mills."

She listed off other African-American staff who have worked with her — and for her — and said she's had a "lifetime of friendship" with black people.

"They've supported me. They've chastised me. They've raised issues with me. They've tried to expand my musical tastes," Clinton said. "We've have a lot of great, great times because of our friendships. So, I can't really pick one conversation out of, you know, 50 years of conversation." She added that she wants to respect the "cone of silence" among her friends.

The comments came as the Democratic nominee addressed a joint convention of the National Associations of Black Journalists and Hispanic Journalists in Washington, D.C.

Clinton rarely gives press conferences (and even this was a moderated Q&A, not a press conference), a point Donald Trump was quick to highlight to a group of reporters last week, saying, "It's been 235 days since crooked Hillary Clinton has had a press conference."

The two associations represent the largest minority journalist groups in the country. And although these audience members remained mostly impartial (the journalists' careers demanded it, though there were some public relations people in the audience who cheered) they also represent two key demographics that any candidate will need to woo in order to win the White House in November.

In another question, Clinton toed the line between condemnation of Trump's sometimes inflammatory language toward immigrants and minorities and risking alienation of his support base. A political reporter for the New York Times asked "You've accused Donald Trump of using racist and sexist language, what does it say about the electorate that so many are supporting him?"

Clinton responded that she thinks "the core of his support really centers on the disappointment in the economy that so many Americans feel."

"So many of them are looking for an explanation as to why they lost the job they had for 18 years when the factory closed and nobody cared about them."

She added, "We have to recognize that of course some of the appeal is xenophobic and racist and misogynistic and offensive. We have to acknowledge that, but let's not lose sight of the real pain that many Americans are feeling."

When the questions veered back to familiar topics for the Democratic candidate, Clinton's answers were more polished.

On immigration reform, Clinton said she hoped Democrats would pick up more seats in the House: "We lost a lot of leverage because we lost the House of Representatives."

On the controversy over her private email server, Clinton also struggled but doubled down on what she's previously said — that her answers to FBI Director James Comey were truthful and she regrets ever having the second server in the first place. Clinton had been called out in several fact checks this week, including NPR's, for saying "Director Comey said my answers were truthful."

In her prepared remarks, Clinton spoke of her commitment to black and Hispanic communities in general, citing plans to reinvigorate the U.S. economy and pass comprehensive immigration and criminal justice reform. She attacked Trump on his remarks toward Muslims and other immigrants. She highlighted her Spanish language Twitter account.

She also spoke of the importance of journalism in our society and thanked the journalists in the room.

"I think journalists have a special responsibility to our democracy in a time like this," Clinton said. "I want you to hold me accountable, press and citizens alike, because the stakes are as high as they've ever been in our lifetimes, and we all have to do our part."

Before asking his question, Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post encouraged Clinton to take questions from the press more often.

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Meg Anderson is an editor on NPR's Investigations team, where she shapes the team's groundbreaking work for radio, digital and social platforms. She served as a producer on the Peabody Award-winning series Lost Mothers, which investigated the high rate of maternal mortality in the United States. She also does her own original reporting for the team, including the series Heat and Health in American Cities, which won multiple awards, and the story of a COVID-19 outbreak in a Black community and the systemic factors at play. She also completed a fellowship as a local reporter for WAMU, the public radio station for Washington, D.C. Before joining the Investigations team, she worked on NPR's politics desk, education desk and on Morning Edition. Her roots are in the Midwest, where she graduated with a Master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.