Hillary Clinton is running a question-free campaign so far

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Image copyright Getty Images

There's a growing chorus of complaints that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is dodging tough questions from reporters during the early days of her presidential campaign.

It's a criticism that conservative commentators and political operatives largely started but is increasingly being picked up by mainstream journalists.

News outlets disagree over exactly how many questions Mrs Clinton has answered since she launched her presidential bid on 12 April, but it's definitely small. According to the National Journal and Politico, the number is eight. ABC says nine. NPR puts the tally at 13, and helpfully includes links to audio and video.

Among the not-so-hard-hitting interrogatories the former secretary of state has answered:

- Variations on how she likes Iowa. Answer: "It's fabulous."

- Is Iowa important? Yes.

- Why are you running for president? "To be the champion of Americans and their families."

Not asked was what kind of tree she would be, if she liked puppies or who she thinks will win the Stanley Cup.

There were a handful of more challenging queries, on issues such as international trade, allegations of ethical improprieties from the book Clinton Cash and - a telling sign of journalistic frustration - whether she thinks her campaign is too staged. Mrs Clinton quickly brushed them off.

Last week the New York Times launched what it says will be a regular feature on its website, posting questions they would ask Mrs Clinton if they could. The first was on immigration.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is trying to get in on the game, with its own list of proposed questions on donations to the Clinton Foundation, the appropriateness of having a private email server while in public office, campaign finance and even the immigration status of her grandparents.

There also have been a spate of stories on how many questions others have answered over the course of Mrs Clinton's presidential run. NBC News points out that Bill Clinton has had three television interviews and fielded at least 30 questions.

Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina boasts that she has answered 322 questions since her campaign launched on 4 May.

"If I was Hillary Clinton, I would take two questions after every event," tweets the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. "Why let the storyline linger?"

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Republican presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush are unable to avoid tough questions from reporters

Why? Mrs Clinton has decided not to answer questions for the simple reason that she doesn't have to. And all the grousing from the media - whose public approval ratings rank even lower than those of politicians - likely isn't going to change that.

Mrs Clinton almost certainly won't face a serious challenger for the Democratic nomination, and so she is, in effect, already running a general election campaign. And like most general election campaigns, the events are carefully scripted and the interaction with the public is meticulously controlled in order to avoid any potentially damaging missteps.

Those town hall forums? Packed with supporters. The kitchen table conversations? Staged photo ops. If an errant challenging question or moment of candour slips through, it represents a failure on the part of the candidate's advance team.

Ms Fiorina and the rest of the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls don't have that luxury, however. They're competing for attention and political oxygen in a crowded field, where it's difficult to turn down the free media hits that accompany unscripted interviews and face-to-face voter interaction.

Those interviews aren't without risk, however - as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush proved earlier this week, when he stepped into controversy after mishandling a question about the Iraq War.

"Hillary take note," tweets the Atlantic's David Frum. "Jeb Bush getting hammered today for recklessly taking tough questions from the media and answering them honestly."

Unlike Mrs Clinton, Republican candidates are going to have to work against fierce opposition to garner supporters in the early voting states, where residents pride themselves on being able to have meaningful interactions with the candidates.

There's the old joke about the New Hampshire resident who says he won't make up his mind until he's met every candidate at least three times.

New Hampshire and Iowa voters will certainly get to meet Mrs Clinton over the coming months. And campaign spokesperson Jesse Ferguson points out that Mrs Clinton is answering their questions - which are the ones that count.

"If a candidate answers hours of questions from real people on camera but they didn't come from press, did they happen?" he tweets sardonically.

But unless something changes, those interactions are all going to be in a much more comfortable environment than Republican candidates could hope for.

And reporters are largely going to have to keep their questions to themselves.

Republican candidates in - and out - of the race