It was just another meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the 10th-annual gathering of the high-profile conference this week in New York: The same motley of corporate sponsors and celebrities, donors and heads of state, mingled with the former first family. The same soundtrack, Matisyahu's "One Day," played on loop before each panel. And the same young volunteers, dressed in a standard uniform of navy and white, stood vigil at every corner, in every hallway, and before every doorway of the sprawling Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
The volunteers, an army of college and graduate students, were also tasked this week with one of their perennial duties: to escort reporters from the press room on the lower level to other areas of the conference. These places included the lobby, the Metropolitan Ballroom, the banquet rooms where "breakout sessions" took place — and any bathroom outside the designated for journalists.
But some volunteers, according to reporters on site for CGI, actually followed their conference companions into the restroom, rather than waiting outside. Amy Chozick, who covers Hillary Clinton for the New York Times, wrote an item on Wednesday afternoon about being escorted to the restroom by an unamed female volunteer, who "waited outside the stall in the ladies' room."
Officials with the Clinton Foundation, which houses CGI, said on Friday that after looking into the matter, they found no proof that a volunteer "deliberately" followed a reporter into the bathroom. Aides said that as a matter of policy, CGI staffers and volunteers had never been instructed to accompany press inside restrooms.
"We confirmed that no staff member or volunteer for the Clinton Global Initiative was asked to follow any reporter or guest into a bathroom," a Clinton Foundation spokesperson said. (As part of their inquiry, foundation officials said they questioned members of the volunteer staff, which numbered 165 people.)
Another reporter said Friday they had also been followed into a restroom by their escort on the Sheraton's main floor. In this particular case, the journalist said the volunteer may have just had to use the bathroom as well. The volunteer did, then waited for the reporter outside the stall before they headed outside together.
Much has been made of the episode this week.
Reporters and political observers have cast the incident as the latest iteration of an old story, two decades in the making: that Hillary Clinton hates the press.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote a piece on Wednesday bearing the headline, "The Clinton team is following reporters to the bathroom. Here's why that matters." The article described the escorts as further proof that Clinton — and her retinue of staffers and advisers — "always assumes the worst of the press horde and acts accordingly." The next day, the editor of the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti, wrote a fiery column on the subject.
Continetti made specific reference to the comment that the Clinton Foundation's Craig Minassian sent the Times on Wednesday. When asked about the escort policy, he forward a press release about American Standard's "Flush for Good" campaign, which aims to improve health in developing countries, with the comment: "Since you are so interested in bathrooms and CGI."
Clinton Foundation officials dismissed the notion that CGI escorts revealed anything about Clinton's attitude toward the press. The volunteers working the annual meeting were students, not Clinton staffers, they said.
The shepherding of reporters to and from the press area, even to restrooms (though not inside them), happens occasionally at political events of great size, like inaugurations, the United Nations General Assembly, and functions featuring members of Congress or cabinet secretaries. This year, 50 current and former heads of state, including President Obama, attended CGI, according to the officials.
At these kinds of events, organizers have required reporters to be escorted — whether by a staffer or volunteer or member of the Secret Service — to find a bathroom, go for a smoke, or exit the venue.
The parameters for press access at the annual gatherings have largely stayed the same since the first CGI meeting in 2005, foundation officials said.
One reporter for Reuters tweeted on Wednesday that he had also been escorted to the bathroom, but not inside it, by people working at the CGI America conference, a separate event, held in Denver this June. On Thursday, a senior editor for the New Republic tweeted a story on the Jim Romenesko's media blog about similar practices at a CGI University meeting in St. Louis last year.
Foundation officials said they don't use press escorts at every event. They named two as examples: a CGI University event this spring and a CGI Latin America last December. Those venues could "accommodate broader access," they said.
This year, about 1,100 members of the media, including reporters from national, foreign, and philanthropy-focused press outlets, were accredited to attend.
This article has been updated.