WASHINGTON — It seemed only fitting on Monday night when, just 10 minutes before Hillary Clinton would keynote an awards ceremony for political journalism, one gala staffer burst into the press file to inform reporters covering the speech that the secretary's plans had, unexpectedly, changed.
"She has agreed to join us for dinner," the staffer said, a bit breathless.
It appeared that Clinton would be staying for the entire program — not just her speech, as originally planned. It also appeared that Clinton would not, to the surprise of the staffer, be making a quick exit from the ballroom of journalists attending the presentation of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
"She was escorted into the garage. She went up into a private entry. She was supposed to go in and then go out," the staffer said. "Now apparently she will be staying." She paused. "I'm not sure that's still accurate."
Clinton not only stayed for the entire program, but she even chatted with reporters afterward. It was, as she joked in her speech, a "new beginning."
Few figures are known to have as fraught and mutually strained a relationship with the press corps as Clinton, who has spent her career tamping down scandals now known simply as Whitewater, Travelgate, and Gennifer Flowers.
This month, Clinton faced another barrage for her use of a personal email account to conduct business at the State Department. The rush of coverage culminated in a tense and frenzied press conference at the United Nations in Manhattan.
In a wry 15-minute speech on Monday, Clinton called for a "new relationship" with the media. "Some of you may be a little surprised to see me here tonight. My relationship with the press has been at times, shall we say, complicated."
"I am all about new beginnings: a new grandchild… another new hairstyle… a new email account," she said, prompting the loudest round of laughter that night.
"No more secrecy. No more zone of privacy."
"After all, what good did that do me."
"But first of all, before I go any further, if you look under your chairs, you'll find a simple nondisclosure agreement. My attorneys drew it up. Old habits last."
Following her speech Monday, Clinton is expected to avoid public appearances — and the press — until she announces her presidential campaign.
In her remarks, she also took time to honor Robin Toner, the late New York Times reporter after whom the award is named. This year's recipient was Dan Balz, the longtime political reporter for the Washington Post.
"I am certainly aware that public figures can't complain about coverage we don't like if we don't give credit where credit is certainly due," Clinton said. "And that's why I'm here — to join all of you in supporting the kind of journalism that Robin loved and exemplified, and that so many of you work hard to do every day."
Toner, who died from cancer, first covered Clinton in the '90s, focusing on her failed push as first lady to pass a universal health care plan. She last interviewed Clinton for a piece about health care policy during the 2008 presidential race.
Clinton praised Toner's attention to substance and policy, not politics.
"It's pretty clear that you know I believe we need Robin Toners," she said.