As he prepares for a potential presidential run, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been spending a lot of time in New Jersey, taking questions from residents at weekly town halls events.
What he hasn't done, however, is take many questions from the press.
It has now been five months since the governor held a formal news conference in New Jersey where reporters have been able to ask open-ended, on-the-record questions about his policies, thinking and plans. The last was on Nov. 12 in Atlantic City following a closed-door summit on the city's future that was dominated by questions on the topic.
In fact he's answered questions here just twice — once following a major fire and once ahead of an impending snowstorm — in the 2015 calendar year.
"The access has just been minimal at best. And that's certainly a concern that's been expressed to me," said George White, the executive director of the New Jersey Press Association for the past four years.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts noted the governor had also held scrums during trips to Canada in December and London in February, in addition to participating in a monthly call-in radio show.
"The governor believes it's just as important, if not more important, to communicate directly with his constituents as it is to communicate with the media, which is why he's held town halls every single week since his budget address and 134 since taking office," Roberts said in a statement. "That's in addition to the formal and informal settings in which he's taken questions from the media, including his hour-long, monthly radio program where he takes questions for listeners and the news director of NJ 101.5."
He's also done several recent one-on-one interviews on softer topics, like his upcoming high school reunion, and appeared on a new political cooking show where he chatted while preparing pasta.
But critics say the formats are not the same as press conferences where reporters can ask follow-ups on any subject. And they see the strategy as part of a larger pattern of Christie and his aides trying to tightly control his message, especially in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal.
"This administration definitely exercises a lot of control over how information gets out in all avenues," said Walter Luers, a lawyer and the president of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government. He said the efforts appeared to be aimed at avoiding any potential gaffes that could dog Christie on the national stage.
"You can't risk having a gaffe that gets exploited in New Hampshire or Iowa," he said, referring to the first two early-voting states.
Indeed, Christie's office includes an in-house communications team that operates much like its own news organization. It produces rapid-fire video from appearances and speeches and graphics to fire off to a press list that WNYC reported last year included about 2,500 journalists and TV producers.
"I think the consequence of relying so heavily on that is a decrease in accountability, when you're able to simply generate your message and hope it gets shared and goes viral," said White.
The issue of access came under scrutiny last month when the governor joked during a radio show appearance that host Eric Scott was underpaid and deserved a car from the show's sponsor, the Lester Glenn Auto Group. In response, the group gave him a Corvette Stingray to use for a week.
Adam Kraushaar, president of the auto group said via email that the stunt "was simply nothing more than lighthearted fun" stemming from the banter they'd heard between Scott and the governor.
"Frankly, we hope he likes it and we get a sale out of it," he wrote in an email. "Perhaps I am naive but I don't know how this might create the perception of impartiality, particularly since I am a car dealer, not a political figure."
Alex Berkett, the executive vice president of Townsquare Media, which owns the station, said via email that "none of the parties involved believe anything that transpired was inappropriate" and that it wouldn't affect the "continued objective coverage of the Governor on New Jersey 101.5."