Monday, July 06, 2015


I've read Jonathan Allen's three-million-word Vox article about why the press is obsessed with trying to bring down the Clintons ... and I keep getting tripped up by the first three paragraphs:
The reporter's job is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" -- a credo that, humorously, was originally written as a smear of the self-righteous nature of journalists. And so the justification for going after a public figure increases in proportion to his or her stature. The bigger the figure, the looser the restraints.

After a quarter of a century on the national stage, there's no more comfortable political figure to afflict than Hillary Clinton. And she's in for a lot of affliction over the next year and half.

That's generally a good way for reporters to go about their business. After all, the more power a person wants in our republic, the more voters should know about her or him. But it's also an essential frame for thinking about the long-toxic relationship between the Clintons and the media, why the coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency, and whether that difference encourages distortions that will ultimately affect the presidential race.
So wait -- "the more power a person wants in our republic, the more voters should know about her or him," Allen writes, which would suggest that anyone who wants to be president ought to get the highest level of attention from reporters. Let's amend that in a common-sense way: The rule probably should be "the more power a person wants in our republic, assuming the person has a reasonable chance of attaining that power, the more voters should know about her or him."

But in that case, why is it that "the coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency"? Why is it that there's more Clinton coverage than coverage of Jeb Bush, or Scott Walker, or whoever smart people think has a decent shot at being the GOP nominee? In fact, why isn't there more coverage of the Republicans than of Clinton? After all, a Republican who's elected president in 2016would have more power than a Democrat would, because there'll almost certainly be a Republican House, and probably a Republican Senate. We've seen what radical changes Republicans have managed to enact in states where they've gained total control of the government -- Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kansas. President Hillary would have power, but President Jeb or President Walker could have extraordinary power. Radical ideas motivate Republicans right now, even the Republicans we consider "mainstream." So why aren't Jeb and Scott being "afflicted" like Hillary?

Allen's article lists some of the reasons why: "the Clintons are the equivalent of America's royal family," so news about them is sexier than news about even a Bush; also, the Clintons don't like the media, so the media is motivated to attack. I'd add another reason: reporters get brownie points from conservatives when they go after Democrats, and get attacked for "liberal media bias" when they go after Republicans.

But the ultimate answer is that going after the Clintons is easy. They conceal stuff from the press in a way that suggests that what they're concealing is sinister; they telegraph that they're concealing it. The press digs and and digs and, more often than not, discovers that what's being concealed isn't sinister. But the press gets many, many stories. Republicans get many, many talking points. And the Clintons get to claim they're being persecuted. Lather, rinse, repeat. Everybody wins.

And Clinton stories are clickbait, in a way that Jeb Bush and Scott Walker stories aren't. We'll see if that means we don't find out enough about the eventual Republican nominee until it's too late.


Frank Moraes said...

Also, I don't think that having informed voters has much to do with Clinton's management of email. If the press really cared about informing voters, it would focus far more on policy. As it is, many people in Wisconsin were surprised when Scott Walker signed "right to work" into law. He would do that nationally if he got the chance as president. But I doubt many voters will be informed of that fact by the time they vote in 2016.

petrilli said...

I don't think that the media can bring down a president or at least affect one to the same degree that they did with Johnson, Nixon, even Clinton. 1996 Telecom Act gutted broadcast journalism. Iraq neutered what was left.

Hillary can rope them off and laugh about it.

voneguttian said...

For the perfect counterpoint to Alter's Clinton piece, see Dibgy's take:

She quotes from Jonathan Allen's (different Jonathan, not Alter) piece: Confessions of a Clinton reporter: The media's 5 unspoken rules for covering Hillary. The ultimate scoop/prize in journalism today would be to bring down Hillary.

[sorry, don't yet know how to actually link]

petrilli said...

Vonneguttian: And so it goes like this.

petrilli said...

@Frank, your point about informing voters gets right to the heart of it. If they did their jobs, their readers and viewers would value and respect them enough to make a politician pay a price for ignoring them.

aimai said...

Its really not true that the Clintons "conceal stuff" from the voters more than any given Republican candidate does. It is true that they are treated as though they are uniquely secretive, manipulative, and borgia like. But they aren't. They aren't any weirder or more corrupt than Huckabee, Perry, Christie, Walker or any of the other potential candidates. They are far less secretive than Mitt Romney was--he refused to turn over his taxes for christ's sake.

voneguttian said...

Petrilli: Thanks so much! Very generous and much

Unknown said...

Nomore, I'm pre-inclined to agree with you on such matters, but I got a little quibble here.

This is an election between whoever turns out to be last clown standing in a battle of clowns clownishly pretending to poke each other in the eyes and kick each other in the out-of-service reproductive organs and meangirling each other and actually spending the bejesus for the chance to lose to the first woman POTUS-in-evitable.

Also, there SHOULD be something a Pokeman effect working to the next president's advantage, after being trashed by such a bunch of obviously incompetent fckn clowns.

Victor said...

Compared to the Bush's, the Clinton's are mere peasants. While the Bush's are more like the Borgia's.

I always suspected that during the '92 election, and all of the poo flung at the Clinton's, it was HW who was providing the narrative for our MSM.

I suspect that HW after losing, kept going after them, greasing the wheels for JEB!, or even maybe the black sheep of the family, W.

I don't have evidence, just suspicion, so this is the first and last time I'll ever mention it.
I don't want to sound like a conservatives, thinking everything's a conspiracy.