Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Reality journalism: Keeping up with the candidates

Seven weeks after former President Nixon’s funeral on April 27, 1994, Hunter Thompson published his own obituary for Nixon, “He Was a Crook,” on June 16 in Rolling Stone magazine. In it he blamed the practice of Objective Journalism for enabling Nixon to climb to the Oval Office: “It was the blind spot of Objective Journalism’s rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so All-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly.”

Thompson gave readers a taste of what Subjective Journalism might have shown them about the man they voted twice into the highest office in America: “We could always be sure of finding (him) on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard. He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and omit a smell of death. Which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.

That was Nixon’s style – and if you forgot it, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don’t fight fair, bubba. That’s why God made dachshunds.”

We shall never know if doses of subjective journalism like Thompson’s would have helped Hubert Humphrey (in 1968) or George McGovern (in 1972) in their efforts to defeat Nixon. Reporters covering those presidential campaigns, for newspapers and network news, stuck mostly to the precepts of objective journalism.

Objective journalism, with its goal of fair, accurate and thorough coverage of politics, remains available. However, two factors have done much to wipe out the distinction between such coverage and subjective journalism as practiced today and explored here. One is the reliance, particularly among younger readers and watchers of news, to get their news from digital sources. These audiences want and expect news that is quickly digested and includes a guide or hint to its “meaning.” Also, the battle between the so-called “liberal-left wing” media and “conservative right-wing” ones often requires journalists to aim for skewered coverage. In that kind of coverage fact and opinion are often smoothly merged so that readers and watchers do not have the time, information and ability to separate them in their minds.

The growth of subjective, opinion journalism online sometimes seems to drown out the fair and independent journalism that traditional news organizations still provide.  In fact, the political blogs produced by those traditional news organizations sometimes obscure some of the objective reporting from the campaign trail.

The coverage of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy illustrates the primacy of subjective, opinion journalism.  Do samples culled from publications and websites during the past three months reveal whether or not they propel readers to see the crop of candidates from both parties clearly, or at least more clearly than the veil of objective neutrality permits?

Commenting on Hillary’s first major news conference with CNN, Jonah Goldberg wrote for National Review Online (“Estrangement from the Truth is a Problem for Hillary”): “It was a classical Clintonian way of lying: Make a sweeping, definitive-sounding statement (“I’ve never had a subpoena,” for her emails on Benghazi) and then when called on it, release a fog of technicalities.” Goldberg called these “technicalities “a farrago of misleading statements, blame-shifting and deception,” and concluded that Hillary has “forgotten how to fake convincingly.”

Goldberg has been writing opinion columns for decades and National Review has always been a reliable source of conservative commentary.  But it is worth asking: Is Goldberg’s depiction of Hillary’s style of deception equal to Thompson’s of Nixon’s conduct of political battle? Did readers grasp the “real” Nixon through Thompson’s images? Does Hillary come alive in Goldberg’s prose or does she appear as just another lying politician?

Writing for Canada’s National Post John Robson took a similar approach to “seeing” Hillary (“Clinton’s presidential battle”): “Even if Americans are ‘ready’ for a woman, she’s obnoxious, pushy, out of touch with normal people and so sourly, deviously dishonest, we long for her husband’s charmingly open deceit.” Feminists and others may find “pushy” obnoxious and reject portraying her husband as a used car salesman from whom you don’t much mind buying a lemon because he did it with folksy charm while she tries to sell it with a sour disposition.

Journalists looking at Hillary more favorably take a subjective stance by offering helpful hints for personality improvement. Writing for the New Republic Elspeth Reeve (“What Hillary Can Learn from Michelle Kwan’s Figure Skating Career”) recounts how Kwan responded after she had to settle for a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics because of a tumble in the free skate competition: “After the competition, Kwan skated the exhibition she’d planned long before – in a gold dress, to the song ‘Fields of Gold.’ That, sports fans, is hubris. As she finished, tears ran down her cheeks. Take note, Hillary.” Readers may choose to wait for the movie.

Jamelle Bouie on Slate (“Why Hillary Clinton Should Go Full Nerd”) proposes that Hillary should “offer voters her authentic geeky self” because “Clinton is strongest when she sticks with the concrete – the nuts and bolts of government…Americans want solutions more than inspiration.” Bouie cites Carl Bernstein’s analysis of Hillary as “a woman who led a camouflaged life and continues to” and suggests that revealing her nerdiness to voters would be “the most authentic move she could make.” Forget the gold dress and tears.

Clinton is not the only candidate receiving this kind of “up close and personal” treatment from the media. Her Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders got it in the New Republic from Chelsea Summers (“Bernie Sanders Was Just another Hippie Rummaging through My Mothers Fridge”): “One hot night in July 1972 I walked into my family’s kitchen to see my mother brandishing a broom at a skinny man who had his head stuck deep inside our refrigerator.

‘You get out!’ my mother yelled, hitting the man on his skinny ass…Years later, I’d find out that man was Bernie Sanders.” Readers do not find out if that encounter with the writer’s broom-wielding mom drove the young Sanders into the arms of socialism or shaped his character in any way. They can see, however, that age and years as a U.S. Senator have put some flesh on that skinny frame.

On the Daily Beast Donald Trump is derided for his “garish taste” and “awful hair.” In the New Republic readers can learn “how to piss off Donald Trump.”  All male Republican candidates are rated by their manliness on Slate (“The Macho Primary: Which Republican presidential candidate is the manliest?”).

Readers are likely to be bombarded with similar journalism during the fifteen months up to the November 2016 election. Letters and posts on websites may reveal whether such pieces accomplish what Thompson expected subjective journalism to do: provide readers with a clear view of candidates’ character.

Journalists may ask if such articles constitute “subjective journalism” as Thompson practiced it, or if they are journalism’s political news version of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Good Clinton v. bad Clinton

Hillary's Southern AccentWriting about Marie Antoinette, Judith Thurman commented in a 2006 article in the New Yorker that the woman famous for a remark she never uttered (“Let them eat cake”) is “periodically reviled or celebrated.” The same could be said about the media’s treatment of Hillary Clinton since she stepped into the national limelight as Bill Clinton’s wife during his 1992 bid for the presidency.

Now that she is campaigning for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, many publications and websites devote much of their coverage to one or the other of these familiar approaches. Recent opinion pieces in the online publications of the liberal New Republic and the conservative Washington Free Beacon provide a sort of “comfort food,” the first for Clinton admirers and the second for Clinton detractors.

But neither provides much food for thought based on solid information, history and context.

“The Real Democratic Primary: Hillary Versus the Media” by Suzy Khimm was posted on the New Republic’s website on May 22. This headline suggests something new — that Hillary is running against the media more than the pack of potential Republican candidates. But in fact, Hillary’s relationship with the press is old news. Ken Auletta described her difficulties with the media in the New Yorker on June 2, 2014, observing that “the media can’t stop discussing her” and are “desperately casting about for something new.”

The “new” element in Khimm’s story includes interviews with 30-or-something-year-olds in Arlington Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb she labels “Hillaryland.” Her first interviewee is 29-year-old Beth Lilly, a policy lawyer who remembers the hullabaloo created by Clinton’s Marie Antoinette moment in 1992, when she said: “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”

Lilly, who would have been about six years old in 1992, recalled that the coverage of the cookie escapade “was just so absurd.” In examining the questionable finances of the Clinton Foundation, Khimm also quotes Lilly as saying, “So her foundation took money. It’s kind of what foundations do.” Khimm could have suggested to Lilly that media coverage has focussed not on what foundations do, but on where some of the millions taken in by the Clinton Foundation came from and how they were doled out. (As in “Clinton Award Included Cash to Foundation,” the New York Times, May 30, or earlier, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” in the same paper on April 23.)

When Khimm points out that Clinton’s young Arlington supporters view the media as “trying to drag her (Hillary) down,” she does not ask them for examples. Khimm does not tell her readers which dust-ups in Clintonian history qualify as “scandals” and which as “pseudo-scandals,” and none of the people she interviewed made the distinction for her.

According to Khimm, Clinton’s young supporters no longer blame Republicans or right-wing conservatives for the coverage she is receiving. It’s the media’s fault. One supporter says: “The media are bringing these allegations and these scandals up to see if anyone else in the Democratic party will emerge as a strong candidate and they can go head to head…That sells if you put that out, it sells. It’s them trying to tailor the election to their own needs, rather than what the election is.”

And that’s what the article is meant to reveal, that Clinton’s well-earned path to the White House is not impeded by those Republican bumps in the road, but by roadblocks put up by the media.

Khimm’s article is of, by and for Washington insiders, deeply divided, seeing the world with us v. them blinders. Khimm accepts Clinton’s climb as “the ultimate Washington success story,” never asking citizens in West Virginia or Kansas if that translates into a national success story for them.

A Clinton as Marie Antoinette piece was found in the Washington Free Beacon on May 22: “Miss Uncongenality,” by Matthew Continetti.

The headline tells you that mud is about to be tossed. “Congeniality” is the award the loser in the beauty contests receives, and Continetti is unwilling to tell his readers that Republican winners and losers in presidential campaigns often lacked the quality: Coolidge was taciturn, Ike was aloof, Nixon was resentful, and Dole was dour. Good candidates or presidents? Yes and no, but what has congeniality to do with it?

After the headline, most charges against Clinton are unsupported by facts. At a recent press conference, Continetti suggests, Clinton wanted to ward off questions by “raising her hand empress-like.” And how does an empress raise her hand in a manner different from commoners? Readers don’t know, but it sure sounds bad.

As does every comment about Clinton, without explaining the badness:

“Voting for the Iraq war was a ‘mistake,’ like the one you make on a test.” How does he know her ‘mistake’ (supporting the war in Iraq) was made the same way you make a mistake on a grammar quiz or misidentify a figure in European history? Was her mistake possibly made based on false or incomplete information or on misreading the political and cultural forces in the Middle East?

She released a “blizzard of Clintonian misdirection, omission, dodging, bogus sentimentality, false confidence, and aw-shucks populism.” It’s hard to swallow Continetti’s mind-reading verbiage. Perhaps she was confident (say about her role in the Benghazi attack). What’s “aw-shucks” about her or anyone else’s populism in our current age of greed?

Readers will not be surprised to find the article riddled with “may” and “might” phrases, suggesting the author wants them to assume: “may not work,” or “may begin to change” or “may be the wrong choice.”

Tealeaves reading is no substitute for information and insight-filled journalism.

In the next 17 months before the 2016 election, readers can expect a blizzard of articles such as the ones in the New Republic and the Washington Free Beacon. Long and fact-filled pieces in the New York Times and in other media could provide an antidote.

Clinton courts the heartland

 

HillaryIowa

 

Soon after Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy on April 12 for the 2016 presidential race, she and an entourage of advisers and Secret Service agents took off in a van named Scooby, after the 1970s animated Scooby Doo show, to meet the folks of the heartland.

Stopping off at a Chipotle restaurant in the Toledo suburb of Maumee, Ohio, USA TODAY reported that the former senator and secretary of state, after ordering a chicken burrito bowl, “left without anyone in the place giving her a second glance.”

The journalists in Washington, D.C., and New York City accorded her candidacy a more animated and vivid response. Writing for The New Republic (“There’s Nothing Inevitable about Hillary,” April 12) Rebecca Traister reported: “So what could possibly go wrong? Everything.  Anything.  Anything and everything. Hillary Clinton has loomed so powerfully in the American consciousness for so long that it’s hard to remember how delicate, how combustible, how ultimately improbable the project of electing her president is likely to be.”

Traister paid too little attention to Clinton’s individual flaws that could propel “anything” and “everything” to go wrong.

She devoted one sentence to list them: “She’s hawkish, she’s inauthentic, she’s a centrist, her ties with Wall Street are far too tight, she didn’t condemn her husband’s infidelities as sexual harassment.”

Writing from the heartland Susan Douglas, professor of communications at the University of Michigan, caught that spirit better in “Ready for a Woman, but not Hillary Clinton,” (In These Times, April 13): “…aren’t we overdue for a woman president?” Douglas asks. “Yes, but not just any woman (think Sarah Palin): one with genuine feminist and progressive sensibilities. For many of us in Clinton’s generation, feminism did not mean trying to be more like a man.”

Douglas observed that “We are reminded of seeming coldness there, opportunism, a lack of empathy with the 99% and a failure to channel female compassion.”

The trip in Scooby the van was intended to cast Clinton, the Toronto Star observed, “as a champion of ordinary Americans.”

Obama has disappointed—some say deceived—ordinary Americans on the economic help he promised. “During the post-recession period of 2009 and 2010, the rich snagged a greater share of total income growth than they did during the boom years of 2002 to 2007,” Matt Stoller blogged on Naked Capitalism, citing the work of Professor Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley.

And what about Hillary’s new and improved identity, that of a warm grandma who wants to help “children born in Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or the Rio Grande Valley” have the same shot at success as her granddaughter Charlotte?

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd suggested that Clinton donate some of that “obscene $2.5 billion that she’s planning to spend to persuade us to make her grandmother of the country” on those children.

Some ordinary Americans have figured out, by now, that there’s a nickel’s worth of difference between the two parties. They do not believe, with those who have made careers of political reporting and analysis, that—as Traister insists—“it matters very much to the future of this country who the next president is.” Under presidents from both parties since Ronald Reagan, the poor have gotten poorer and remained poorer and the rich have gotten richer.

Some Americans have learned that the world, including America, “is ruled by power and power is obtained with money.”  Much of what the media do now is report on how politicians play the game.

 

 

When bullets fly: Hillary Clinton’s and Brian Williams’ tales of war

“The first casualty when war comes is truth.” – Hiram W. Johnson, U.S. Senator

The former FLOTUS, Secretary of State and U.S. Senator and leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2016 Hillary Clinton and Brian Williams, intrepid reporter and anchor for NBC’s Nightly News, ignored Johnson’s timeless admonition when it came to telling brief encounters with warfare. When caught, as Clinton was back in 1996 and Williams for his rendition of a 2003 experience in the war with Iraq this week, both resorted to “mis”-words to explain: Clinton “misspoke” and Williams “misremembered.”

The American public may not buy into their explanations. But why should it matter that the potential next president was tripped up by her tongue and a national media figure betrayed by his memory? Because perhaps they weren’t, and their use of euphemisms for telling tall tales, aka lying, have by now become the norm in much of our political life and in journalism.  We may expect from figures in these two areas what we used to expect primarily from used car salesmen: a playful “misspeaking” or “misremembering” about the products or services they’re convincing us to buy.

Hillary Clinton’s story about coming under sniper fire while, as First Lady, she deplaned in Tuzla in 1996 was exposed as fiction by television cameras at the scene and accounts from members of her entourage and American military personnel stationed in the area when the event came up during her 2008 campaign in the Democratic primaries. (“Hillary Clinton calls Bosnia sniper story a mistake,” Reuters, March 25, 2008) Clinton admitted quickly that “I did misspeak the other day,” but to some her original story remained a “tall tale” (Christopher Hitchens, for one).

What did she suggest, or pretend, that “misspeaking” means? She hoped that the public would see her “misspeaking” as speaking unclearly or misleadingly, but without intent to do so. Instead, her “mistake” was viewed as the failure to tell the whole truth. She flew to Tuzla and got off the plane, that was the truthful part of her story, the rest (the dash across the tarmac to the car as bullets whizzed by overhead) was invention.

Her husband’s predecessor in the White House invented and misspoke. When George W. Bush said, in 2004, that “They (our enemies) never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people –and neither do we,” most listeners and readers immediately recognized it as “misspeaking.” He lied about the war in Iraq, and eventually those lies could not be explained as “mistakes” or “misinterpretations.” Journalists and their audiences eventually figured that out, although a tad too late for the harm he spoke of to be prevented.

Why Brian Williams, covering that war the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team running the country sold successfully, is not so evident. He was close to the shooting war, but the Chinook helicopter he rode in was not hit, as he insisted as late as March 20, 2013 to David Letterman, that “two of the four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in.” The helicopter he was in was 30 to 60 minutes behind the ones that were hit, and the details of William’s invention are detailed in the excellent story that revealed the “misremembered” event: “NBC’s Brian Williams recants Iraq story after soldiers protest,” by Travis J. Tritten in Stars and Stripes on February 4.

When Williams told his tale to Letterman, the late night host could muster a “No kidding!” and gave Williams a chance to come clean and refresh his faulty memory. We don’t know why he made up the tale, and his explanation – it was a “bungled attempt” to honor the soldiers who helped protect him – is unlikely to convince even the TV-personality struck.

Cormac McKeown, an editor of the Collins English Dictionary, summed up what the tales woven by Clinton and Williams tell us. Both tried to redefine telling the truth because “misspeaking” and “misremembering” are euphemisms “for not telling the truth. It’s the language of bamboozling, which US politicians and the US military love and get away with.”

US journalism, you too?  Or, can it return to its old tradition of exposing that language for what it is and does?

With a Clinton vs. Bush contests in the making for 2016, journalists should take to heart the observation of one of their greats, of H. L. Mencken:

“The men (and women) the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men (and women) they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

Journalism for the incurious at the New York Times

The story sounded so good from the headline on p.1 of the Times’ Business Day section on July 11: “A Provocateur’s Book on Clinton Overtakes Her Memoir in Sales.”

The provocateur is Edward Klein, long-time nemesis of Hillary Clinton and author of ”The Truth About Hillary.” (2005). And now his latest hit on the Clintons, “Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas” has just overtaken Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices” in sales on the Times’ own bestseller list.

How mortifying that Klein’s dishing of “implausible” dirt on both families was outselling the former Secretary of State’s own display of grand vision and noble compassion the Clintons sell as the raison d’ etre for past and future service in public life.

It was too much for the Times’ reporters Amy Chozick and Alexandra Alter. In the second paragraph they label passages in Klein’s bestseller “implausible,” but don’t show us what makes them “implausible.”

Two paragraphs later details in Klein’s book are called “factually suspect” and cite Bill’s demand that Hillary get a face-lift as suspect, as well as his response to her refusal: he got a face-lift instead.  Readers may not be convinced that this episode must be “factually suspect,” given what they know about the former president’s romantic escapades.

The story credits Klein with having written a “suspenseful page-turner and “Shakespearean (if unbelievable) portrait of power, lust and clashes between and within the two first families.” The clashes, between and within, may not strike all readers as “unbelievable,” but the comparison to Shakespeare likely will. The face-lift story, for example, fits better into “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or “Real Housewives of Orange County” than “Macbeth.”

And we are never told why any of the strife is “unbelievable.” The Obama family irritations could have been investigated.  Cozick and Alter tell us that the president “got so fed up with her (Michelle’s) behavior that he actually encourages Michelle to take separate planes when they go on vacation.” Surely the White House and the Secret Service keep logs on the first family’s flights, and these logs could have been made available to curious reporters.

Taxpayers might also want to know if the president’s annoyance cost them an extra bundle in these hard economic times. Air Force One is a pretty big aircraft, they might insist, so couldn’t POTUS and FLOTUS just sit apart from each other in different sections of the same Boeing VC-25?

To support their insistence that Klein’s anecdotes don’t ring true, the Times’ reporters relied on, of all people, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. “Some of the quotes (in the book) strike me as odd,” he said. “I don’t know people who speak this way.” By “this way” he could be referring to the quote attributed to Bill Clinton in the book: “I hate that man Obama more than any man who ever lived.” Rush just doesn’t get around in the right circles.

But Rush is as good as it gets for making a case against Klein. And that’s just not good enough. Curious minds will have to wait for the National Enquirer or a Washington insider to disclose if Klein’s claim about the stories in the book—“I don’t make this stuff up”—holds up.

 

Anybody here seen America’s far left? The New York Times has!

What an enticing headline the New York Times featured on Page 1 Sept. 30: “Warren is Now Hot Ticket On the Far Left.” The story, written by Jonathan Martin, told readers how Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has become the darling and favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 among America’s “far left,” and thus a threat to the party’s centrist front-runner, Hillary Clinton.

No doubt Warren appeals to progressive and populist sentiments among Democrats with statements like this one: “This country should not be run for the biggest corporations and largest financial institutions.” Shucks, I know libertarians and Republicans who’d agree with that. And we know, also, that Clinton is a bit too close to Wall Street, described in the story as “a major source of her fundraising,” to suit the supporters of Warren’s more populist economics.

But who’s that “far left” the New York Times discovered rallying to Warren’s side? Come out, come out, wherever you are, because you sure can’t be found in the story. Let’s see whom Martin cites as her fans or supporters:

  • Markos Moulitsas, publisher of a “a leading liberal blog,” Daily Kos.
  • Campaign for America’s Future, a “liberal advocacy group.”

Others see Warren as a “hot number” or “electric figure” among liberals or “on the left,” including stalwarts of American Marxism-Leninism such as Leo Hindrey Jr., partner of a private equity fund, and David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime adviser.

There’s not a whiff of anything “far left” in the story, unless the New York Times now views the spectrum of American politics from the Fox News perspective, where anything not right wing is tossed into the “liberal, left, socialist” heap of un-Americanism.

Even if Martin had looked at such “left” organizations as MoveOn.org or Occupy Wall Street, he would not have found anything that smacked of “far” left ideology. At MoveOn.org, there’s a petition to boycott Barilla Pasta products because the company president refuses to use gay couples in its advertising. And the Occupy tactics of sit-ins in parks across from Bank of America offices hardly live up to “far left” dreams of revolution.

You can find some hard “far left” stuff on the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, whose leader, Bob Avakian, has been in exile for more than two decades. It’s a nostalgia trip for lefties to the 1930s, when some Americans paid attention to the “far left” and others joined it. Those days are gone. Some things go away and come back; others never do. Somebody ought to tell the New York Times that the “far left” is gone for now, save perhaps for a few really old or really young dreamers of the socialist dream.

And I really like Elizabeth Warren.